Travel websites encouraging ‘staycations’ in England in spite of national lockdown rules

Two of the world’s biggest travel websites are encouraging the public to make journeys across England to stay in hotels in spite of the national lockdown, a Telegraph investigation can disclose.

Booking.com is offering guests almost 14,000 hotels and other types of accommodation to choose from during November, including offering enticing promotional deals. 

On an internet forum, a Booking.com manager suggested travellers should take “longer trips to combine business and leisure” in violation of  the current coronavirus restrictions.

Under the lockdown, the Government says travel must be avoided “unless for work, education or other legally permitted reasons”. Leisure and tourism are not among them.

Booking.com, the world’s biggest travel website, posts a disclaimer on some, but not all, available accommodation on its website but does not require any evidence that travel is for work or another lawful purpose before taking a booking.

Expedia, the world’s third-most popular travel website, has been offering ‘staycations’ and minibreaks at discounted rates in England throughout November – again encouraging travel.

The website offers travel accommodation bookings with a disclaimer again only some bookings. It warns that guests ‘may’ be asked to provide evidence that the travel is for a business related purpose on arrival at a hotel.

In contrast, Airbnb, one of the major rivals to the two internet giants, has blocked its site from taking bookings in England until the current lockdown ends on December 2.

While Airbnb has no bookings available, there are tens of thousands of places to stay on booking.com and Expedia.

Booking.com was criticised for continuing to take bookings in the first lockdown in the spring.

An outcry prompted the company to perform a U-turn and eventually block bookings in the first lockdown.

Ian Blackford, the leader of the Scottish National Party (SNP) in Westminster and who led the criticism of Booking.com in the spring, said: “These websites should stop taking bookings immediately. It may not be against the law, but it is against the spirit. 

"Everybody is trying to get the virus under control before Christmas and it is really disappointing to see Booking.com acting so irresponsibly.”

Ian Blackford, the leader of the SNP in Westminster led the criticism of Booking.com in the first lockdown, said: “These websites should stop taking bookings immediately. It may not be against the law, but it is against the spirit

Credit: PA

In a posting on November 7, two days after the English lockdown came into force, a Booking.com community manager, identified only as Sergei, advised travellers how to circumvent the new rules. Sergei posted on the internet forum: “With many offices closed, people are looking to take longer trips that combine business and leisure.

“The possibility of combining work with exploring a new place or spending more time with family and friends is a big draw for many professionals.”

Travel advice issued by the Government on October 31 and which came into effect on November 5 was clear. 

It states: “If you live in England, you must stay at home and avoid travel in the UK or overseas, unless for work, education or other legally permitted reasons. If you need to travel you should look to reduce the number of journeys if possible.”

On the subject of staying away from home overnight, it continues: “You cannot leave home for holidays or stays overnight away from your main home unless permitted by law. This means that holidays in the UK and abroad are not allowed. This includes staying in a second home or caravan, if you own one, or staying with anyone you do not live with or are in a support bubble with.”

When searching on Expedia, the website has a small banner posted that states: “The United Kingdom may have travel restrictions in place, including self-quarantine, due to Covid-19.”

An Expedia spokesman said: “As governments across the globe continue efforts to contain the spread of the coronavirus (Covid-19), Expedia Group is working to stay on top of changing regulations and respond accordingly. £

"We encourage travellers to check the latest travel restrictions before booking, including by providing links to the UK Government’s coronavirus site.”

On Booking.com, the small print states on bookings: “Due to Coronavirus (Covid-19), please ensure that you are only booking this property following the local government guidelines of the destination, including but not limited to the purpose of travel, and maximum allowed group size.”

Only some listings mention that only essential workers on business can stay during the current lockdown. 

Booking.com also encourages urgent booking, with travellers confronted with messages such as: “Only four left at this price on our site”.

A spokesman for Booking.com said: "During this rapidly evolving time, Booking.com is committed to featuring information across its site reiterating to customers that there are currently travel restrictions to consider in many destinations. 

"We also have tools in place, which many of our UK accommodations have adopted, that provide clear information to guests about what national and local measures mean and to indicate any conditions that may apply, including requiring proof of essential travel where relevant, ensuring that crucial workers still have access to accommodation when required."

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