Back in April, I reported on the high cost of holidays in this country. Was Britain pricing itself out of the market, I wondered? Especially given the remarkably high cost of holiday cottages, which had been rising sharply in price, partly because of the sharp increase in demand during the Covid-affected summers of 2020 and 2021.
It was easy to find, for example, a huge choice of self-catering accommodation in Brittany this summer at only a third of the cost of the cheapest places in Cornwall, while a four-bed villa with a pool on the Portuguese coast could be got for far less than the equivalent in the West Country.
Now, however, it seems that cottage owners in Britain may have been getting just a little too greedy. Last week, a report by Which? highlighted both the results of its reader-satisfaction survey of holiday-cottage companies and the research it did on prices earlier in the summer. It found that between last April and July, the cost of renting a cottage in a peak August week dropped on average by 11 per cent. In other words, if you left it to the last minute to book, you would likely get a significantly cheaper price.
Which? found that, even by mid-July, more than 11,000 cottages were still available for the last two weeks in August. And the magazine concluded that the price falls and the sheer number of empty cottages may “suggest that the demand for UK holidays has dwindled with the return of international travel in 2022 and, as a result, holiday-cottage companies are lowering prices to incentivise customers.”
Some of the biggest price drops were in the Lake District, where holiday cottages were 15 per cent cheaper when booked in July than they were in April. Rates in Cornwall held a bit firmer, though they still fell 9 per cent. Even so, the coastal county was the most expensive destination of all, with the cost of a mid-sized cottage averaging £1,401 for an August week. Meanwhile, the average price for a week-long August rental in Devon fell from £1,306 to £1,158 – an 11 per cent drop.
Other pricey destinations were the Isle of Wight (average £1,362), Hampshire (£1,280) and Dorset (£1,264). Northumberland and Norfolk looked rather better value (both at £972).
When it came to the Which? satisfaction survey, smaller specialists tended to do best. The Landmark Trust came out on top with a score of 92 per cent, followed by Classic Cottages (classic.co.uk) and Sally’s Cottages (sallyscottages.co.uk) – both 85 per cent. The big three specialists, Vrbo (vrbo.com/en-gb) and cottages.com – both 75 per cent – and Sykes (sykescottages.co.uk) – 72 per cent – were in the lower half of the table.
The Which? research only provides a snapshot and doesn’t tell us about prices for the rest of the year. But when I looked at dates in September this week, I had no trouble finding plenty of discounts. Cottages.com for example has 9,687 cottages available in the last week of this month, many with discounted rates; Classic has discounts of between 10 and 40 per cent on some rentals; and Sally’s also has lots of offers.
But while it seems that the cost of holiday cottages really is starting to ease, there is a potential cloud looming on the horizon for winter bookings: rising energy prices. Normally the cost of heating and electricity is included in a rental. How will cottage owners feel about renting out their properties to holidaymakers who can turn the heating on and up whenever they feel like it. Especially from November to February when rents are usually at their lowest?
Will they put prices up? Will they take meter readings and charge extra for energy? Will they simply take them off the market until spring? The National Trust says it won’t be passing on the additional costs this year, though it will have to review its holiday pricing for next year. Other agencies are holding their cards closer to their chests.