Self-catering holidays: How UK properties are preparing to welcome guests this summer — and where to book to avoid crowds

Self-catering properties in the UK are preparing to reopen for summer - with strict new protocols in place. In England, the hospitality sector is expected to be given the go-ahead to welcome guests from 4 July , while Scotland's tourism businesses - including pubs, hotels and restaurants - have been given a provisional reopening date of 15 July. The situation in Wales remains unclear, with no roadmap for reopening tourism yet and attractions remaining closed although restrictions will be reviewed.

In Northern Ireland, self-catering tourist accommodation can open from 26 June. Renting a holiday home ticks all the right social distancing boxes, owners say. "Self-catering is the safest option for people looking for holiday accommodation," says Beth Bailey, Chair and Marketing Director of Premier Cottages. "There are no communal areas and effectively you can be in your own social bubble for the entire holiday. You'd be more likely to contract the virus in a supermarket."

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Growing confidence leads to a surge in booking enquiries

Holidaymakers seem to agree. Sawday's has seen booking enquiries, particularly for self-catering, increase week on week - searches for England were up 42% on the previous week and Scotland up 60%, in line with the announcement of restrictions easing.

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Its glamping offshoot, Canopy & Stars reported its best day ever for booking revenue in the company's 10-year history on 14 June.

Self-catering agency The Travel Chapter has also seen a spike in bookings from mid-July onwards, reporting searches on its sites rising by almost 100% over the past fortnight.

Glamping retreats such as those featured by Canopy and Stars, including this Idaho Cabin in Sussex, are in demand (Photo: Canopy & Stars)

New safety standards are set

To keep guests and staff safe, many companies are introducing new guidance for property owners. The AA has launched a Covid Confident assessment scheme. The accreditation will demonstrate to customers that an establishment has in place the necessary risk assessments, safety measures and staff training to reopen safely.

Sawday's and Canopy & Stars owners can sign up to a Clean & Safe Charter, covering self-check-in, social distancing and additional cleaning measures. A new set of pandemic rules has also been laid out by Premier Cottages in association with PASC (Professional Association of Self-Caterers) and the ASSC (Association of Scotland's Self-Caterers). The 26-page document, detailing guidelines for hygiene in the holiday homes sector, has been backed by organisations including UK Hospitality, VisitEngland, VisitScotland, VisitWales, the AA, and the National Tourism Alliances.

A key inclusion is a new, two-part cleaning process. "This is crucial to persuade both guests and the government that we are safe to open," says Beth Bailey. "First is a normal deep clean of the property. The second step involves disinfecting everything with virucide, paying particular attention to touch points, such as door handles." Cleaners are advised to consider wearing protective gloves, aprons and masks.

Sykes Holiday Cottages Grafton Mill, a Grade II listed watermill located near the rural village of Grafton Flyford

Physical meet-and-greets are discouraged. Instead, owners are advised to use key safes, or leave the cottage open with disinfected keys left inside.

Although property owners are not required to leave a 72-hour gap between rental parties (the length of time the virus is believed to survive on surfaces), they are being asked to take measures to minimise risk; digital guest books are encouraged instead of paper books, as is having two sets of crockery and soft furnishings such as cushions to swap between guests.

Hot tubs go cold

The new rules also advise against shared hot tubs, and for any welcome packs to contain wrapped items, such as plastic bottles of milk, instead of jugs or homemade scones. Owners should consider installing hand sanitiser stations at the property entrance. Guests are also being asked to do their bit to help minimise risks for themselves as well as property owners.

You could be asked to strip your own beds at the end of your stay, load the dishwasher and leave windows open when you leave. To allow for extra cleaning, guests may be asked to arrive later and leave earlier on changeover days.

Check the terms and conditions, as well as local attractions, before booking

You won't need to complete health questionnaires before arrival. But you should check terms and conditions before booking. "Most amenable properties are offering guests the flexibility to cancel and receive a refund if another lockdown is imposed," says Bailey.

The National Trust has tweaked its booking policy for self-catering properties, so guests can postpone or re-book their stay for up to 24 months, with no administration fee, and covering any increase in booking cost by up to 15%. Guests should also check whether nearby attractions will be open and functioning during their stay. Both English Heritage and the National Trust have introduced advance booking at some sites to help manage visitor numbers.

Visitors are required to pre-book tickets for an increasing number of sites, including Dyrham Park in Bath, Fountains Abbey and Studley Royal Water Garden in Yorkshire and Charlecote Park in Warwickshire. There is currently open access to beaches, though pre-booked parking spaces, fines for illegal parking and beach monitors have been used to keep numbers down at beaches in Dorset and Brighton. RNLI lifeguard services are currently limited on UK beaches and many public toilets remain closed.

Where's available? Self-catering stays that avoid Britain's honeypots

Canopy & Stars has lots of availability in Somerset this summer, including St Catherine's Tea Pavilion located in a quiet valley with a brook near Bath and sleeping 2, costing GBP150 per night.

Norfolk Hideaways has good availability in the county this summer, including Garden Cottage located in the hamlet of Wellingham, which is a 20-minute drive to Wells-Next-The-Sea and sleeps 2, costing GBP663 per week based on a 24 July arrival date. Canine Cottages has dog-friendly cottages around the UK with good availability this summer, including Top Cottage in the Wolds located in Normanby-le-wold, Lincolnshire, and surrounded by footpaths and bike trails. Sleeping 3 plus 1 dog, it costs from GBP533 per week in July and August.

Premier Cottages has availability in Scotland this summer, including Culdee Cottage located beside the River Isla and close to the Cateran Trail in Perthshire. Sleeping 4, it costs GBP600 per week. Sawday's has good availability in Northumberland this summer, including Chaffinch Cottage in remote Kidlandlee with its pretty garden and electricity provided by solar panels and wind turbines.

Sleeping 4, it costs from GBP550 per week. Sykes Holiday Cottages still has availability in Worcestershire in July and August, including at Grafton Mill, a Grade II listed watermill located near the rural village of Grafton Flyford and sleeping 4, costing from GBP984 for seven nights. Wharton Lodge Cottages, near Ross on Wye, Herefordshire, have self-catering properties available this summer, including Harewood Cottage with its open-plan sitting room, fireplace and private courtyard and sleeping 4, costing from GBP895 per week.

Upthorpe Lodges have availability this summer at their four smart, timber self-catering properties set in the Suffolk countryside near Stanton, close to Bury St Edmunds, sleeping 2 and costing from GBP417 for three nights.

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