The credit crunch is bad news in many ways – but not if you’re planning a hotel break in Britain. Over the past few years, rises in room rates have made British hotels among the most expensive in Europe, with the average cost of a night’s stay now well over £100.
Traditionally, in autumn and winter, when hotels rely on home-grown customers, prices drop, but at this time of year, when we are competing for beds with visitors from overseas, it can be almost impossible to find anything affordable.
However, according to Miles Quest, of the British Hospitality Association (BHA), the outlook is different this year. “Until Easter, hotel bookings were holding up well,” he says, “and although I’m not saying that the situation is by any means catastrophic, there’s more caution around. The onus is on hotels to continue to provide value.”
He says hotels are more likely to react by including extras rather than slashing rates. “However, price-cutting is still one tool in the hotelier’s armoury. Though it’s still early to say, there may well be some good bargains around.”
This year also sees the knock-on effect of American politics on the British hotel industry, compounding the longer-term impact of the weak dollar.
“Election years are not good for business,” says the general manager of a luxury hotel in Yorkshire. “It normally means that Americans travel less and because they are the big spenders – booking top rooms and buying expensive dinners – it has an effect. Every four years we find our bookings and our overall income drop.”
Although the strong euro means more Europeans are coming to Britain, hoteliers say they tend to book shorter stays and spend less than Americans.
So, as hotels start to feel the pinch, where are you most likely to find bargains? First, you need to know where and when to book. For example, a city hotel might still charge high prices during the week because of business travellers, but at the weekend it can be a different story.
“We are finding holidaymakers are becoming far more price-sensitive,’’ says Stuart Ward of the Eton Collection of luxury city hotels. “But rather than discount room prices, we are adding value, including dinners, room gifts, champagne on arrival and so on.”
Certain types of hotel, however, are not so likely to feel the pinch. Richard Brend, who owns several establishments in the West Country, says bookings are up for his seaside properties, and David Clarke, of the mid-range Best Western group, believes that when times are tight, people tend to turn to well-known brands.
The BHA says that this summer, the best bargains are likely to be at country house hotels in rural areas. Here, people are tending to book at the last minute, and because these hotels don’t have much corporate business, they are likely to be hit hardest by the financial climate.
If you are planning a hotel break, here are the best ways to find bargains:
Look for “three nights for the price of two” stays and deals where, if you stay on Friday and Saturday night, you’ll get a half-price stay on Sunday.
Make the most of complimentary bottles of wine or champagne, free spa facilities, sightseeing passes or beauty treatments included in the room rate.
Rates that include breakfast can be a big saving at the upper end of the market as breakfast can cost up to £25 per person.
If you’re travelling alone, look for single rooms which carry no supplement – more likely to be available in June and September.
Always check the hotel’s website deals for last-minute offers and special packages, as these will usually be the most competitive and may not be available anywhere else.
Be flexible with your dates: when business is slow, hotels may introduce good packages on Sunday night stays.
Make the most of having a little more power by phoning the hotel to ask for its “best price” – you may find the rate is reduced significantly.