Holiday resorts across the UK are preparing to open at the end of May with trepidation. They have no idea what the summer holds for them. The battered tourism industry might enjoy a boom in staycation business, or the worst season in memory. It all depends on the advice of the British government.
From Wednesday, people will be allowed to spend unlimited time outdoors and can drive to beauty spots across the country. But there are still fears that mixed messages from the authorities could lead to tourists flocking to UK destinations, bringing a second wave of coronavirus.
Holiday resorts such as Center Parcs and Haven have said all their sites will remain closed until about the end of May, but they, like many optimistic hotel operators, are accepting future bookings.
Haven has offered a free “coronavirus book with confidence guarantee on all 2020 and 2021 bookings”, while the prices at Center Parcs were reported to have reached remarkably high levels in advance of its slated reopening on 29 May.
“For any guests affected by our closure, we continue to offer a £100 discount on moving to a date in the future or a full cash refund,” a spokesperson said.
“Like many businesses in our sector, we are awaiting further clarity from government so that we can plan reopening scenarios and adapt our offering based on current advice and guidelines in order to keep our staff and guests safe. We haven’t seen a surge in demand, which reflects the uncertainty that we all face.”
But the virus continues to cast a shadow. Families of four can pay almost £1,400 to stay at the Longleat Forest site in Wiltshire later this month, raising fears that holidaymakers flocking to the south-west, which has been less affected by the deadly impact of coronavirus than other regions, will bring infections with them.
Although the economic pitfalls of the lockdown could hit hardest in areas dependent on tourism, officials in Cornwall are glad the county has not experienced an influx of people and hope that remains the case.
Malcolm Bell of Visit Cornwall said: “I hope there is clear and non-ambiguous messaging, because if there is wiggle room, we could see too many people making their own interpretation of rules to justify coming to Cornwall.”
However, the British Holiday and Home Parks Association – which has 2,000 members ranging from small camping grounds to caravan sites and large holiday parks – has said that despite the closure of all parks, there is “a lot of interest for bookings” and a “big latent demand to get out and about”.
A spokesperson for Little Touches, a Blackpool hotel and ticket agency, said: “There has been considerable interest from many people in visiting Blackpool, once the prime minister has reviewed the current lockdown procedures and said it is all systems go. You can rest assured that we will be pulling out all the stops to assist the resort’s hoteliers in every way possible.”
But while online interest in UK holidays and getaways spiked on Friday as temperatures reached the mid-20s, it tapered off at the weekend, according to Google Trends.
Research by VisitBritain, the official UK tourism authority, reportedly shows that the majority of Britons who had planned a domestic holiday this year in the UK – where there are about 13,000 hotels and more than 25,000 B&Bs and guest houses – believe it is unlikely to go ahead.
The mixed messages on holidays are UK-wide. The Scottish national tourist board has been sending confused signals to prospective tourists, tweeting pictures of popular sites including Jedburgh Abbey and the 16th-century Midhope Castle accompanied by the #StayHome hashtag. Various respondents declared that they were planning to visit Scotland as soon as possible.
Visit Scotland has also launched a campaign urging Scots “to spread the love of their towns, villages and cities to their neighbours, friends and visitors” by sharing the view from their windows with the hashtag #AWindowOnScotland.
A statement on its website read: “It is hoped the campaign will remind visitors, particularly Scots who holiday here and represent one of the country’s most important tourism markets, of the diverse landscape, vibrant cities and stunning scenery that is waiting for them when this isolation period ends.”
Meanwhile, Visit Aberdeenshire posted an aerial video of the region’s highlights on 5 May, inviting people to “enjoy our beautiful corner of Scotland from the comfort of your own home”.