The Covid-19 outbreak in the UK is predicted to have a negative impact on UK tourism in 2020. There is expected to be an overall decline in both visitors to the UK and in domestic tourism because of the pandemic. However, with relaxation of some of the restrictions on travel since May 2020 and the possibility of further relaxations over the summer, there are expectations of an increase in domestic tourism. This is the subject of an upcoming oral question in the House of Lords on 22 June 2020:

“Lord McNally (Liberal Democrat) to ask Her Majesty’s Government what measures they are taking to ensure that seaside resorts can respond to any increased demand for holidays in the United Kingdom”.

Overall decline in tourism in 2020

Visit Britain has forecast that there is likely to be a decline in UK tourism in 2020 because of the Covid‑19 outbreak. It estimated in June 2020 that inbound visits to the UK over the year would be 59% lower than in 2019, resulting in a 63% drop in spending. Visit Britain argue the extent of this decline will be effected by how long measures to quarantine international arrivals in England are in place. Its estimate is based on these measures remaining in place for three weeks following their introduction in June 2020.

Visit Britain also estimated domestic tourism spending across the year would be 24% lower than 2019. This would result in a loss of £22.1 billion in domestic tourism spending. This estimate is based on the ‘lockdown’ measures being eased in June 2020. The reintroduction of these measures could have a further negative impact on domestic tourism spending.

Easing of Travel Restrictions

In May 2020, the UK Government began to relax some of the restrictions on travel in England, enabling people to take daytrips to different areas of England. However, at the same time, staying overnight without a reasonable excuse became an offence. Different restrictions are in place in the rest of the UK. People in Scotland are advised to travel a maximum of five miles from their homes if they are taking part in certain permitted leisure activities. The rules in Wales require people taking part in leisure or other activities to remain in their local area. The Welsh Government has said, in most areas of the country, someone’s local area is anywhere within five miles, although this may be larger for some rural communities. In Northern Ireland, travel is possible for some leisure activities and is there no limit on how far people can travel.

Increasing UK staycations

The UK Government’s COVID-19 recovery strategy, published in May 2020, said the hospitality sector and leisure facilities, like cinemas, would be opened during the final, third stage of its recovery plan. The Government has said it will work with the sector to enable UK domestic tourism to reopen safely by 4 July 2020 at the earliest. Speaking in the House of Commons on 4 June 2020, the Culture Secretary, Oliver Dowden, said the cultural renewal taskforce, established in May 2020, which he chaired, would work to achieve this.

There has already been a reported increase in domestic holiday bookings. For example, in March 2020 the Guardian reported a surge of interest in both holiday homes and camping sites. Concerns have been raised as to the risk of a potential increase in Covid­-19 cases in UK tourism hotspots due to this growth in domestic tourism. For example, Tim Farron (Liberal Democrat MP for Westmorland and Lonsdale) has argued a rise in visits to his Lake District constituency could potentially increase the risk of infection for its residents, many of whom are aged over-70. In May 2020 some local authorities in tourist areas, such as Blackpool council, advised people not to visit their area on holiday to avoid the spread of Covid‑19.

Seaside towns: Underlying economic issues

One type of area that might see an increase in domestic tourism is the UK’s seaside towns. In June 2020, a report written by the Institute for Fiscal Studies and funded by the Nuffield Foundation found that coastal areas have been particularly vulnerable to the impact of Covid-19. The report identified that coastal towns often have large elderly populations. Many people living in coastal towns also worked in low-paid jobs in the hospitality sector and faced losing their income.

Seaside communities before Covid-19

In April 2019, the House of Lords Regenerating Seaside Towns and Communities Committee published a report on the impact of economic deprivation in these areas and efforts to improve the economy of coastal communities. Members of the committee included Lord McNally.

The committee said coastal communities had seen a long-term decline in key industries including domestic tourism, fishing, shipbuilding, and port activities. It noted these areas needed support to improve infrastructure, including transport, housing and broadband. It also recommended increased access to further and higher education for young people in these areas.

The report argued improving infrastructure would support the expansion of tourism in these areas. The committee said:

Coastal communities have told us that boosting the local tourism economy in their areas relies on solving a range of complex and often interconnected issues. For example, a dilapidated public realm, and the social challenges often association [sic] with deprivation, will not only deter visitors, but will also limit the chances of securing the investment needed to support and develop tourist activity and encourage businesses such as hotels and restaurants to base their activity in that area.

The committee made several recommendations, including that the Government should ensure all coastal communities had the opportunity to benefit from the financial support provided to the UK tourism industry. The committee argued that “smaller or lesser known areas were being overlooked by national initiatives”. This includes the Discover England Fund, launched in 2015 and administered by Visit England. The committee also argued that the UK’s shared prosperity fund should be used to support coastal regeneration once it is introduced.

Lords debate

During the debate on the report in the House of Lords on 1 July 2019, Lord McNally spoke about the success of some initiatives to support the regeneration of seaside towns, including cultural investment in Margate and St Ives, as well as the investment in sea defences and tourism on Clacton and Skegness. He noted these were the result of partnerships between the private and public sectors. He also argued the Government needed to ensure that support was provided in a strategic way to bolster different local initiatives.

Responding, the then Parliamentary Under Secretary for Housing, Communities and Local Government, Lord Bourne of Aberystwyth, said the Government was supporting local communities through the establishment of 15 coastal enterprise zones to date and the publication of the tourism sector deal in June 2019.

Tourism sector: preparing for 4 July

As the Government’s target for reopening the UK’s tourism industry approaches, both local authorities and businesses in coastal towns are establishing how they might be able to re-open while remaining safe. In a recent BBC report, some of those interviewed working in tourism in seaside towns spoke about the need for increased tourism in July to enable their businesses to survive. The trade associations, UK Hospitality and the British Beer and Pub Association have both written to the Government, demanding more clarity on how and when the hospitality sector would be able to re-open. They said they welcomed the Government’s announcement that it would review the two-metre social distancing guidance. However, UK Hospitality and the British Beer and Pub Association argued the conclusions of this review should be made available as soon as possible to enable the hospitality sector to reopen by 4 July.

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