November 29, 2020

Coronavirus: Holiday homes in Wales reopen after lockdown

Ruaridh and Caroline MacDonald with their children Image copyright The Cottage Co
Image caption Ruaridh and Caroline MacDonald run agency The Cottage Co and have been preparing their own Romany caravan for guests

Holidaymakers are due to arrive at cottages, caravans and yurts in Wales for the first time since March.

Holiday accommodation without shared facilities such as bathrooms are able to reopen from Saturday.

Some in the industry say there is light at the end of the tunnel after a “rollercoaster” lockdown rescheduling bookings and issuing refunds.

Now the focus has moved to following guidance for reopening, writing risk assessments and deep cleaning.

Sher Kilgour from Dinas Powys, Vale of Glamorgan, booked a cottage near Llangrannog, Ceredigion, as soon as the first minister announced the easing of restrictions.

She and her husband Dameon are heading there on Monday.

She said: “It’s my 50th birthday and we were planning to go to Greece so having somewhere to see the sea and countryside after being within five miles for so long is very important.”

She said she was not concerned about safety: “Where we’re going is very isolated, but having said that I wouldn’t be concerned if it was somewhere more populated, as long as there’s proper measures in place.”

She said she had not spoken to the owners about what changes they had put in place, adding: “I’ve been there four or five times before and it’s always been spotless.”

Ruaridh and Caroline MacDonald run self-catering accommodation agency The Cottage Co from their home in Monmouthshire and also have their own Romany caravan which has its first guests arriving on Saturday.

Image copyright The Cottage Co
Image caption The MacDonalds’ Romany caravan has been deep cleaned in preparation to welcome guests on Saturday

Mr MacDonald described lockdown as “both a challenge and an opportunity”.

‘Rollercoaster’

“We realised it was vital to keep in touch with guests and owners and in a funny way it’s made the company stronger and strengthened our connection with guests,” he said.

“Its been a rollercoaster in terms of moving hundreds of bookings and giving refunds… we’ve been talking to hundreds and hundreds of guests.”

Image copyright Menai Holiday Cottages
Image caption Aber Wharf in Porthmadog, Gwynedd

He said a surge in inquires meant they had nothing available for the whole of the summer.

“There’s been significant financial impact but if things are okay from now on that would be a wonderful result,” he said.

Image copyright Menai Holiday Cottages
Image caption Ty Glyn in Criccieth, Gwynedd, is one of many coastal properties preparing to reopen

He said they had spent time speaking to accommodation owners about their preparation to minimise risk to guests: “They are very keen to get going and have been deep cleaning, coming up with new risk assessments and simplified what is in the cottage so it is easier to clean.”

He said preparing their Romany caravan had not been too difficult: “Dare I say it but with outdoor glamping social distancing is relatively easy.

“The caravan is very much on its own so they won’t meet anyone else… it’s a low-ish risk.

“It’s very exciting to be reopening… and guests are certainly incredibly keen to come.”

‘Bonkers’

Hide Wales’ cabins, shepherd’s hut and lodge in St Donats, Vale of Glamorgan, are reopening on Monday.

Its owner Paula Louise Warren said of the past three months: “It’s been bonkers.

“You have to arrange so many things, all our bedding, all our beautiful woollen blankets have all been put in storage and instead we’re using cotton as everything needs to be boiled.”

Image copyright Hide Wales
Image caption The shepherd’s hut at Hide Wales will be reopening on Monday

She said getting ready to reopen had been a “real journey” but advice from Visit Wales and Business Wales had been invaluable.

“We weren’t expecting to be able to open until Christmas so we are grateful. It’s about being safe,” she said.

Greg Stevenson is the owner and director of Under the Thatch.

Image copyright Hide Wales
Image caption Hide Wales says preparing to reopen has been a “real journey”

The agency has 82 holiday properties on its books with about 60 in Wales, seven of which he owns.

He said his company actually increased its staff’s hours through lockdown: “Right from the start we were corresponding with customers,” he said.

‘Frustrated’

“We’ve seen our advanced sales for the rest of the year are higher than ever before… I’m so pleased thanks to our customers.”

Image copyright Menai Holiday Cottages
Image caption Menai Holiday Cottages has been taking bookings for cottages such as Belan Fawr on Rhosneigr, Anglesey

He said he was “delighted” to be welcoming guests again: “We’ve been waiting for it for a long time.

“We were very frustrated that the other countries of the UK and Europe had dates [for reopening] and we didn’t… we got the date so late which caused huge administration problems and a huge amount of work in the office.”

Image copyright Under the Thatch
Image caption Glamping accommodation such as Cwt Alpaca in Llanidloes, Powys, can reopen from Saturday

He said he was pointing owners to Welsh Government guidance for the sector but it had come in “too late” which was a “niggle”.

A Welsh Government spokeswoman said the first minister asked owners to begin preparing to reopen three weeks ago and guidance was published on 29 June.

She said the reopening date was moved forward by two days to enable Saturday to Saturday bookings following calls from the industry.

Mr Stevenson said he did not think customers had too many safety concerns: “We’ve had very few queries… if I’m reading it correctly the customers are not too paranoid about this issue.”

Image copyright Under the Thatch
Image caption Holiday cottages, such as Bwthyn Tresinwen in Pembrokeshire, have been preparing to welcome guests

When asked if locals would welcome back tourists, he said: “I think a lot of people are very cautious at the moment but if you ask them one week after the 11th then they’ll be fine…. give it a couple of weeks and people will be more relaxed.”

Menai Holiday Cottages has 490 properties on its books in Snowdonia, Anglesey, and the Llyn Peninsula in Gwynedd.

Its managing director Jack Matthews said: “There’s finally light at the end of the tunnel.

“There’s a huge amount of excitement. Bookings have climbed back very quickly.”

Image copyright Under the Thatch
Image caption Cabins with their own bathrooms, such as Caban Llys y Frân in Narberth, Pembrokeshire, can reopen

He would have liked the reopening date to be 10 July to allow Friday to Friday bookings – about 60% of its cottages are Friday changeover – and to have been consulted by the Welsh Government.

A Welsh Government spokeswoman said it had been speaking to the industry through the four regional tourism forums, sector representative bodies including Wales Tourism Alliance, individual businesses and holding a weekly meeting of the tourism taskforce group.

Mr Matthews believes communities are ready for the change.

“Locals are ready for tourists to come back at a distance,” he said.

“A minority may have strong views but it’s about getting the balance right, I’m sure tourists will be respectful.”