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Virus quarantine fears boost the UK 'staycation'

William Edwards and Jean-Baptiste Oubrier

Agence France-Presse

Bath, United Kingdom  /  Thu, July 30, 2020  /  02:37 pm
Virus quarantine fears boost the UK 'staycation'

A staff member cleans a room in the hotel at Chessington World of Adventures Resort in chessington, Greater London on July 4, 2020, on the first day of a major relaxation of lockdown restrictions during the novel coronavirus COVID-19 pandemic. (AFP/Ben Stansall)

With pandemic storm clouds gathering over Britain's tourism industry, the collapse in foreign holidays has presented an opportunity by boosting the demand for "staycations". 

British hotels, campsites and restaurants were only allowed to reopen late in July and the fickle British weather dampened hopes of an immediate boom, leading some to write off the season.

But business has slowly picked up, and the government's announcement on Sunday that those traveling from Spain now need to self-isolate for 14 days following a spike in cases has further boosted prospects. 

With the threat of other countries joining the list as cases rise across Europe, many are considering "staycations" in Britain rather than risk having to self-isolate for two weeks, particularly those who cannot work from home. 

Carry on camping 

"A UK staycation...carries much less disruptive risk," Jane Pendlebury, executive director of the Hospitality Professionals Association, a hotel industry association, told AFP.

"Of course, the threat of regional outbreaks is real, but the restrictions imposed won't be as impactful -- with returning home from within the UK far easier than doing so from abroad.

"Whilst we can't necessarily offer the same weather as the Balearics or the Canaries, what we can do is offer exceptional hospitality -- albeit with necessary precautions in place," she added.

Tour operator TUI has taken the blanket decision to cancel all its planned holidays to mainland Spain until August 9. 

Meanwhile, British campsites and holiday home operators, such as Sykes Cottages, have enjoyed a surge in bookings. 

"News of Spain's travel restrictions at the weekend resulted in a 53 percent year-on-year rise in bookings," Sykes' chief executive Graham Donoghue told the BBC.

"We're also seeing a steady stream of bookings for holidays in 2021 too," he added. 

The Whitbread group, which owns the Premier Inn hotel chain, said it had seen strong demand in summer bookings for hotel rooms in tourist hotspots since the beginning of July. 

The exclusive department store Fortnum and Mason is even offering a dedicated "perfect staycation" package -- including a picnic basket, champagne and tea, of course.

Read also: Staycation deals, heartland tours part of Singapore's $45m domestic tourism campaign

Jobs fears 

But even if more Britons decide to stay put this year, it is unlikely to make up the shortfall for the tourism sector, which is pleading with the government for help to weather the crisis.

VisitBritain, British tourism's lobbying body, estimates that the number of foreign tourists could fall by as much as 60 percent this year due to the pandemic.

The Labour opposition has already warned of an unemployment crisis, with rates rising faster than the national average in the English regions most dependent on tourism such as Cornwall (south-west), Yorkshire (north) and the Lake District (north-west).

Destinations popular with foreign tourists, such as Bath, southwest England, are also struggling to draw in the crowds.

The sight of a few tourists milling around the city's famous Roman Baths is in stark contrast to the usual throng that packs out the city, which normally welcomes around six million visitors a year.

"It's not even a quarter of the business that we usually get. I'd say it's like two to three percent," Marcus Barnes told AFP as he cleaned the front of his souvenir shop.

The local authorities have introduced new measures, such as limiting the size of groups visiting the city, in an attempt to woo potential holidaymakers. 

"We think that if we can...have fewer people coming but staying longer, putting more into the local economy, actually getting more out of their visit, then that will be a more sustainable model for the future," said Stephen Bird from the city council.

The few intrepid tourists spotted on the streets seemed reassured.

"You're starting to see the sanitization at hotels, the social distancing, so all in all I feel comfortable," said Cieran Fowley, who lives in London. 

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