Get ready now for the truncated summer tourism season

Neil Orford

There may well be a summer tourist season – but it is likely to be much shorter than usual. So preparing for it now is the key to maximising the returns from it.

Despite the 4th July repeatedly being mooted as the date when the next stage of lockdown easing could see the tourism sector finally able to splutter back into life, there is no certainty that it will happen this early.

But provided the incidence of Covid-19 continues to recede, it’s likely that there will be a season of sorts this summer.  Those tourism businesses which wait and see what is going to happen are likely to be caught napping, and with the season likely to be very short, no-one can afford to spend the first week or two playing catch-up.

Experience so far suggests that government guidance on what measures will need to be put in place to enable attractions, accommodation providers and hospitality businesses to re-open may emerge very much in advance of the re-opening date.  So it’s vital that tourism businesses start preparing now, learning from other sectors which have successfully come back to life.

The enthusiastic reception amongst consumers to this week’s re-opening of non-essential shops suggests that there is a pent-up demand for a return to normality, and this is likely to extend to holidaymakers.

Some will inevitably be nervous, so it will be up to businesses to create confidence by demonstrating that they are well-prepared and Covid-compliant.  The evidence from the retail world suggests this will be enough to attract customers.

Whilst it’s possible Brits will have no choice other than a staycation this year, their holiday experience is likely to be very different.  Self-catering accommodation is going to be in high demand for obvious reasons (especially as we don’t yet know whether, when and how restaurants and pubs will be able to trade again).

But it is important to understand the wider motivation for holidaymakers.  So, for example, many who book self-catering accommodation in holiday parks do so mainly because of the amenities parks offer – and it is far from clear how many of those amenities are going to be available.  Making preparations now to ensure not just accommodation, but associated facilities, are Covid-safe will mean that tourism businesses will be able to make the most of whatever season happens.

And while this won’t help accommodation providers, the summer holidays are likely to see a huge upswing in day visitors, which means that attractions and other businesses which benefit from tourism will have the opportunity to trade.

Delivering this is going to be made much easier with increased flexibility in the Coronavirus Job Retention Scheme from next month.  After 1st July, employers will be able to bring back furloughed workers on a part-time basis; businesses need to avoid the temptation to bring back every furloughed worker the moment restrictions are lifted, as it may takes a little while for demand to grow.  Don’t forget that the scheme runs until the end of October, traditionally the close of the tourism season anyway.

It seems likely that there will be a summer season, but that it is going to be much shorter than usual.  Those businesses which take the time now to prepare will be best placed to take advantage; those who wait for a government announcement and official guidance before starting to plan are likely to be left behind.

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