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Brits spent record amounts on hotels in 2023 – but are UK ‘staycations’ now too expensive?

02/05/2024

Brits spent £175.4bn on hotel stays and restaurants in the UK last year – up from £165.7bn in 2022. We also spent a record £38.3bn on other holiday accommodation, such as holiday lets. A leading travel expert says it’s great to see UK holidays bounce back from Covid, but is a ‘staycation’ now becoming too expensive?

The latest consumer spending figures from the Office for National Statistics (ONS) reveal UK households spent over £175.4bn on hotels and restaurants in 2023, as the holiday industry rebounded from Covid. The figures reveal a rise of almost 6% on 2022’s spend of £165.7bn. Brits also splashed £21.8bn on UK-based tourist activities, up from £16.7bn in 2022.

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It wasn’t only hotels that benefitted from last year’s ‘staycation’ bug. Last year, we also spent £38.3bn on holiday accommodation, such as holiday lets. That was up 6.7% from 2022’s £35.9bn.

While these record figures eclipse even the peak pre-Covid year of 2019, and are encouraging results for Britain’s tourist trade, the sharp rise in spending is also causing some concern.

Lily Smith, a travel expert from the specialist accommodation finder UniversityRooms says: ‘It’s really great to see Britain’s hard-pressed hotel and tourism industries bounce back from the horrific impact of Covid. The amount Brits spent on UK hotels and restaurants plummeted from a height of £144bn in pre-Covid 2019 to £88bn in 2020 – a collapse of nearly 40% – so damaging was the impact of the virus. Similarly, spending on other accommodation fell from £31.9bn in 2019 to £15.4bn in 2020 as Covid took a grip.

‘With that in mind, it’s great that we are now spending more on hotels and other holiday accommodation than we did even in the pre-Covid heights of 2019. However, a jump of over £30bn in hotel and restaurant spending between 2019 and 2023 does seem almost excessive, as does the rise from £31.9bn on holiday lets, B&Bs etc, in 2019 to £38.3bn last year. While our hospitality and tourism sectors deserve a boost after a torrid few years, this significant rise in spending does raise questions about the cost of staying in UK hotels and holiday accommodation.

‘Looking at these ONS figures, it’s little wonder that many Brits who want to enjoy seeing new parts of their own country are now thinking twice. There is a danger that many of us may not be able to afford to holiday in our own country. Some Brits clearly feel overseas holidays already represent better value. We spent £77.9bn on foreign holidays last year, another new record and up significantly from £66.8bn in 2022.

‘Clearly, Brits on a budget need to think beyond traditional hotels and holiday accommodation to visit some of our most popular holiday spots. That’s why an increasing number of us are planning to stay in vacant university rooms for our next holiday. That’s a clever call, as many universities offer rooms that are great value, centrally located and are still readily available to book for the peak summer season. Best of all, you can stay in them even if you are not a student.

‘Using the innovative service UniversityRooms, visitors can choose from single, twin or double ensuite rooms, on a bed & breakfast or self-catering basis. From Edinburgh to Cornwall and Cardiff to Cambridge, a wide variety of universities have accommodation available at many times of the year, and particularly in the peak summer season.

‘For example, London can be an extremely expensive place to stay, but UniversityRooms offers accommodation at University College, the University of Westminster, Imperial College and a number of other centrally located campuses across the Capital. These represent an ideal budget alternative to typical hotels and B&Bs. University rooms are available from as little as £50 a night.

‘Some universities are a destination in their own right. It’s possible to stay in rooms in historic locations such as Oriel and Magdalen colleges in Oxford. Similarly, you can have rooms dating back centuries in Corpus Christi or have breakfast or brunch in the dramatic Gothic dining Hall at Kings in Cambridge. A night’s stay in Magdalen college can cost as little as £55, dependent on date.

‘It doesn’t take an educated guess to realise that university accommodation is likely to get fully booked as we approach the summer and awareness of this inexpensive alternative grows.

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