Covid Silver Linings: a return to the British seaside and beyond

All arguments on the definition of the portmanteau ‘Staycation’ aside, what does our increasing Covid-related reluctance to travel abroad mean for the great British seaside holiday? Could Coronavirus bring back donkey rides, wind breakers and the iconic British pinup postcard? With the unwelcome news that we’re now in recession hitting this morning’s headlines, it is perhaps time to reframe what Coronavirus will mean for the UK’s coastal towns.

The wide-ranging lifestyle impacts due to Coronavirus

Working from home has meant different things to us all. Some of us have loved no longer needing to commute on packed trains and tubes; others have struggled with juggling household duties and bored children who needed schooling whilst we grappled with meetings and trying to think. Yet working from home has meant so many find themselves unsatisfied with the home they inhabit and they’ve decided to move things around or even buoy the housing market – which is one of the few doing well at present. Far from my prediction, of a depressed housing market, the stamp duty ‘holiday’ had the desired effect, with the phones at estate agents apparently “ringing off the hook”. Having proven to their employers that they can work well from home; often more effectively and diligently than ever before, many will be considering moving out of the homes that are closest to their workplaces and, perhaps, looking longingly towards the sea. 

It could be just that there wasn’t much else to do of late, but Britain’s coastline has seen a lot more action than before this year. The packed beaches of Bournemouth and Southend seemed busier than I’d ever seen – my idea of hell whether there is a pandemic raging or not. Dorset’s Bournemouth in particular, a place near to where my grandparents used to live, has been one of the most popular locations for the media to focus ire. Knowing it as well as I do, and with several relatives in the locale, I’m acutely aware of how the residents have been impacted by the hordes. Few could forget the awful incidents at Durdle Door in June, where the coastguard was overwhelmed and people were injured when they participated in chucking themselves off cliffs into the sea, an act known as ‘tombstoning’.

Recession is always bad news for everyone; but there could be some silver linings in that our coastal areas are in dire need of regeneration and improvements in infrastructure. So many of the towns that were once bustling hives of summer activity have been left to dilapidation by cash-strapped councils. The revolution of cheap package holidays that began in the 1980s and 1990s spelt disaster for the British holiday as it became far cheaper to hop on a plane and get to the much more reliable clement weather provided by our closest neighbours, France and Spain.

As the transition period towards full on, no deal Brexit marches ever closer and Coronavirus spells disaster for all international travel, it’s looking more and more likely that going abroad will be off the table for so many. France and the Netherlands are both highly tipped as next on the list for new quarantine restrictions; so many of our most popular holiday destinations are already there.

A new adventure, right here in the UK

For most of us, many parts of the UK still remain unexplored. Our travel industry will be similarly impacted by a reduction in visitors to our airports, so if we do have the ability to holiday in the UK, perhaps it’s the only option for a break away right now. But how do you do it safely? What are the best options for the most intrepid adventurers amongst us? I spoke to Irina and Tim Pierce, proud owners of ‘Dora’, their custom-fitted Camper Van that’s been touring Devon and Cornwall in recent days. Their new business, Vanlife Explorers UK offers ‘off grid’ living; seemingly the most perfect way to a ‘Covid-secure’ holiday that one could think of. What do they think is the best way to holiday right now and how will Coronavirus change their industry?

Tim, who is an incredible chef, but also a keen adventurer, said he thinks the future is bright for the UK holiday industries. He hopes that this will bring “new investment in the regeneration in some of our most beautiful and idiosyncratically quirky” parts of England. Irina agrees – she says “the UK has so much diversity and hidden treasures to offer for everyone to discover, whatever their interests – and to suit every budget”.

Their website’s tag line “in Adventures We Trust” is certainly an inspirational love letter to the beauty of England’s open road and the beauty of living “off grid”, they say, is that it’s the safest way to travel right now. Once you hire a van, like their beautifully fitted out green steed Dora, it’s yours to take wherever you want. If you pitch up and you find it’s busier than you’re comfortable with, it’s no issue. You just set off again in search of isolation once again. Camping in a van like Dora looks like a quality experience – it looks comfortable and they say that despite their “quest for exploration”, they never “underestimate the importance of creature comforts”.  

Wishing I were with them as they explore Tintagel, they say that Cornwall in particular is struggling to cope with the increased levels of Tourism – a clear sign that the reinvestment in our holiday destinations is well overdue. It’s something they’re acutely aware of and they are positive about how the pandemic is going to affect the industry. So many UK holiday operators have had to re-examine their policies, be more flexible and give customers the freedom to rebook their adventures due to changing restrictions and the government’s advice on travel and local lockdowns. The beauty of what they offer, they say, is ultimate freedom. If you don’t feel comfortable where you are, you can move on immediately; escaping local lockdown or just the fear of infection from overwhelming crowds. 

Land of Nessie – a camper’s dream?

One final question, then for the peripatetic Vanlife Explorers UK… where’s the best place in the UK to camp? Unmistakenly Scotland. The local laws allow more freedom than England, they say, as you have “better public rights of access”, which allows you to camp on most unenclosed land. That’s their next destination, they think. One does wonder if any of their prospective customers will ever get the chance to take Dora out; they’re clearly very much in love with their new vehicle. Maybe they won’t ever return to their hometown of Sittingbourne, Kent – the open road of the United Kingdom beckons. 

If they do, however, they’ll have a huge market to return to. Patricia Yates, strategy and communications director at VisitBritain, told the New Statesman last month that it’s “crucial for industry survival” that we “buy British and enjoy Britain”. Three million of Brits are employed by the Tourism industry and 9% of our GDP relies on it. The ONS say that 80% of the UK’s tourism staff have been furloughed so far. 

So that’s how you can do your bit for the economy this summer. We can try to reverse the recession, one ice cream cone at a time. Day trips, short breaks – even a trip on a narrow boat or a day in Margate. Whatever you’re comfortable with, make it a UK break.

For more information on Tim and Irina’s adventures in Dora, visit https://www.vanlifeexplorers.co.uk

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