Guest blog: Changing holiday habits

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Claire Gilbert, managing partner of holiday lettings agency, The Cottage Boutique, shares her thoughts on the evolution of the accommodation industry in Cornwall

It seems to be the season of survey findings for the county. Firstly, TripAdvisor commented on Cornwall being Britain’s most expensive holiday destination for a one-week break; now St Ives has been named the most expensive holiday town in the UK by cheaprooms.co.uk. 

Whilst we all have to consider the monetary value of holidaying no matter where in the UK, I feel that Cornwall is by far one of the best counties when it comes to offering a full range of affordable holiday options.

Possibly a more insightful research piece however, comes from VisitCornwall, announcing its study entitled Cornwall Towns 2012 – Tourism Volume and Value Estimates.

This is a useful read and forces me to consider at length how much has changed in holiday accommodation over the last couple of decades. What is apparent is that local businesses are fighting harder (and often succeeding) to captivate the imagination for visitors to the area.

A large part of this is due to the county appealing to visitors on a number of levels – beautiful scenery, award-winning beaches, a family-friendly culture and a deep heritage in art and literature.  Cultural tourism has most definitely been a driving force in extending the holiday season and it’s refreshing to see the likes of Visit Cornwall recently embarking on a ten-year publicity campaign to promote the region out of season.

They claim that cultural tourism currently accounts for 10% of Cornwall’s visitors every year, which is not to be sniffed at. Interestingly however, as the reasons why people are visiting the area has evolved, so has the needs of what they expect from where they stay and the range of holiday accommodation that is now on offer.

Taking a brief look through time, we’ve seen the needs and desires of visitors demand more from where they decide to rest their head at night.  In turn this has driven a supply of alternative accommodation on offer.

“…as a region we have collectively had to fight harder for our holidaymakers”

The post war era was good for the south west when it was deemed one of the most popular destinations in the 1950s and 1960s – B&Bs and unlicensed hotels saw a growth period.

But with households enjoying more disposable income in the 70s and 80s and the competition of package holidays and no-frills airlines, as a region we have collectively had to fight harder for our holidaymakers. Especially during the recent years of recession when purse strings have been tightened and the unpredictable weather can often make or break a season for businesses in the tourism sector.

But as we’ve worked hard to entice people to the area, in turn I think this has driven up the quality of accommodation and tourist experience to gain their attention.

When we set up the business four years ago, we were focused, possibly fanatically so, on creating a ‘home from home’ experience for our visitors.  Self-catering accommodation has emerged as a winning experience for the discerning traveller.  As have the likes of apart-hotels which often offer the space and home comforts you are used to, but with the top notch facilities of restaurants and spas on your doorstep.

What is interesting about the recent study from VisitCornwall is that the variety really differs from town to town.  Whilst serviced accommodation still tops the list (particularly in towns such as Newquay), self-catering accommodation comes in a close second and actually tops the list in seaside destination Fowey.

Interestingly and undoubtedly a sign of the times, many visitors to the county are staying with family and friends. Possibly, the most surprising results of the survey shows that areas of the county that are more typically associated with industry are in fact driving a much higher level of tourism revenue.  Camborne and Redruth for example drive £51.8 million direct visitor spend to the area, with a staggering 77% staying with relatives and friends.

What hasn’t been covered by the research however is the frequency in which people are travelling to the region and repeat custom.  From the guests we speak to, once people come here they are captivated by the charm and beauty of the county – something which everyone in the area should be celebrating.

About the Author

Claire Gilbert is managing partner of the St Ives-based holiday lettings agency, The Cottage Boutique