Large groups of families and friends who were planning to holiday together in England this autumn will have to cancel their trip under the new “rule of six” announced by Boris Johnson on Wednesday. From 14 September, it will be illegal for more than six people to gather either indoors and outdoors in England, scuppering potentially thousands of planned trips. There is no indication how long the rule will be in force for but chief medical office Chris Witty said it is “very unlikely to be over in two or three weeks”.
Today accommodation owners started fielding calls from customers with bookings for large cottages and lodges. In response to the ruling, Which? Travel published a statement saying it would “disrupt many holidays that have been paid for” and that customers are entitled to a full refund under consumer law. However, some providers are offering credit notes in the first instance. Log House Holidays in the Cotswolds said it is offering credit notes to any groups who now have to cancel its larger cabins, but not refunds. “The situation is not the same as lockdown. We are now up and running and we hope that customers will accept a credit note for a future booking,” said owner James Edmonson.
In the Lake District, adventure company River Deep Mountain High was hoping to offer its bunkhouse accommodation to two families over half-term but will have to restrict it to one. Owner Emma Hoving said she had mixed feelings about the change in the law: “I’ve had four to five enquires from large groups – I felt that people weren’t getting [the important message of staying in small groups] anymore, so the government needed to remind everyone. But it’s disappointing that the two family thing has been removed.”
York-based Lost Earth Adventures said that after its busiest August on record it is now facing cancellations for trips booked in the coming weeks. “I’ve just had an email from a group of 10 who have cancelled because they want to do the activity together but we are not allowed to do that now,” said director Richard Goodey.
Under previous guidelines, gatherings were limited to six people or two households but that was advisory – by law the maximum was 30 people. It meant that adventure operators that had undergone risk assessments and were managing groups in a Covid-safe way were able to host groups. Now that the legal limit has been reduced to six, adventure operators will have to reduce group sizes to five with one instructor, something that Goodey says is not financially viable long term. “We usually operate on the basis of one instructor to 10 participants. A five-to-one ratio will make it untenable.” He added: “Obviously the health of the nation comes first, so we understand, but we haven’t been given enough notice. We have groups happening over the next three to four weeks for which we have already paid for transport and logistics, and that will leave us with some tricky contractual disputes with suppliers. Under consumer law, the customer is entitled to their money back. It leaves us highly exposed to losing money.”
The new rule does not apply to Wales, Scotland or Northern Ireland, where administrations have set different limits. In Wales, for example, gatherings of up to 30 people are permitted outside. Pembrokeshire-based Preseli Venture is continuing to run its group activities into the autumn, albeit at about a quarter of their usual capacity. “We had massive interest this summer,” said marketing and events manager Ruth Jenkins. “It’s boomed but we haven’t been able to fulfil the demand because we are operating at minimal capacity.”