English hotels hope for staycation hike as locals fear infection influx

Hopeful hotel owners in English beauty spots are looking to staycationers for a much-needed financial boost this summer, even though their local communities fear an influx of tourists may bring a second wave of coronavirus infections.

As lockdown measures continue to be eased, hotel and holiday home owners have set their sights on taking guests from 4 July – the earliest date the government has stated they can reopen.

And with Britons facing a strict 14-day quarantine upon returning from overseas, booking websites including lastminute.com and Airbnb have predicted a spike in people choosing to stay in the country for their summer breaks.

But while new cases of Covid-19 continue to be reported, residents in tourist hotspots, such as the Lake District and Cornwall, are seeking reassurances that restarting the local economy will not come at the expense of public health.

In May, parts of Cumbria – a county in which the biggest employer is the tourism industry – had some of the highest rates of coronavirus infections in the country. The South Lakes MP, Tim Farron, said that although rates had “settled down a bit”, there were palpable fears among residents about “large numbers of people coming in one go”.

“We are one of the areas with the highest older population. The average age here is about 10 years above the national average, so there is a real sense of justified nervousness,” he said.

Farron – who encouraged the government to publish localised R values, which measure the rate of infection from an individual – said hotel owners were “making decisions in the dark” about whether it was safe to reopen because they were not aware of how great the risk was of further outbreaks.

He said a balancing act needed to be struck because 80% of the working population in the Lake District were employed in the hospitality and tourism sector.

“I am worried about a second spike, and I’m also worried about the fact that we had a 312% increase in unemployment here last month. There is that tension between wanting to get back up and running economically and at the same time wanting to keep everybody safe.”

His views were echoed by Gillian Race, the manager of the Wasdale Head Inn, a pub and hotel set in the Wasdale Valley, in the western part of the Lake District National Park.

“I think we’ve got to reopen and we’ve got to get businesses moving again, but if we do have another outbreak we’ll just have to be on lockdown again,” she said, adding that all staff at the pub were currently furloughed. “It has been difficult.”

As they await the green light to reopen, having transferred bookings made for during lockdown to next year, the pub management have begun putting up perspex screens across the bar and reception areas and implementing a one-way system.

They have received many inquiries from British tourists for short stays during July and August. “We’re pretty full in July and August and we’ve taken quite a few bookings for September, October time. I think the pub will also be very busy with day visitors,” Race said.

Surge in demand for visits to UK tourist destinations is not restricted to the Lake District. During lockdown, Lastminute.com said the hotel booking trends showed a 45% week-on-week increase for the UK, and in particular for London (+140%), Manchester (+300%), Blackpool (+200%) and Bristol (+200%) during summer and autumn. A recent survey conducted by the site showed 33% of British people intended to stay in the country for their summer breaks this year.

Meanwhile, a spokesman for Airbnb said although it had limited bookings only to medical workers on essential trips until 4 July, it was expecting a heightened demand for UK holiday homes from British nationals next month – “when the comeback starts, it’s going to start locally”.

In Cornwall, strict measures have been imposed ahead of hotels reopening to enforce social distancing among tourists. On Thursday, Visit Cornwall announced the bulk of attractions would sell tickets for specific timeslots, while all restaurants would work on a reservation-only basis.

At the Headland hotel, which overlooks Newquay’s Fistral Beach, a spokesperon said bookings “were looking very strong” among Britons during the summer months, adding that the same looked to be the case for neighbouring hotels, bed and breakfasts and holiday cottages.

Steve Double, the Conservative MP for St Austell and Newquay, said that while the tourism industry was vital to the Cornish economy, his constituents were “very aware of the risk of another outbreak”.

“I welcome the government’s general cautious approach in taking this gradually, stage by stage, and also making sure that businesses are putting measures in place to maintain the social distancing and also to keep customers and staff safe as they do reopen,” he said.

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