Travel Agents and Tour Operators Looking Closer to Home

As the drawbridge creaks just those extra few inches and the island prepares to (hopefully) open back up on June 28, Gef has spoken to three travel companies about consumer confidence in coming to and going off the island.

We previously spoke to Rikki Dunnage from Island Travel, Ged Power, owner of Powerwheels and Isle of Man Golf Holidays and Island Escapes owner John Keggin when the exit strategy was first published back in March.

We Need the Fun Crowd

Ged Power told Gef that across the UK, the staycation market has ‘gone into overdrive’, with the Lake District seeing a surge in bookings and prices shooting up by 20% for accommodation. 

Ged Power, owner of Powerwheels and Isle of Man Golf Holidays

He added: ‘The European market for holidays is still uncertain and perhaps there will be an increase in the cost of flying. There must be a grand opportunity ahead for the Island’s tourism sector. Being sat here as a golf tour operator on the Isle of Man, I’ve been bombarded with enquiries from hopeful golfers in the UK who witnessed our Chief Minister speaking triumphantly on TV with Piers Morgan. 

‘The allure of eight courses and good local beer is enticing yet, we’re still unable to confirm with authority that a golf tour can happen. The general consensus is for business to be almost back to full swing for July with an influx of visitors who won’t be bound by restrictions and tests for Covid. I’m not convinced. If the tourism numbers pick up, we do have a few problems to deal with. 

‘Our hotel stock will have had over a year of zero use and if refurbishments haven’t been undertaken, there is a danger of some rather uninspiring experiences. It’s no secret that the quality of hotels on the island isn’t great and coupled with the challenges on Douglas Promenade, it’s a wonder how we can be confident in delivering a quality offering. 

‘In addition to that, contacts in the Hotel trade tell me they’re having great difficulty employing staff. There is a drought of workers and job adverts are being met with no response whatsoever. Perhaps the Government could engage with any 16yr old who has finished full time education for the summer? Make it meaningful by subsidising a £10 per hour rate of pay and partner up with UCM to entwine it with a service qualification course for the summer. This could be a great story where the young people of the Isle of Man rescue the tourism sector, learn essential skills, get rewarded and earn a qualification at the same time.

‘I’m hopeful for tourists to make a big comeback soon. Exciting winter breaks offering food and drink experiences need to be tailored to attract large groups of visitors. The lure of a low fixed price for locally produced booze would bring the ‘fun crowd’ to the Rock. Tandem with a live entertainment festival and we could have some serious cash injected into our economy. A £30 return fare on the boat plus a £2.50 pint of beer offer would see the bars busy for sure.’

First Time Visitors

John Keggin said that he is seeing an increase in interest in visiting the island, particularly since the announcement of the gov’s plans to open the borders on June 28.

Island Escapes owner John Keggin

He added: ‘Over the last few weeks we’ve seen a growing level of enquiries and bookings from those off island looking to have summer holiday here. The majority of bookings are coming in from regular visitors to the island desperate to make a return, but since the 28th June date has been made public we’re now seeing several bookings from those looking to visit the island for the very first time. Most of our properties are now fully booked for the summer holidays with a mixture of visitors and locals who are still choosing staycations this year.  

‘This summer presents a huge opportunity for the island to tap into the British staycation market, which was already growing pre-Covid. We know many visitors once they discover the island are extremely loyal and often return, so attracting visitors for the first time is very exciting for the island and potentially the best opportunity for Manx tourism for many decades.’

Caution

However Rikki Dunnage, co-owner of Island Travel told Gef that customers are, understandably, being cautious about seeking international travel this year.

Rikki Dunnage from Island Travel with business partner Edward Cox

He said: ‘Whilst we are happy to see the border restrictions easing there is still a huge amount of caution in bookers for the rest of 2021. The confusing traffic light system, testing and entry requirements are making it very tricky to supply a reliable product to our customers with any kind of guarantee that they will travel without any trouble or changes. We have families looking at UK staycations which is nice to see but I do think it will be a few months before there is increased confidence for the months ahead. Bookings for 2022 remain strong with fully protected packages giving our customers peace of mind. Rest assured as soon as it is clearer, we will be ready to help our customers with their dream trip to the sun.’

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