We have all been stuck at home since the end of March, over 100 days in lockdown. As much as we have all enjoyed exploring our local area more, it is time to start venturing a bit further afield. If you are looking to plan a staycation, here are my planning tips.
Why am I qualified to give you staycation planning tips? I may be a bit rusty, having been on furlough – and at the time of writing this, still not back at work – but I am a Marketing Manager for a hotel group. I have worked in hospitality a long time, so have picked up lots of tips and tricks along the way.
Planning and research is definitely the key, and if you do it all in advance when you’re there, all you need to do is enjoy the staycation. Things you need to consider are:
- Budget – how much is the overall trip going to cost, including the points below?
- Travel – how are you going to get there and while you are there?
- Type of accommodation – do you want a luxury hotel, or happy to stay in a hostel?
- Food and drink – how much will you spend on breakfast, lunch, dinner, snacks, water, alcohol…?
- Things to do – plan a loose itinerary, what do you want to see and do
Use booking.com as a search engine
Typing “hotels in Cardiff” into Google, for example, will only bring up the big search engines like Booking.com, LastMinute.com, Trip Advisor, etc. They spend way too much money on SEO and PPC. Hotels don’t stand a chance of getting on the first couple of pages.
If I am looking to visit a particular area, I use booking.com as a search engine, to find a hotel with my requirements. For me, I’ll need free parking, maybe a pool, and a half-decent breakfast. If I don’t book breakfast, I usually end up wandering around until lunchtime with my boyfriend, grumpy and hungry, because we can’t decide where to eat.
When I find a hotel or place that I like the look of, I will book directly with them. Why? It will be cheaper. If for some reason it isn’t on their website, give them a call. Hotels have to pay massive commissions to sites like booking.com and would prefer to have direct bookings.
Other benefits to booking direct
You get more perks and exclusive rates when you book your stay direct. The Reservations Team will also have group and corporate bookings, and when they get rooming lists, they may need to balance room types. On occasion, complimentary room upgrades will be given, and priority is given to those who book directly.
2. Better terms and conditions
The most significant benefit to booking directly is better flexibility. In the case of unforeseen circumstances, emergencies, cancellation and refunds, it can be much more complicated with an online agent. Even if you have a non-refundable room by booking direct, if they are given enough notice, they may allow you to change your reservation to another date – usually a month or so.
3. Special requests
If you are celebrating a birthday or anniversary, mention it to the team, or write a note if you book online. The team may offer you a complimentary room upgrade, a drink on them at the bar, or a box of chocolates when you check-in. Be warned, Reservations Teams get these requests a lot – sometimes the whole hotel are there for a special occasion – so it might not be possible.
You may also be offered some promotions to help you celebrate, such as offers on wine, prosecco, afternoon tea, free dessert with dinner in the restaurant. Which are something to consider.
4. Room requirements
Notes from booking sites often get garbled or are not sent through. (This is a big bugbear of mine, as it makes the hotel look stupid, not the booking agent.) Are they dog-friendly, can you bring your four-legged friend? If you need a twin room or an accessible room, prefer to be on the ground floor – that type of thing, you are more likely to get what you want when booking direct.
5. Local attractions
The Reservations Team will be able to tell you what attractions are nearby and how easy they are to get to. Sometimes they have discount codes or vouchers too. Local knowledge is second to none. Use them to find out about the local transport, and places to visit that may not be on Trip Advisor.
Especially at the moment, not all tourist attractions will be open. Ask the team if you can bring your bike – are they allowed in the bedrooms – and where can you cycle? Or are there any coastal or country walks that you can take, or a local park you can visit?
Tourist attractions may also offer a discount if you book in advance, so if there is anywhere, in particular, you’d like to go double-check their website first.
6. Loyalty programmes
Many hotels and accommodation providers run loyalty programmes or rewards clubs. It is always free to sign up, and will usually have a joining offer such as lower room rates, free WiFi, mobile check-in, a drink on arrival or a free breakfast. They are designed for those who stay frequently, but you can get a little something extra on that one visit.
7. Tell them you’re a blogger / influencer
Call the hotel you’d like to stay in and ask them if you can talk to or have the email address for the Marketing Manager or PR Manager. Tell them why you’d like to stay in their hotel and what you plan on doing when you’re there. They may offer you a discounted or free stay in return for a review. All hoteliers have excellent links with visitor attractions, if you pitch it right, they may also pass your information onto the places you want to visit. The worst that can happen is that they say no.
Book packages and special offers
Booking.com and the other similar search engines tend to be room only, or bed and breakfast. Hotels will often design special offer packages covering all of their internal departments. Offers could be for dinner, bed and breakfast, spa breaks, golf breaks, theatre breaks, shopping stays, or Christmas festive breaks (when you stay between Christmas Eve and Boxing day).
If you don’t mind which part of the country you want to visit, putting specific phrases in Google will bring up various offers. (You can narrow this down by location too, of course, but it may limit your options.) When we were saving for our house, we had to restrict our staycation spend. Usually, we would overindulge, and overeat, having huge meals out. By searching ‘Dinner, Bed and Breakfast’ and found a place in Torquay. We had a 2-night stay for 2 people, which included the below for £189. It was away from the main town, but being the summer, we were able to walk to the pubs in the evening and get a taxi back.
- Superior bedroom
- Cream tea on arrival
- Breakfast both mornings
- 4-course meal on both nights (it was a cheese course too, not just coffee!)
- A 2-course Sunday lunch before check out
Use social media
It is underutilised, but search hashtags or locations on Instagram to find places to eat, drink and things to see and do. Find local people, and ask them too. If they are anything like me, they’ll get a lot of suggestions. I’d recommend doing this on Twitter also. Of course, you can ask your followers on places they recommend to eat, drink, see and do too.
Check out the deals
The last piece of research I recommend when planning a staycation is to check out the local deals. Vouchercloud, Wowcher and Groupon may have activity, spa days, or dining offers you can enjoy when you are there. Occasionally there will be hotel offers too – again, phone them and ask to book the deal directly? I also have a Taste Card, which we get as part of our joint bank account, this comes in useful for food offers too.
It’s time to explore!
If lockdown has taught us anything, it is to value our local areas. Now we can go further afield, I think we will all appreciate how picturesque, historic and lively the UK is. It’s time to find out its secrets for ourselves. Enjoy your staycation!