Should I cancel my UK holiday due to the coronavirus pandemic? Here, we look into the latest travel advice
The coronavirus pandemic continues to escalate around the world, with countries in Europe and beyond closing their borders, airlines halting services, and many holidays abroad completely off the table for British citizens. But what about your travel plans for within the UK? Is it safe to use trains? And will hotels on home soil be closing soon?
Here’s the latest advice from our experts.
Is it wise to book a UK holiday?
Switching your holiday plans to take a break in this country rather than abroad is looking like a pretty sensible idea just at the moment – at least until we are a bit clearer about how long the coronavirus outbreak will last. But there are still a couple of things to take into consideration when booking a UK holiday in current circumstances when the situation is changing so rapidly.
First, what happens if you have to cancel, either because you or someone in your family gets ill, or if, in a worst case scenario, travel restrictions are imposed in the UK so you are unable to get to your destination? Obviously the financial risk you may be taking will almost certainly be lower than if you were travelling abroad but, for example, a cottage in high season in a desirable area can still easily cost £1,000 or more for a week’s rental, and some hotels might be more than that.
Dealing with hotels first, if you have to cancel a booking you are usually at the mercy of the establishment concerned. Legally speaking, you have entered into a contract with that hotel and if you cancel that you are liable for the full amount of the booking cost – although the hotel must do its best to mitigate its loss by attempting to re-sell the room. (You may be able to find travel insurance which covers this, but be aware that many travel insurers have temporarily stopped selling policies or are restricting cover).
Some hotel-booking websites also offer more flexible arrangements, allowing you to hold the reservation without penalty until only two or three days before the arrival date on some bookings. For example, booking.com currently has plenty of hotels in the Lake District where this arrangement is in place.
What about a holiday cottage?
The situation with a holiday cottage is a little different. Exact terms vary according to the agency or individual you book with. With National Trust holiday cottages, you pay a third of the total amount at the time of booking and the balance is due eight weeks before the start of your stay. If you cancel within 180 days of departure, you forfeit between 33 and 75 per cent of the holiday cost, depending on how late the cancellation is. If it’s eight days or less before the start date, you lose all your money.
Airbnb hosts choose their refund policy from several options. Some offer full refunds in the event of a cancellation (as long as it is at least a week in advance of arrival) but others are less flexible. Read the small print before booking.
Many agencies do continue to sell an insurance policy along with the booking which will cover such cancellations – though normally only if you fall ill and can’t travel, almost certainly not because you are unable to get there because of Government travel restrictions. Some cottage companies are now reviewing this, however.
The Welsh holiday cottage company, Coastal Cottages of Pembrokeshire, announced yesterday that it is extending its holiday cancellation insurance policy to cover the possibility of the UK Government declaring a total lockdown on travel across Britain, as well as accepting a diagnosis of Covid-19 as a reason for enforced cancellation.
When should I book?
Another key point to consider is when you want to take your holiday. Looking ahead over the next three months or so, it is very hard to predict how strong demand will be, but it will certainly be higher during the Easter school holidays in the first half of April, and will rise again during the Whitsun half-term week in May.
Otherwise for the rest of March and during early May and all of June, you will have a much better chance of finding good availability and probably getting a remarkably good deal. Many hotels are half-empty at the moment, especially in towns and cities, and they will be exceptionally pleased to see you. As spring and summer wears on, however, and assuming some semblance of normality returns to national life, demand for holidays in this country, especially in the countryside and by the sea, is likely to be strong, though of course it may be mitigated in areas like Cornwall and Scotland for example, which attract many overseas visitors. The fall-off in demand from that market may well counter-balance the situation. And in these uncertain times, pay with a credit card. That will give you financial protection if the company you are booking with goes out of business.
What’s the best way to get to my destination?
Your safest bet is to drive. If that’s not possible, when traveling on a bus or train try to sit in a quiet area, be aware of the surfaces and handrails you touch and, as ever, wash your hands when you get off. Taxis should be relatively safe. There have been no scientific studies but security experts recommend that the safest place to sit is directly behind the driver.
The Telegraph’s Global Health Security Editor, Paul Nuki, has written a piece looking into how to avoid the spread of respiratory diseases on public transport.
Are there any no-go areas in Britain?
Before Italy closed its borders altogether, it shut down only northern parts of the country and restricted residents from leaving. The UK has no plans to follow suit at this time. The first cases of coronavirus were detected in York and the disease has now spread to Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland. The highest number of confirmed cases are in London, but the Government has stopped testing people unless they are hospitalised so it will be less clear which parts of the country are most affected. But for now, there are no restrictions on where you can travel within the UK.
What about planned events?
Sporting events, concerts and other “mass gatherings” will be cancelled from next week, it was announced today (March 14). It means iconic events such as Wimbledon, Glastonbury Festival, Royal Ascot, the Grand National and the Boat Race could all be axed, while new laws will allow the Government to pay out compensation. If you have tickets already, hold onto them and wait for further announcements to be made over refund/re-booking policies.