Tourism hotspots across the UK are extending the domestic season through autumn to recover business lost during the coronavirus lockdown.
Blackpool’s illuminations will light up the seafront two months longer than usual, until January, while holiday park operator Haven will keep 16 of its holiday parks open for an additional four weeks until the end of November. Pembrokeshire and Cornwall are among the UK destinations following suit. Enabling camping trips in England, Scotland and Wales as Christmas approaches, the Haven move comes after the caravan park operator was forced to close its 37 UK sites during the height of the spring and early summer holiday season due to the pandemic.
After the government imposed quarantine controls for travellers arriving in Britain from Spain, France and other destinations popular with British tourists amid health concerns over Covid-19, more Britons are taking their holidays closer to home this year.
Gerard Tempest, director of guest and proposition at Haven, said disruption to foreign travel and a desire among Britons to leave behind their Covid concerns with a holiday was driving a late-season sales boom. He said: “We’re seeing a bigger proportion of people who are new to us, people are going, ‘Actually should I try out a staycation where I would normally go abroad?’”
UK tourism and hospitality firms have been among the hardest hit by Covid-19, putting millions of workers on furlough as campsites, pubs and restaurants across the country were forced to close. Haven, part of the Bourne Leisure group which also runs Butlin’s, furloughed almost all of its 10,500 staff and borrowed £300m from the Bank of England to stay afloat. However, the firm is now hiring 500 additional staff to deal with increased demand and carry out a deeper cleaning regime than normal.
The plans to extend the UK holiday season come as visits to British seaside destinations recover at a faster pace than elsewhere across the country after the lifting of lockdown, potentially benefiting local economies that have struggled more than big cities in recent years.
“Foreign tourists go to different places. So clearly London, Cambridge, Edinburgh, York and Oxford probably won’t get as much of the staycation benefit. It will go to Newquay or Skegness,” said Mark Gregory, chief economist at the accountancy firm EY. “It all suggests a pretty good short-term boost for places that are usually among our most vulnerable local economies.”
Footfall in coastal towns has not been hit as hard as elsewhere in the UK. It was down by 24.4% in August compared with the same month a year ago, according to the research provider Springboard. Visits to retail destinations across the country remain down 30.8%, while footfall in regional cities is still down by more than half, with central London down 64%.
Research from the consultancy Capital Economics suggests if all of the £60bn that Britons usually spend on overseas holidays is ploughed into domestic holidays instead, gross domestic product (GDP) would be boosted by 2.8 percentage points this year – more than enough to offset a 1.3 percentage-point loss from a lack of overseas visitors.
Despite hopes that a longer season can recover lost ground, VisitBritain, the national tourism board, expects that domestic spending on day-trips and holidays will still plunge by half to £46.8bn for 2020 as a whole, down from £91.6bn last year. With quarantine restrictions on international arrivals, it also expects 31 million fewer overseas visitors this year, at a cost to the British economy of £24bn.
Tourist boards across the country are nonetheless aiming to tempt British holidaymakers back to places that would normally lose out to package holidays abroad. A spokesperson for the trade organisation Pembrokeshire Tourism said businesses in the Welsh county had not only benefited from heightened demand during the summer, but were also “equipped to accommodate the anticipated demand for off-peak travel”.
Meanwhile in Cornwall, the official tourist board is hoping to appeal to an older generation. “There’s lots of people who are over 55 in the baby boomer generation who have maybe not had a break yet and they’re multiple holiday-takers, normally abroad,” said Malcolm Bell, CEO of Visit Cornwall. Referring to a Covid outbreak from a holiday flight from the Greek island of Zante to Cardiff, he added: “Especially after the Zante flights and a few other things they’re probably nervous about flying.”
The board is currently coordinating a winter campaign of discounts and free small events with local operators that can go ahead even in the worst of British weather during the winter months – including pastie-making sessions and behind-the-scenes tours at art galleries – with the aim of attracting those who particularly want to avoid crowds.
“We’re trying to say you won’t be bored in Cornwall and you’ll be spoilt for choice, rather than them thinking we’re all closed,” said Bell. “The attractions that do stay open in the winter, they are so much quieter and so much more enjoyable in many ways.”