Smaller companies outshine big name brands for self-catered UK holidays in Which?’s first-ever survey of UK holiday cottage providers.
As demand for self-catering accommodation in the UK continues to boom as a result of the coronavirus outbreak, the consumer champion says its research found a number of major brands with tens of thousands of properties are failing to compete with small-scale providers on delivering quality accommodation and reliable refund policies.
In June it asked more than 6,500 people about their experiences with 19 UK holiday cottage providers across a range of criteria, including the quality of their accommodation, ease of making a booking, customer service and value for money.
A table by Which? showing the ranking of the 19 UK holiday cottage providers included in its survey
Smaller companies outshine big name brands for self-catered UK holidays in Which?’s first-ever survey of UK holiday cottage providers
Which? also says it ‘independently assessed’ the companies’ approaches to refunding customers whose bookings were cancelled as a result of the coronavirus outbreak.
Big names in the bottom half of the Which? table include Sykes, Hoseasons, Homeaway and Booking.com, which host more than 200,000 property listings between them.
Booking.com, Hoseasons and Homeaway all receive a customer score of 70 per cent, along with Holidaycottages.co.uk, which has around 6,000 properties.
Sykes sits joint bottom of the table with a score of 69 per cent, alongside Toad Hall Cottages, with approximately 900 properties.
While Which? says some survey respondents spoke of satisfactory experiences with Sykes – and it scores quite well across the categories – it reveals that other customers told of ‘inaccurate website descriptions, disappointing properties, and issues with cleanliness’.
The consumer champion adds: ‘As well as complaints about the standard of some of the properties, there were recurring comments regarding problems with contacting Sykes and unsuccessful attempts to secure refunds for cancelled bookings.’
Which? says one customer told them: ‘I am appalled by the way the company has treated those who booked pre-lockdown and then had to cancel. The delay with refunds is not acceptable and I will not use the company again.’
The consumer watchdog previously said that both Hoseasons and Sykes were potentially breaching consumer law as their contracts contained terms that could deny customers a refund if an owner was forced to cancel because of circumstances outside of their control.
It reported both firms – along with Cottages.com and English Country Cottages – to the Competition and Markets Authority (CMA) regulator.
In June, the CMA successfully received undertakings from both Sykes and Vacation Rentals, the parent company of Hoseasons, Cottages.com and English Country Cottages, to offer refunds for all cancelled bookings because of restrictions associated with the coronavirus outbreak.
At the top of the Which? survey table, with a customer score of 88 per cent, is The Landmark Trust – a charity dedicated to the conservation of unique historic landmarks.
With only 200 properties, The Landmark Trust was the smallest provider in Which?’s survey but is remarkably the only company to score five stars across every category.
However, the company just missed out on receiving Which? Recommended Provider status, as Which? says that while it offers refunds or free rebooking options for holidays it has to cancel, ‘it is not automatically issuing refunds to customers who cancel holidays themselves because of coronavirus, or who are unable to take their holidays because of local lockdowns’.
More than 6,500 people were asked in June about their experiences with 19 UK holiday cottage providers across a range of criteria, including the quality of their accommodation, ease of making a booking, customer service and value for money
The National Trust receives the next highest customer rating, with a score of 85 per cent.
Also a charity, the National Trust is named a Which? Recommended Provider on account of its high scores and generous refund policy, giving any customer unable to travel because of Covid-19 a full refund if they do not want to reschedule.
Customers raved about the attractive properties in great locations, with one telling Which?: ‘We stayed in a house that I had dreamed of stopping in when I visited the Lakes as a young adult. To have my children there with us was magical.’
Forest Holidays also receives Which? Recommended Provider status, with a score of 77 per cent.
Its refund policy impressed Which?’s travel experts, committing to refunding customers who cannot travel due to local lockdown restrictions, while customers rated the quality of its accommodation and customer service.
While holidaymakers value interesting and well-presented properties at a good price, the importance of fair and flexible terms when it comes to cancellations and refunds cannot be understated
One guest told Which?: ‘The facilities in the lodge were first class and everything we required and more was there on arrival.’
Which? says it is advising any customers looking to book a staycation in the coming months to check the company’s terms and conditions before booking, and only book with a company that has committed to refunding customers who cannot travel because of Covid-19.
Rory Boland, editor of Which? Travel, says: ‘With international travel restrictions still in place across the country and bookings for UK holidays extending into next year, it’s clear that self-catered accommodation providers will be in high demand for the foreseeable future.
‘While holidaymakers value interesting and well-presented properties at a good price, the importance of fair and flexible terms when it comes to cancellations and refunds cannot be understated.
‘Always do your research before booking, to make sure you’re not stung if coronavirus restrictions prevent your holiday from going ahead.’
A spokesperson for Sykes Holiday Cottages said: ‘This survey dates back three months to an unprecedented and uniquely challenging period that affected the whole travel sector. It is not representative or reflective of the current situation.
‘We always use all customer feedback to continuously improve our services and our own data shows that customers are very happy with the holidays they book with us. As a result, more people than ever are now planning ahead with confidence, having fallen in love with UK staycations like never before during the record-breaking summer that we have had since this survey was carried out.’
MailOnline asked Toad Hall Cottages for comment.