Rural Retreats has been named the best UK holiday cottage provider, while Sykes has been named the worst, according to new research from Which?.
As people continue to look closer to home for their summer holidays this year, the consumer champion surveyed more than 2,400 members about their experiences booking with different holiday cottage providers across the UK.
The findings suggest that paying a little more for a cottage can deliver a better holiday and greater peace of mind should something prevent the holiday from going ahead as planned, with the difference between booking a weekend away with a Which? Recommended Provider and the cheapest companies working out at only around £50 more expensive, on average.
Rural Retreats, which specialises in luxurious holiday homes, earned the highest customer score in the survey. The company has around 600 high-end properties nationwide, and was awarded a score of 91 per cent.
Customers gave the company five stars for customer service and cleanliness of the cottages, and four stars in every other category. While it was the most expensive provider on average in the survey, it is also one of three Which? Recommended Providers, meaning holidaymakers can rely on it for both a great holiday and a robust refund policy if they can’t travel due to the pandemic.
It was followed in the table by The Landmark Trust, which received a customer score of 89 per cent. It also received five stars for customer service and cleanliness, though missed out on receiving Which? Recommended Provider status on account of only allowing customers to rebook their holiday if they can’t travel because they have caught Covid-19, been told to self isolate by test and trace or are affected by a local lockdown where they live, rather than offering refunds.
The National Trust received the next highest customer score of 87 per cent, and was also named a Which? Recommended Provider. It received five stars for customer service, and while its overall score was a little lower than The Landmark Trust, it has more than twice the number of properties and works out more than £50 cheaper per person per week, on average.
Additionally, in a separate survey of holiday cottage customers who had bookings cancelled during the pandemic, almost nine in 10 (88%) National Trust customers who had a booking cancelled were satisfied with the outcome of the cancellation – more than any other provider in the refund satisfaction survey.
The third Which? Recommended Provider in the survey was Classic Cottages, which received a customer score of 85 per cent. It offers more than 1,000 properties in the South and West of the UK, and also received five stars for customer service, with holidaymakers able to trust their money will be returned to them if they can’t travel because of the pandemic.
At the other end of the table were Sykes and Hoseasons, with customer scores of 70 per cent and 71 per cent, respectively.
Both were subject to investigation from the Competition and Markets Authority last summer after they withheld refunds for bookings that could not go ahead because of the pandemic. Though the regulator secured commitments from the companies to refund such bookings, this wasn’t enough to prevent both companies finishing bottom of the table.
In a separate survey on satisfaction with the outcome of holiday cottage bookings that were cancelled, Sykes received a refund satisfaction score of just 52 per cent. Additionally, of those who did manage to go ahead with their Sykes booking, some still complained about poor experiences, with one in 10 (9%) saying they were dissatisfied with their stay.
Despite being one of the cheapest providers, the company only received three stars for value for money, and three stars for customer service.
While some customers spoke of positive experiences, one recent customer reported that their cottage was invaded by flies, another described their experience with an ‘aggressive owner’ and said their accommodation was ‘not fit for purpose’, while a third said ‘the Sykes website was inaccurate in about five respects’.
Hoseasons fared better in terms of handling cancellations, with a refund satisfaction score of 71 per cent among those who had a booking cancelled by the company. In the main survey though, it still only managed to muster three stars in most categories, including customer service, value for money, and quality of cottages among those whose holidays went ahead.
With the possibility of further disruption to domestic travel plans, such as local or national travel restrictions in the event of a surge in cases, or having to self-isolate following an exposure to the virus or a positive test result, Which? is urging anyone considering a UK holiday this year to book with a provider that will refund them in the event they cannot travel because of the pandemic.
Rory Boland, Which? Travel Editor, said:
“Restrictions on our freedoms may have lifted considerably since last summer, however it’s clear that many of the risks posed by the pandemic will be here for some time to come – so it remains vitally important to make sure your money is safe when booking a holiday, whether it’s abroad or in the UK.
“Our research has found that paying a little more for a holiday cottage in the UK is not only likely to give you a better holiday experience, but also ensure that you will get your money back without hassle if the pandemic prevents you from travelling.”
Notes to editors:
- Which? surveyed 2,412 members in March and April 2021 about their recent experiences with holiday cottage companies.
- Customer score combines overall satisfaction and likelihood of recommending.
- Refund satisfaction scores based on a separate Which? survey of 6,076 Which? members and members of the public in March and April 2021 assessing how satisfied holiday cottage customers were with the outcome of a recently cancelled booking.
- CMA investigation into the holiday lettings sector: https://www.gov.uk/cma-cases/cancellations-holiday-accommodation
Which? is the UK’s consumer champion, here to make life simpler, fairer and safer for everyone. Our research gets to the heart of consumer issues, our advice is impartial, and our rigorous product tests lead to expert recommendations. We’re the independent consumer voice that influences politicians and lawmakers, investigates, holds businesses to account and makes change happen. As an organisation we’re not for profit and all for making consumers more powerful.
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