A very British summer: UK travel after coronavirus

author photo
Helen Fanthorpe
5/28/2020

With countries around the world making their first steps towards lifting lockdowns and easing restrictions, tourist boards, hotels, restaurants and attractions are all working overtime to deliver for the summer season. Of course, this won’t be business as usual. While people everywhere will be keen to get out of their houses and book a relaxing break, most will want to keep things domestic this summer – especially since Home Secretary Matt Hancock warned that in the UK “it’s unlikely big lavish international holidays are going to be possible for this summer”. Though things are still unpredictable, staying closer to home – where risks are lower and costs are smaller – will likely be the trend of the season. So what can the UK expect for travel in the summer after coronavirus? The answer is a very British summer holiday.

Calming the nerves

With the Covid-19 pandemic still shaking British society, the population remains anxious. An Observer poll released at the start of May indicated that only one in five people wanted schools, pubs and restaurants to be reopened. And though schools are due to go back on 1 June, a significant number of schools, teachers and parents remain opposed to the plans, with up to 1500 English primary schools expected to defy the government and stay closed.

But with a stressed economy and unemployment soaring, there’s a delicate balancing act between stimulating business – especially in the travel sector – and simultaneously reassuring our citizens that we can open up safely and securely. The question is as much how the travel industry welcomes visitors back, as when.

The historic castle at Caernafon, Gwynedd, Wales © Lukassek/Shutterstock

Throughout the industry, restaurants, hotels and tourist attractions are all working hard on new measures to reassure visitors they when they are allowed back, they’ll come back safely. Travellers can expect range of hygiene and social-distancing regulations when attractions reopen – visitor quotas, one-way systems, hand-sanitiser stations, protective fear, essential pre-booking, timed slots, and so on. As consumers, it’s important to remember that welcoming us back safely is in the interest of businesses, too, and that there will be government regulations to protect us.

In a bid to bolster travel confidence, Visit Britain have announced plans to introduced a “quality mark” to be rolled out across the country, helping to guide visitors to places that have met key safety measures related to coronavirus. Britain isn’t the only country to be investing in a quality-mark scheme – Portugal has already begun work to introduce its equivalent, the “Clean & Safe” stamp. Visit Britain Director Patricia Yates commented, “A clear ask of us from the industry is to develop a common industry standard quality mark that would provide a ‘ring of confidence’ for tourism businesses, attractions and destinations as well as reassurance to visitors that business have clear processes in place when restrictions are lifted. While discussions are ongoing with the industry, this could include businesses completing a free online assessment to check they are taking the necessary steps to adhere to the official Government guidelines and be provided with a quality mark.”

Skye Island, Scotland © David Redondo/Shutterstock

Domestic bliss

National nerves are likely to extend to Brits’ travel plans. Though several European countries are preparing to welcome visitors back in June or July – Italy, Spain and Greece among them – the UK looks to be taking a longer road to recovery. Currently, the UK populace is still forbidden from overnighting anywhere other than home, while on 8 June a 14-day quarantine period for all new arrivals will come into force, effectively ruling out international trips for the time being (unless you want to self-isolate for two weeks after your holiday).

Holkham, Norfolk © StevenDocwra/Shutterstock

Beating the crowds

We envisage that people around the UK will spend the summer of 2020 holidaying in local destinations (as far as travel is possible), as well as avoiding traditional tourist hotspots in a bid to ditch the crowds. And staying closer to home means no bustling airports and less money to lose in case of frustrated plans – as well as a simple, comforting sense of familiarity.

With people actively seeking seclusion, travelling by car will be more attractive than ever before (now could be the time to go electric?), while traditional hotels could lose out to holiday rentals and self-catering options. That said, international hotel chains with strict new hygiene measures – and the marketing budget to advertise them – could lure business off smaller outfits as travellers are reassured by big-name brands.

Natural heritage sites and stately homes with large gardens and grounds could be among the first visitor attractions to see travellers return, while Haven – one of the UK’s largest holiday-park companies – is planning to reopen at the start of July with strict visitor quotas. National parks and scenic areas are likely to be popular choices, too. It will pay to think a little outside the box, though: if everyone has the same idea, your peaceful mountain climb could lose some of its shine. Indeed, we should heed March’s warnings, when crowds flocked to the popular Brecon Beacons and Snowdonia national parks in Wales, which reported record visitor numbers.

Barafundle Bay, Wales © Fulcanelli/Shutterstock

Confidence breeds confidence

As lockdown restrictions continue to ease and people start to get out and about once more, confidence should start to build, while key industry players could entice visitors back with dropped prices and special offers. VisitBritain Director Patricia Yates said, “We would like to see a major domestic campaign when restrictions are lifted and we can holiday at home again to give reassurance to the public that it is socially responsible to travel”.

Looking to areas that have already started to open up could give valuable insights into how we Brits will choose to spend our summers. All eyes were turned on China this Labor Day (1 May), when the government extended the usual three-day holiday into a five-day affair in a bid to boost the economy. Viewed as a key indicator of traveller confidence and behaviour, the initial signs were good: tourist dollars had quadrupled since April’s Ching Ming Festival.

More recently, here in the UK, head of Visit Britain Patricia Yates called for an additional bank holiday in October to boost the tourism sector. We could well see the traditional summer season shifting slightly later this year, with more trips being taken in September and beyond, when the public is likely to feel safer and more confident. At the moment, the most popular booking periods seem to be August and late September, followed by October half term. In fact, the UK-based Luxury Family Hotels group is reporting half-term bookings for October up fourteen percent on last year.

Another factor sure to increase consumer confidence is the fact that many companies – including airlines – are increasingly offering flexible policies in a bid to encourage bookings. What this will mean in practice will differ from company to company, but late-cancellation fees could be waived, making it increasingly possible to play your travel plans by ear.

Eilean Donan Castle, Scotland © Pecold/Shutterstock

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A EU trip

While the UK is planning to introduce a two-week quarantine for new arrivals on 8 June, there’s still a chance that changes – as seen in many other European nations – could still make a EU summer trip possible. Keep your eyes peeled and check our Corona Travel Updates page for news as it breaks. Countries looking to reopen their borders to tourists for the summer include Greece, Spain and Italy. If you’re free for a last-minute getaway, your EU dreams could still come true.

Top image: Landscape of Skye Island, Scotland © David Redondo/Shutterstock

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