Prime Minister Boris Johnson rescued summer after he said hotels, B&Bs, campsites and caravan parks can open for business, along with pubs and restaurants from July 4. And a decision on so-called “air bridges” allowing foreign travel is pencilled in for next Monday, June 29. Here, the easing of restrictions is a shot in the arm for a beleaguered domestic tourist industry praying for the arrival of a £4.5billion summer season.
Patricia Yates, VisitBritain/ VisitEngland director, said: “With millions of jobs and local economies across the country reliant on tourism it is very welcome news indeed. It means businesses can get up and running as we work to save as much of the British summer as we can.”
In a direct plea to families, she added: “The tourism industry has been working very hard preparing to welcome you back with many businesses already well underway in their plans for reopening. “And while things may look a little different and we may no longer see familiar sights such as the hotel buffet, it is going to be fantastic to see our £127 billion industry getting back on its feet.” The pandemic has closed thousands of hotels, bed and breakfasts plus holiday camps for almost four months.
But they are now braced for a stampede of bookings with people desperate to finally escape the Covid-19 gloom.
John Hays, the boss of Hays Travel – the UK’s largest travel agent – said that bookings were already up 14 percent in a week.
He said: “The number of inquiries are up significantly more, with people waiting and hoping there will be good news on both reciprocal travel arrangements with European countries and changes to the FCO guidance being announced soon. Customers just want to know it’s safe to travel.”
He added: “We know there is demand and excitement about wanting to get away.”
The Government is understood to be working on air bridge deals with Spain and Greece.
Currently, all but essential international travel is off limits, but there is hope the season could be salvaged if our controversial 14-day quarantine rule is scrapped.
Eurotunnel is bracing itself for a flood of bookings as families rush back to Europe. Trade body Airlines UK said: “While there are some positive signs of increased interest and booking activity, travel restrictions and quarantine mean levels remain far below normal for this time of year.
“The introduction of the initial tranche of air bridges, hopefully within days, combined with a change to the FCO travel advice, would provide further reassurances to passengers and signal a tentative step towards recovery.”
When the coronavirus crisis struck our shores, VisitBritain forecast that tourist spending would be £69.5billion in 2020, down 24 percent on last year’s £91.6billion.
But the Prime Minister’s announcement yesterday has sparked hopes of a “bounce-back period”.
Culture Secretary Oliver Dowden said: “Britain needs a break. I am pleased that we can get tourism in England going from July 4.”
Meanwhile, pubs, hotels and restaurants will be required to take customers’ contact details as part of the easing of restrictions.
They will use technology to help keep staff and customers safe, with people ordering and paying using their mobiles once the one-metre social distancing rule kicks in.
It will be table service only in pubs. Charlie Anderson, who owns restaurants Ta Bouche and La Raza in Cambridge, said: “This industry usually involves a lot of face to face interaction. But we need to find the new normal in the hospitality industry and digital waiting and ordering is essential right now.”
Hotel guests will also be able to order room service or contact reception from their rooms using the app which is being rolled out across the country.
Jane Pendlebury, chief executive officer of the Hospitality Professionals Association, which represents more than 1,000 professionals, added that the industry is in “dire straits” and technology could help boost customers’ confidence.
She said: “This is something that the hospitality industry really needs. When restaurants, hotels and bars are able to reopen, the public will want something that will give them more reassurance about eating out and this is it.”
COMMENT BY PATRICIA YATES
With millions of jobs and local economies across the country reliant on tourism, it is very welcome news indeed that our industry in England can reopen its doors from July 4. It means businesses can get up and running as we work to save as much of the British summer as we can.
Almost a third of all domestic holiday spending takes place during summer – more than £4.5billion in 2019.
That spending goes into local economies and supports jobs, so it is critical we get British holidays humming again and are reassured about what it is safe to do and when. The tourism industry has been working very hard preparing to welcome you back, with many businesses already well under way in their plans for reopening.
And while things may look a little different and we may no longer see familiar sights such as the hotel buffet, it is going to be fantastic to see our £127billion industry getting back on its feet.
We want you to be able to enjoy your holidays and also support businesses so they are confident they have the correct procedures in place once restrictions are lifted.
We are also working on an industry standard and consumer “mark” for tourism, to provide a “ring of confidence” for businesses, attractions and destinations as well as reassurance to local residents and visitors that clear processes are in place showing that we are good to go.
A public information campaign “Know Before You Go” in England is also set to support tourism businesses as they reopen and reassure visitors as restrictions are lifted, by checking about what it is safe to do and when, and sign-posting information about destinations and available services before travelling.
Most of all, the tourism industry needs you to make sure it can bounce back.
We have an incredible tourism offer on our doorstep. So as we look towards early July when we can holiday at home again, please do consider revisiting or exploring somewhere new, having an extra break at home this year and, like me, enjoying a drink in your local village pub.
The industry looks forward to welcoming you back.
Patricia Yates is the director of Visit Britain
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