Latest research into the UK and Ireland markets and how COVID-19 is impacting plans to visit Scotland
COVID-19 consumer sentiment tracker
The national tourist boards within Great Britain have commissioned tracking research to measure UK residents' holiday intentions.
The original tracking was in place from the end of May to mid-August 2020. Due to the ongoing uncertainty caused by the pandemic, additional tracking will take place during September 2020 to January 2021. From September, UK level reports will be available fortnightly with a Scotland specific report being available monthly.
Topics this research covers:
Latest UK Results
The latest UK consumer tracker reports on survey results as of 8January (covering week 18-23December 2020). Key events during this week were:
- The rapid spread of a new and more transmissible COVID-19 strain
- The ‘cancellation’ of festive family/household gatherings from 5 days to one
- A third of England being placed into Tier 4
- All mainland Scotland placed in Tier 4 from Boxing Day
- Travel from the UK banned by 50+ countries.
Key highlights are:
- The national mood remains unchanged at 6.5/10
- The proportion believing ‘the worst is still to come’ regarding the coronavirus situation almost doubles to 62%
- Only 8% expect life will ‘return close to normal’ by end March (versus 14% last wave) while just 33% expect this by end June
- There’s been a significant decline in the proportion who expect to take ‘the same or more’ domestic overnight short breaks between now and end March, compared to normal.
- Confidence in having a booked trip go ahead as planned also falters, with 20% confidence in March (versus 31% last wave) and 50% confidence in June (versus 60% last wave)
- A lack of commitment remains. For the spring period (April – June), just 25% of trips have been planned with 18% actually being booked
- The south west remains the leading destination for winter and spring trips, followed by Scotland, London and the north west.
- As any winter trips are now unlikely to happen, looking forward to spring the leading destinations people intend to visit are ‘countryside/village’ (33%) and ‘traditional coastal/seaside town’ (29%) perhaps signalling a return to normal seasonal leisure trips.
Please note that these results are prior to the 4January announcement of England’s lockdown so trip intentions may yet become more subdued in future waves.
The latest Scotland report looks at survey results for 12th October to 6th December 2020. Compared to the previous results of end August to beginning of October 2020, the highlights are:
- With reports of an impending vaccine in October, and the November announcement of its success and plans for immediate roll out, there was a gradual growth in optimism across the U.K., with the proportion stating the ‘worst was yet to come ‘ falling from 66% in mid-October to 39% in late November
- However, whilst the population have become more optimistic in their general outlook, they are still displaying caution when it comes to their leisure behaviour. Confidence in the ability to take near-term overnight domestic trips is low. In late-September / early-October, 27% of U.K residents were confident a trip would go ahead in December. However, as of late November the percentage has dropped to 14%, with a similar fall amongst Scottish residents. Limited confidence extends to day trips, the U.K. and Scotland population expecting to take significantly fewer day trips across the Christmas period compared to normal
- Lack of confidence in travelling from December to March is largely driven by restrictions on travel from the government - particularly among Scotland residents where restrictions tend to be introduced earlier than England. Concerns over catching COVID-19 have dropped (from 51% to 46% among U.K. residents), but are still a strong influence.
- The drop in confidence is apparent across all life stages but particularly so amongst retirees, who have consistently under-indexed on trips taken during the pandemic.
- 14% of the U.K. population plan on taking a trip between December and March (12% of Scottish residents). The South West is the most popular destination, followed by London and the North West. Scotland is the 5th most popular destination in this period, although by far the number one destination amongst Scotland residents.
- The population becomes more confident that trips would go ahead between April and June, rising to a clear majority in July to September. However only 1 in 5 are planning to take a trip in either period and a similar proportion ‘don’t know but would like to take a trip’ suggesting many will wait before making a decision.
- It’s worth noting that despite still being in the negative, intentions to take overseas longer trips have increased, suggesting that the public are increasingly starting to consider trips outside of the U.K.
- Aside from Scotland residents, residents from the North East and Northern Ireland are the most likely to be planning a trip to Scotland between December and March. Those from the south of the U.K. are noticeably less likely to be looking to travel to Scotland
Scotland Winter Intenders Profile
- Reflecting their higher levels of confidence in the ability to take trips, pre-nesters are likely to be the largest audience for Scotland winter trips, indexing higher than their representation in the general population.
- 10% of Scotland winter intenders are retirees, significantly lower than their incidence in the general population, and further reflecting the growing caution among this life stage.
- Nearly half of Scotland Winter Intenders are made up of the ‘life goes on’ and ‘less to lose’ segment, significantly higher than these segments’ incidence within the population, indicating the influence of attitude to risk in driving intention to travel.
- Scotland winter intenders are significantly more likely than the U.K. population to self-classify as either ‘better off’ financially than before the pandemic or that they’ve ‘not been affected’ suggesting that intention to take a trip is driven by financial security as well as attitude to risk.
- The combined influence of financial concerns and worries about catching COVID-19 are evidenced by the conditions intenders would like to have in place before a visit – staff wearing masks, enhanced cleaning regimes and free cancellation all stated by around two thirds of intenders.
Scotland Spring intenders – Profiling and Trip Behaviour
- Higher confidence in Spring trips going ahead means that the profile of intenders is very different to the winter. The 20% of Spring intenders are more likely to be retirees, to belong to risk-averse segments, and to require enhanced safety measures on their trip. Although this audience is likely to have strong pent-up demand, confidence remains low (albeit higher than earlier time periods) and only a small proportion have actually started planning or booking their trip. Pre-nesters are less likely to be considering Scotland in the Spring.
- Spring intenders are also more likely to be visiting with their nuclear family (partners and children as opposed to other family members).
- Coastal destinations grow in popularity in the Spring – likely driven by improvements in the weather – and the differing make-up of visitors (retirees opting for rural over urban destinations). The Highlands is particularly popular – 2 in 5 anticipating a trip there, compared to 3 in 10 in the winter. Commercial self-catering is the number one accommodation type.
Trips taken since September
- 17% of U.K. residents took an overnight trip between September and November, 14% of Scotland residents. Both percentages are significantly lower than anticipated trips in this time period (based on research conducted in August). The drop in trips taken is driven predominantly by the October to November time period when regional and national restrictions made travel more difficult – in September U.K. residents took the same proportion of trips as they intended to do so (at 11% across the U.K.)
- At 10%, trips to Scotland were lower than the anticipated 14%, a pattern that is also evident in Wales and Yorkshire. Each of these parts of the U.K. have endured relatively stricter or more varied restrictions than other parts of the U.K. which may account for the drop-off.
- The drop-off in trips taken against intentions has occurred amongst all life stages, but is particularly strong amongst retirees, 16% taking a trip compared to 20% that intended to do so.
- Scotland trip-takers are significantly more likely than intenders to classify as better off financially that before the pandemic (18% compared to 11%). This suggests that in addition to travel restrictions, financial concerns may have also had an impact on the drop-off in trips taken
- When it comes to attitudinal segments, Scotland trip-takers fall broadly in line with the U.K. ‘Less to Lose’ make up a slightly higher proportion of visitors in the September to November period.
- City or large town’ and ‘countryside or village’ were the two most popular types of destination for an overnight stay taken between September- November, broadly in line with intentions. Mountains or hills, rural coastline and traditional coastal/seaside towns each attracted significantly fewer visitors.
- Although visits to cities or large towns are consistent with intentions, trips to Edinburgh were significantly lower than intended.
- Hotel/motel/inn was the most popular choice for an overnight Scotland trip, followed by private home and commercial self-catering. Private home was the only accommodation type consistent with intentions, drops in other types driven by shifts in destination choice (e.g. fewer Edinburgh trips than intended correlating with fewer ‘hotel/motel/inn’ stays) and destination type (e.g. a fall in coastal trips correlating with a drop caravan/camping stays).
The latest Scotland report looks at survey results for 31 August to 2October 2020. Compared to the previous results of mid July to mid August 2020, the highlights are:
Mood of the Nation
- As outlined in the UK level report last week, as at early October, the majority of the U.K. public think that the ‘worst is yet to come’ in relation to COVID-19, a sentiment that grew significantly in Mid-September. Scotland residents are marginally more likely to think the worst is yet to come.
- Increasing public pessimism is supported by a significant drop in confidence in the ability to take a U.K. holiday or short break in the next few months. A consistent 1 in 4 of U.K. and Scotland residents feel very or fairly confident a trip would go ahead between October to December, significantly lower than the 1 in 2 who were confident back in August.
- This drop in confidence is driven by ‘government restrictions’, which is now the number one reason for low confidence, compared to the fourth most popular reason in August. Scotland residents are more likely to cite ‘government restrictions’ than residents from the wider U.K. The second most likely reason is ‘concerns around catching Covid-19’.
- The tangible impact of concerns around catching COVID-19 is evidenced by the 58% of U.K. residents stating that they would not visit a ‘previously locked down’ destination until at least 2 months after restrictions are lifted.
Scotland Visitor Intentions for November to March
- Scotland is the U.K. destination of choice for 13% of the 1 in 4 Britons (19% of Scotland residents) planning a trip between November and March. Amongst Scotland residents planning a trip in this period, Scotland is the destination of choice for 50%.
- Based on intentions alone, Scotland residents would make up around 2 in 5 overnight trip-takers to Scotland in this period – with residents from London, the North East, Wales and the South East all indexing high with intentions.
- However, the research on ‘trips-taken’ to date (below) demonstrates that during the pandemic, the proportion of trip-takers from Scotland tend to make up the majority of visitors, with many ‘England and Wales-based’ intenders not following through with their intention to visit Scotland. Given the increase in restrictions around travel, this trend is likely to continue.
- Also, only 22% of these trip intenders have started planning their trip, with just 15% having booked it reinforcing low confidence levels.
- Booking directly with the provider is the most common channel, followed by an online travel agent (OTA). However there are differences by life stage – families are more likely to favour traditional travel agents, whereas pre-nesters index higher in booking with homestay websites.
- Pre-nesters and families are likely to be the largest audience for Scotland winter trips, both indexing higher than their representation in the general population. The high incidence of pre-nesters is driven by 25-34 year olds (as opposed to 16-24 year olds). Retirees, although indexing highly for trips in September, continue to be the smallest audience in line with their confidence levels.
- Scotland winter intenders favour ‘short breaks’ as well as ‘trips to the countryside or a village’ followed by ‘city or large town’ although Scotland residents who intend to take a trip tend to favour the coast.
- The Highlands remains the most favoured destination for winter intenders living within and outside Scotland – although reporting for July-Sept trips also demonstrates that the proportion who eventually end up going there is lower than intended. This may be driven by availability/cost of accommodation, although equally could be a result of the high ‘saliency’ of the Highlands as a destination. The Edinburgh area continues to be the second most popular area overall preferred more amongst intenders from outside of Scotland than amongst Scotland residents.
- ‘Hotel/Motel/Inn’ is the number one choice for accommodation for winter intenders. Other accommodation options are also consistent with August projections with the exception of ‘commercial self-catering’ which has a lower incidence of intention. However, ‘commercial self-catering’ has increased in preference through September and October, as concerns around COVID-19 have also risen. With that in mind, the incidence of this type of ‘self-contained’ accommodation may be higher when bookings are actually made.
- October half term day trips are also victim to falling confidence levels - although 13% of Scotland residents intend to take one (30% of Scotland’s families), they anticipate taking fewer day-trips than normal.
Trips taken between July-September
- As of early October, 30% of U.K. residents had taken an overnight short break or holiday in the U.K. since July, 24% of Scotland residents. 3 in 5 U.K. trips were for a holiday, the majority of the remainder to visit friends or relatives (VFR). Overnight stays in Scotland were predominantly for a ‘holiday’ – 77% compared to 63% of all U.K. trips.
- The South West of England attracted the highest proportion of holiday trips from July to September (18%), followed by the North West of England (15% of holiday trips) and Scotland (10% of all trips, 12% of holiday trips).
- Nearly 8 in 10 (77%) of all Scotland residents that have taken an overnight trip since July did so in Scotland, rising to 86% of Scotland residents that took a holiday. Both figures represent a significant rise on intentions, perhaps reflecting the success of the VisitScotland’s ‘Only in Scotland’ campaign.
- Conversely, only 4% of trip intenders from outside of Scotland visited Scotland on their trip, lower than the 10% that intended to do so. As a consequence, Scotland residents made up 60% of all overnight trip takers during this period.
- Notably, the life stage with the highest representation for Scotland holidays from July to September was ‘pre-nesters’ (in particular 25-34 year olds) indexing significantly higher than amongst the wider U.K. population. This will in part be driven by the higher incidence of pre-nesters in the Scotland population than the wider U.K. population – Scotland residents dominating the visitor profile. It’s worth noting that retirees were the largest age group for trips taken in September, highlighting there is still scope to generate some visits from this audience.
- ‘City or large town’ and ‘countryside or village’ were the two most popular types of destination for an overnight stay between July and September, followed by mountains or hills and traditional coastal/seaside towns.
- The Highlands, the Glasgow area, Edinburgh area and the West Coast were the three most popular areas. Of the 35% that stated they visited a ‘city or large town’, two thirds visited the Edinburgh and Glasgow areas.
- The vast majority of Scotland trip-takers were able to stay in the destination they had originally planned. Of the 11% that didn’t, worries about ‘they’d be too many people there’ was the main reason, followed by the expense of accommodation options. Notably, 1 in 5 (2% of all trip-takers) weren’t confident the venue was Covid safe.
- Hotel/motel/inn was the most popular choice for an overnight Scotland holiday, followed by caravan/camping and commercial self-catering. Unsurprisingly, private home indexed higher for all trips than holiday trips, driven by trips with a VFR purpose.
The latest Scotland report looks at survey results for 10 July to 14 August 2020. Compared to the previous results of mid June to mid July 2020, the highlights are:
Trips taken in July and August
- As at mid August, 16% of UK residents had taken an overnight short break or holiday in the UK, 17% of Scotland residents.
- 11% of UK residents that took a domestic holiday took their holiday in Scotland. 66% of Scotland holiday-takers live in Scotland, 34% outside Scotland.
- Four in five (78%) of Scotland residents that took a UK holiday or short break, took it in Scotland.
- Conversely, only 3% of trip intenders from outside of Scotland visited Scotland on their trip, lower than the 8% that intended to do so.
- ‘Countryside or village’ was the most popular destination type for Scotland holiday-makers. Stays in ‘mountains or hills’ were significantly lower than predicted (15% compared to 40%), as were stays in the Highlands (which remain the number one choice). This drop may be driven by availability of accommodation.
- Caravan/camping was the number one choice of accommodation for Scotland holiday stays in July and August. Hotel/motel/inn was the next most popular choice for a holiday stay, followed by private home and commercial self-catering. Both ‘a private home’ and ‘commercial self-catering’ indexed lower than intentions, commercial self-catering especially so. The drop-off in commercial self-catering against intentions could be driven by destination choice or limited availability in the event of high demand.
General sentiment in the UK short break and holiday market and intentions for Autumn / Winter
- At the time of the survey (mid-July to mid-August), Scotland residents feel more comfortable conducting ‘everyday activities’ than in mid-June to mid-July. There has been a rise in comfort towards all activities in particular with ‘eating at a restaurant’ (rising from 29% comfortable to 44%).
- Despite growing comfort overall, confidence in the ability to take UK short breaks or holidays in September has not increased and confidence in taking trips from October onwards has declined. This increasing pessimism towards winter trips may be a reflection of ‘flattening’ optimism or may be driven by fears of a second wave of COVID-19 as local lockdowns increase in number – indeed, ‘concerns about catching COVID-19’ is the dominant reason for lack of confidence in taking a trip.
- Despite caution towards taking a domestic trip, around one in five UK residents plan on taking an overnight short break or holiday this autumn (September to October) and one in four this winter.
- Notably, a large proportion of Scotland autumn and winter intenders have not yet booked their trip, higher amongst non-Scotland residents.
- Scotland is the number two destination for a holiday or short break in both the autumn and the winter months, and by far the number one destination for Scotland residents.
- There is a significantly different profile in Scotland intenders in September compared to other periods. Families have relatively low representation, whilst older independents and retirees have the highest representation.
Trip behaviour and booking
- Consistent with previous reporting, the Highlands remains by far the most favoured destination for autumn intenders living within and outside Scotland. The Edinburgh area continues to be the second most popular area.
- Scotland autumn intenders are most likely to visit ‘countryside or a village’ on their trips, followed by ‘city or large town’ and ‘mountains or hills’. Scotland residents broadly share the same preferences as Scotland intenders from elsewhere in the UK, although are less likely to stay in a city or large town.
- ‘Hotel / motel / inn’ is the number one choice for accommodation amongst both autumn and winter intenders, followed by ‘commercial self-catering’ and ‘a private home’. Autumn intenders are most likely to book their accommodation in Scotland directly with the provider reflecting the older demographic which favours this channel.
- Across both autumn and winter trips, ‘own car’ is by far the leading mode of transport followed by train and plane. Scotland resident intenders are significantly more likely to use their own car, and in the autumn months less likely to use train or plane, the former likely a reflection of lower intention to visit Scotland’s cities or large towns.
The latest Scotland report looks at survey results for 15 June to 10 July 2020. Compared to the previous results of mid May to mid-June 2020, the highlights are:
- In line with general confidence measures, 24% of UK residents and 20% of Scotland residents now intend to take a UK short break or holiday this summer, a significant rise on the research conducted in mid-May to mid-June.
- Scotland residents are less confident and more cautious than UK residents on the whole, particularly in relation to indoor activities such as going to a restaurant. They are more likely to cite government restrictions and reasons relating to restrictions (e.g. fewer things to do) as the main reason for this. Scots may be more cautious as some Scottish restrictions have been lifted later than for England.
- Amongst UK residents planning a domestic holiday this summer, Scotland remains the number two destination, behind the South West of England. The vast majority of Scotland residents considering Scotland are not thinking of going elsewhere.
- Outside of Scotland, residents of London show the highest propensity to visit Scotland for a short break or holiday this summer, notable given the population density.
- Scotland intenders are planning to take a trip in Scotland for a range of holiday types, but ‘countryside or village’ and ‘mountains or hills’ are the continue to be the top two destination types, both increasing significantly in preference since mid-May to mid-June. Families favour seaside destinations, retirees rural destinations.
- Hotel / motel / inn’, ‘commercial self-catering’ and ‘caravan/camping’ generate near-equal levels of visits to Scotland this summer, followed by ‘a private home’. The preference for ‘commercial self-catering’ has increased significantly since mid-May to mid-June, reflecting restrictions on ‘self-catering’ accommodation being lifted earlier than other holiday accommodation.
- ‘Own car’ is the preferred travel mode for a trip to Scotland, although ‘train’ and ‘plane’ is the mode of choice for around 1 in 10, driven by those living outside of Scotland.
This report for Scotland looks at survey results for the period 18 May to 12 June 2020. The commentary below refers to this time frame.
- 21% of U.K. residents are likely to go on a summer U.K. break this year, compared to 17% of Scotland residents. Notably Scotland and Wales residents are the least likely to be intending to go on a summer trip this year.
- Amongst U.K. residents planning a domestic holiday this summer Scotland is the number two destination, behind the South West of England. Amongst Scotland residents, Scotland is the number one destination followed by the South West of England.
- C1C2 families and AB families index the most heavily above the population average for summer trips to Scotland. AB pre-nesters also index higher, as do older independent ABs (despite older independents indexing lower overall).
- For Scotland summer intenders from the U.K., the Highlands and Edinburgh are the two most popular areas. For Scotland residents, the Highlands is also the most popular, although significantly more so than amongst the wider U.K. public. Scotland residents are less likely to take a holiday in Edinburgh and Glasgow, and more likely to do so on the West coast of Scotland.
- Scotland intenders are planning to come to Scotland for a range of holiday types, but ‘rural coastline’, ‘countryside or village’ and ‘mountains or hills’ are the top three destination types. Families favour seaside and rural destinations, whereas pre-nesters index higher in cities and towns.
- Hotel/motel/inn’ and ‘caravan/camping’ generate near-equal levels of visits to Scotland this summer, followed by ‘commercial self-catering’ and ‘a private home’.
- Both summer and winter Scotland intenders are more likely to book their trip directly with an accommodation provider than any other single booking channel, although when combined together ‘third-party channels’ make up a higher proportion of bookings than direct bookings alone.
Market intelligence update
The latest round up of UK and Ireland market intelligence from our VisitScotland marketing teams.
Brief market update
A rapid increase in infection rate and number of COVID-19 cases, as well as a new variant of the virus has led to lockdowns across most of the UK & Ireland. The stay at home order in Scotland will be in place until at least the end of January and subject to Scottish Government review.
Health and recovery of market
Governments within the UK & Ireland continue to closely monitor infection rate and number of COVID-19 cases. The ‘R’ number in the UK is currently between 1.0 – 1.4 (updated 8 January 2021).
Face coverings remain mandatory on public transport and in shops. The NHS Test & Protect service within the UK allows anyone who develops COVID-19 symptoms to be tested and contact tracing to be carried out. Vaccine rollout is underway across the UK.
Quarantine and other travel restrictions
Travel remains restricted to essential travel only in many regions of the UK & Ireland.
Under current Scottish regulations, unless you have a reasonable excuse you must not travel between Scotland and England, Northern Ireland, Wales, Republic of Ireland, Jersey, Guernsey and the Isle of Man. This applies to people who live in Scotland and to people who live in any of these countries who are thinking of coming to Scotland. These rules will be kept under review and if the prevalence of the virus in all, or part of, any of these countries reduces it may be possible to relax these restrictions for some areas.
Travel - aviation, ferries and rail
Domestic air, rail and ferry routes are in operation but limited mainly to essential travel due to the current restrictions in place. Schedules are subject to change and amendments. Pre-booking and increased hygiene measures have also been implemented. UK coach operator, National Express has suspended their services until 1 March (provisional date).
Intermediary insights and horizon scanning
New restrictions associated with increased infection rates are causing travel disruptions and trip cancellations. Research indicates a significant drop in consumer confidence in the ability to take a UK holiday or short break in the next few months so therefore travel intention is now being focused on spring, with tour operators focusing efforts on future bookings (both 2021 & 2022).
Online Travel Agent (OTA) insight had been indicating much shorter lead times with people booking very last minute (within one week) of travel, however recent restrictions have impacted this with insight now showing an increase in searches from March onwards.
Latest topic paper
UK segments during the COVID-19 pandemic
During the pandemic, it has become clear that the factors that previously identified key segments for Scottish tourism are being affected by the current COVID-19 situation.
As part of the joint UK Consumer Sentiment Tracking (VisitScotland, VisitEngland and Visit Wales). Some new segments have been developed to help the tourism industry to understand consumer attitudes and behaviour towards travel and leisure during the current crisis.