The U.K.'s tourism recovery includes English countryside roadtrips

Enduring as London’s appeal may be to city-bound vacationers, travelers are also branching out beyond London to explore other parts of the U.K. 

Viator, the online booking service for tours and attractions, said London is its biggest departure city, a gateway for travelers looking to explore the rest of England through daytrips. 

“With so many historical sites within driving distance, travelers are making the most of their days by taking multistop tours from London to visit Stonehenge, Windsor Castle and Bath,” the company said. 

Demand is strong for trips that visit the English countryside or explore northern England’s ancient and medieval history.  

“People are exploring beyond the capital,” said Camilla Davidson, head of destination management of the U.K., France & Ireland for Red Savannah. “The most popular areas include the ever-popular Cotswolds, which covers a huge area from Oxfordshire across to Gloucestershire and down as far as the Regency city of Bath. Also, the Lake District and Yorkshire in the north of England. Both are famous for their literary connections as well as dramatic scenery.”

Red Savannah, which creates custom travel and luxury tours, said demand for travel to the U.K. rebounded surprisingly quickly in 2022, with the company seeing a 62% increase year over year in inquiries to the U.K. by the end of November. That demand began to climb at a time when the dollar was at its strongest, outvaluing other major currencies for the first time in more than 20 years after the U.S. raised interest rates to combat inflation. 

“It made traveling to the U.K. really quite cheap,” said George Morgan-Grenville, founder and CEO of Red Savannah. Today, Red Savannah’s U.K. inquiries are up by 390% compared with prepandemic levels. 

Luxury tour operator Scott Dunn said its travelers who visit northern England often add Scotland to their journeys. 

“The Lake District and York are awesome if people are continuing on to Scotland, because it breaks up that distance if they’re not taking the train directly or flying directly from London to Edinburgh,” said Sarah McClendon, Europe team leader for Scott Dunn. 

Another trend the company is seeing these days is family travel. 

“I probably  a lot more families in the U.K. than I do anywhere else,” McClendon said, comparing family trips she books to Italy or Greece. “I think [the U.K.] is really back on the radar for Americans again. It’s an easier country to travel to with the language and the cultural similarities to the U.S. It’s a destination that feels pretty comfortable to guests that are still a bit hesitant to travel.”

Increased demand for travel to the U.K., however, doesn’t come without its challenges. Ongoing staffing shortages, which continue to plague industries globally, have been exacerbated by frequent worker strikes that can have an impact on guests’ travel plans. 

“The biggest challenge in the U.K. is a lot of the strikes that have been going on,” McClendon said. “The trains go on strike pretty often. It’s almost like you can’t necessarily book reliable train transportation. Then there are the strikes with either pilots or security staff at Heathrow. I had guests experience that and had to rebook a flight that didn’t go out of Heathrow just so they could avoid it.” 

Last-minute booking and product availability also pose challenges. Travelers have yet to shake the pandemic-era trend of waiting until a trip comes within weeks or even days before the departure date to try to make a booking, at which point space is likely limited.

“The biggest challenge is availability … July and August are always very busy, and events such as the Braemar Gathering [Highlands games] in Scotland or Wimbledon all make hotel space scarce,” Davidson said. “This is all the more pronounced where people are seeking a popular style of accommodation that is in short supply; Scottish castles are a good example.”

McClendon said the company does its best to work with travelers, and it encourages advance planning. 

“We’re starting to get a little better at getting back to that prepandemic place where people plan a bit more in advance, but unfortunately [last-minute booking]  is still a trend,” McClendon said. “It’s getting to a point where there’s not much I can offer you if you come to me right now.”

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