Richard Beaman reports a significant increase in bookings that could herald a bumper visitor year

These are undoubtedly chaotic, tumultuous times. Every day seems to bring fresh confusion as our politicians argue about what should happen next in terms of Brexit but, whilst there is plenty to rage over – whatever side of the fence you sit – I’d like to report some very good news.

I have been running cornwallscottages.co.uk for the last ten years. As a self-catering holiday lettings agency, we look after the marketing for more than 350 properties and, genuinely, have never seen a bookings surge like it. Compared to March last year, we are currently 45 per cent up – with an overall increase of 38 per cent since the start of the year, compared to the same period in 2018.

Why do I think this has happened? There are a range of factors but an important one is, of course, Brexit. How can you properly plan to travel in Europe when you don’t know how your holiday is going to be impacted? Car insurance for example. At the moment, anyone with a valid UK driving licence can drive where they like in the EU but, if and when Brexit happens, we may need a different international driving permit. We may also need to get a Green Card as evidence of insurance.

Another issue likely to affect thousands of visitors each year is dogs. Will they be able to take them abroad easily as they have been doing or will they be faced with bureaucratic red tape that may render their current EU dog passports invalid? The current government advice is that, in the event of a no deal Brexit, pets will need to be vaccinated against rabies and then have a blood test done 30 days after the vaccination to check the requisite level of rabies antibodies has been met. If so, there then needs to be a further wait of three months from the date of the blood sample being taken before your dog can travel. And that’s not all – 10 days before departure, you need to get a health certificate from an officially recognised vet. A protracted, expensive business by anyone’s standards that is certainly deterring those who want to holiday with their canine friends from leaving the country in the near future.

It’s not all about Brexit though. 2018 saw one of the sunniest summers on record and there’s nowhere better than a beach or beautiful coastline when the weather is at its best. Our region can rival anywhere in the world for stunning scenery, especially when the sun is shining, so why face all the irritation and frenzy of customs’ queues when you can get in a car or train and be on the sand within hours?

We are seeing a change in the length of stays people are booking. Week-long visits used to be the norm but shorter stays have definitely become more popular – especially off-season. Some are the result of spontaneous decisions to get away because it’s sunny or a break, for whatever reason, is urgently needed but many are planned well in advance. I suspect that’s a reflection of today’s highly pressured lifestyles and a growing recognition that regular time-out is hugely beneficial for both mental and physical health.

As a self-catering agency, we market a wide range of properties – from secluded cottages with a beach outside the front door to converted barns, sleek apartments and multi-million-pound houses with exceptional sea views. There literally is something for everyone but, whether their owners are renting them out to supplement their own use or whether they’re an all year-round commercial income provider, occupancy is critical.

Marketing these days is a hugely competitive affair and it’s become very difficult for individuals to stand out from the crowd when they don’t have the time or resources to rank well for digital searches. That’s where agencies like ours become a cost-effective option – making it easy for people to find and book somewhere suitable. Like them or loathe them, huge internet platforms like Booking.com and Airbnb have their part to play too. Of course, it’s better to achieve as many direct bookings as possible but, when faced with the choice of being empty or having guests, most owners are only too happy to choose the latter. We have invested heavily in software that integrates with influential sites and that’s had an impact on reservations too. In fact, given the level of interest, our biggest challenge is having enough properties to meet record demand.

Every cloud has a silver lining and what we’re seeing suggests that, despite all the political uncertainty (or perhaps partly because of it), we seem to be heading for a bumper tourism year.

That has to be good news.

Richard Beaman is managing director of cornwallscottages.co.uk