A special October bank holiday this year is being considered by the government, the nation’s tourism chief revealed today.
Visit Britain’s Patricia Yates said she has been lobbying for the extra break to boost home-grown tourism that has been destroyed by coronavirus.
And today she told MPs the idea is one of list “being considered” by the Department for Digital, Culture, Media and Sport (DCMS).
Downing Street confirmed the idea would be looked at, but also warned bank holidays come at a cost to the wider economy.
Ms Yates, Visit Britain’s acting chief executive, told the Commons Culture Committee the body had submitted ideas, and “we’re working through some of those with DCMS.”
She said those included proposals on funding and furlough, before adding: “The idea that we could possibility have a bank holiday in October, because the industry has lost the benefit of the two May bank holidays.
“I think that’s an idea that’s being considered, to have an October bank holiday around half term.
“Because what we’re going to need to do is not just generate people in July and August but really extend the season this year for the domestic market.”
Boris Johnson’s official spokesman confirmed: “I think they have been in contact with us so we would always do the courtesy of considering what they’re suggesting and will reply to them in due course.”
But the Downing Street spokesman also tried to dampen hopes of an October bank holiday.
He added: “We are supporting the tourism industry during this period through the huge government support package for businesses and workers.
“That includes a 12-month business rates holiday and grants for companies.
“We are also regularly speaking with the industry to help inform our ongoing response.
“On the specific proposal from Visit Britain, we will of course respond to that in due course.
“It is worth acknowledging that extra bank holidays do come with economic costs, however.”
It’s been estimated that each bank holiday costs the British economy just over £2billion.
One of this year’s May bank holidays was moved to a Friday to mark VE Day – but ended up being a washout because people were stuck in lockdown.
That is likely to deprive British tourist sites of billions of pounds, Ms Yates told MPs.
She told the Digital, Culture, Media and Sport Select Committee: “Every time we do the modelling the figures get worse. So for inbound, I mean we were looking at the beginning of this year at about £26.6 billion coming from inbound tourism, we reckon a £15 billion drop on that.
“And for domestic, an industry that’s normally worth about £80 billion, a £22 billion drop on that.
“And that’s actually before we’ve factored in the quarantine because we don’t clearly quite know what the measures are going to look like.”
She said while it would be the hope that domestic tourism this summer could pick up the slack and help alleviate some of the losses from the international sector, a “lack of confidence” among people around travelling is a concern.
She said: “You’ve got a collapse of the supply industry as well as collapse of demand and really to get British tourism up and running this summer, and the summer is hugely important, you’re going to need that domestic audience. I think the worrying thing we see is the lack of confidence in the British public about travelling.”
She added: “So there’s a real job to be done there, given that it has to be the year of domestic tourism, there’s a real job to be done there in convincing people that it’s socially responsible to travel and enjoy a holiday. And that it’s safe to do so.”
Asked about possible arrangements between certain countries where quarantine rules would not apply, Patricia Yates said it was an “interesting” idea.
She told the Digital, Culture, Media and Sport Select Committee: “It would be good to choose the countries that were valuable to us for inbound markets. We have an international network, our American regional director is telling us sort of America is ready to go, American business is ready to go. So, possibly, you know, an air bridge between the UK and America might be one that would be valuable to us.”
She said Visit Britain was already looking at stepping up marketing in Ireland, which will be exempt from the quarantine measures regarding international travel.
The most valuable markets are France, Germany, Italy, Spain and America when it comes to possible mutual arrangements such as air bridges with certain countries around quarantine, she said.