Young British holidaymakers are being encouraged to take UK city breaks and visit indoor attractions this autumn and winter, in a campaign designed to help hospitality and tourism businesses weather the ongoing coronavirus crisis.
Run by Visit Britain, the “Escape the Everyday” digital campaign will launch in September and promote short breaks and day trips across the UK, with a major focus on urban tourism.
Domestic visitor spending is predicted to fall by 49% in 2020, with a £44.9bn loss to the economy, according to Visit Britain. With most major overseas markets, including the US, France and China, subject to quarantine rules, inbound tourism spending has also taken a critical hit, and is forecast to drop 63% in 2020 – an estimated £19.7bn loss to the economy.
Cities have been much harder hit than rural regions, with a triple whammy of no international tourism, people working from home, and the cancellation of events. City businesses are trading at about 30% capacity compared with 60-70% in rural areas, according to UK Hospitality. “There is a very real danger of the doughnut effect,” said chief executive Kate Nicholls. “Where the footfall in city centres drops off, businesses suffer – not just hospitality but also retail and other outlets. A quarter of venues will be lost before the start of the next tourism season [if the situation doesn’t improve].”
For central London attractions that rely heavily on foreign visitors the situation is even bleaker. Latest government figures based on data from nine central London museums and galleries show visits for the week 10 – 16 August were at 15.1% of the daily average for August over the three previous years.
The British Museum will reopen on 27 August with visitor numbers capped at 2,000 a day, compared with pre-Covid figures of 15–20,000 a day in August. The Tower of London reports similar numbers, with around 2,500 visitors “on a good day” versus 12-15,000 previously.
“As a charity, the Historic Royal Palaces, which includes four in London and one in Northern Ireland, depends on visitors for 80% of our income, so we have been hit particularly hard by this crisis and are now facing a £98 million shortfall in our finances,” said Tower of London spokesperson Laura Hutchinson. “Some 60–70% of our visitors annually are usually international tourists, so we expect our recovery to be slow and to take place over the course of a number of years.”
Ongoing nervousness around being in busy environments and travelling by public transport is a major barrier for tourism to cities. Visit Britain’s weekly consumer research into the national mood and inclination to travel shows that 46% of people believe the worst is yet to come in terms of coronavirus, the second highest score since research started in May, and the appetite to travel on public transport has barely risen in the past three months. Attractions hope that targeting young people, who are less risk-averse, will go some way to mitigating the fall in visitors. “Younger people who would normally be travelling to cities abroad at this time probably need the most persuasion and most enticing message to see what they have on their doorstep,” said Donoghue.
He believes one way to address the reluctance to visit city centres is to publicise the R rate in cities in the same way the pollen rates are publicised. “London, for example, has one of the lowest R rates in the country. We have suggested this to the mayor’s office and the department for digital, culture, media and sport – that it would help people to make informed decisions.”
Tourism businesses hope the August bank holiday will bring a late summer boost to spending, but encouraging people to holiday beyond the end of the summer holidays will be vital to make up for income loss. “We are going to need flocks of visitors through autumn and the winter to support businesses to be able to trade profitably,” said Patricia Yates, director strategy and communications for Visit Britain.