Travel industry to give NHS staff free holidays


While the country has been thanking NHS staff fighting the coronavirus pandemic with the weekly #clapforcarers, many in the tourism sector are showing their appreciation by offering healthcare workers a free break once travel restrictions have been lifted.

Since its launch earlier this month, the #treatournhs initiative has seen more than 100 accommodation owners across the UK sign up, pledging anything from a weekend in a cabin in Cornwall to a mini-break at a Scottish castle.

The idea comes from Sarah White, owner of The Hayloft, a self-catering studio near Dartmoor, Devon. “I wanted to do something to give back to the NHS and decided to offer a two-night stay for two,” she said. “I put it on Instagram and was overwhelmed by the response from others in the industry also wanting to say thank you. New people are constantly coming on board with amazing giveaways.”

Anyone can nominate an NHS worker – or they can nominate themselves – and all holidays are collected under the hashtag #treatournhs. Different properties select the winners and deadlines vary: some prizes have been awarded already but the initiative is ongoing, and growing fast. Among the latest additions are the first overseas breaks, including a stay in a luxury French chateau and a week for four in an apartment in Mallorca. Local businesses have been augmenting holidays by offering meals and other gifts, too.

“The travel industry has been so hard hit by the pandemic but the generosity I’m seeing is heartwarming,” said White. “The messages I’m getting from nurses and others in the NHS are so moving, too: they say we’re offering a light at the end of the tunnel.”

Travel firms including CoolStays and Sawday’s are onboard, spreading the word, and White is encouraging everyone to share the idea on social media. Farncombe Estate in the Cotswolds is also running on-going giveaways of overnight stays, spa days and afternoon teas at its hotels: Dormy House, The Fish Hotel and Foxhill Manor. Details are posted regularly on Facebook and Instagram.

In a separate initiative, luxury tour operator Original Travel is offering a holiday for two worth £10,000 (destination tbc) as part of its At Your Service raffle for NHS staff, with prizes donated by luxury brands across various sectors, including handbags from LK Bennet and a jeroboam of champagne from Laurent-Perrier. A two-night stay at the University Arms in Cambridge and a weekend at The Lodge Hotel in London are up for grabs (the closing date for entries is 5 July).

In Spain, the British owners of boutique B&B Casa Higueras near Granada have launched the #MyTravelPledge campaign, with local properties offering free short breaks to NHS staff and healthcare workers. Alongside 17 properties in Andalucía, companies providing experiences (such as guided treks in the Sierra Nevada) have signed up, and Airport Transfers Málaga has donated free rides. International travel is not included – although two private donors have pledged to cover two flights.

“We wanted to offer a break to someone who deserves it most and – once people can start travelling again – to show people Spain is waiting to welcome them,” said Casa Higueras co-owner Ian Rutter. “We’re delighted by how quickly the idea has grown and the quality of what is being offered.”

NHS employees, or their friends, colleagues and relatives can make nominations on the My Travel Pledge website or contact listed properties directly. Once travel restrictions have been lifted, winners will be chosen and contacted.

“It’s a morale boost for workers on the frontline – and it’s given us something positive to focus on in these difficult times,” said Rutter.

Another UK move to support the NHS comes from hotels and resorts, such as Landal Gwel an Mor in Cornwall and the Holiday Inn in Wembley, which have stepped in to provide free accommodation near hospitals for key workers who need to relocate or stay apart from families to protect themselves or loved ones.

The UK’s Short Term Accommodation Association (Staa) has also launched the NHS Homes scheme, offering properties that were lying empty because of travel restrictions to NHS staff. What began in London has spread across the country with around 2,500 homes available from companies including Sykes Holiday Cottages, Under the Doormat and onefinestay.

Merilee Karr, chair of Staa, said: “This initiative will provide a lifeline to those working in the NHS who are looking to keep themselves and their families safe. I am proud that we have come together in this difficult time for everyone to make a meaningful contribution as an industry.”