The Recovery of the UK's Seaside Industry

Team Hoo
11th August 2021

The coronavirus pandemic has changed virtually everything about modern life, at least temporarily. It’s affected how we work, how we socialise, and, of course, how we travel -- or rather, how we don’t travel. With the whole country, and largely the whole world, under lockdown, people were unable to travel to the end of their road, let alone go to a tourist destination to have some fun.

That’s all beginning to change now. While we’re still in the coronavirus pandemic, things are looking a lot rosier than they did even several months ago. For the first time in a long while, people can travel, albeit with restrictions. Just as it did with most industries, the COVID-19 era has had a significant impact on the UK seaside industry. In this blog, we’re going to look at the short-term and long-term positive impacts. 

Steady decline

It’s well-known that UK seaside resorts are not faring as well as they did during their heyday; indeed, many are struggling to keep afloat. This was true before the pandemic, but the issue became even more pronounced during the pandemic. For at least the first few months of the pandemic, visitor numbers to once-popular seaside resorts fell off a cliff. Of course, visitor numbers everywhere fell off a cliff, but UK resorts were in a more vulnerable position than others. 

Coronavirus impacts 

Part of the issue with the initial slump in visitors is that the lockdowns coincided with what should have been a busy period for resorts. Bank holidays have historically been popular times to visit seaside resorts, but the coronavirus meant that during those periods, no one was able to leave their home. Seaside resorts have always been dependent on seasonal tourism, too, but summer 2020 was a period when people were not inclined to travel. The end result was that this period was a tough year. 

The COVID life raft

While 2020 was a difficult period for the UK’s seaside resorts, 2021 looked a lot brighter. While the UK government did fumble some aspects of their handling of the coronavirus pandemic, they've done better than other countries when it came to vaccinations. The result was that the UK could open up and allow people to resume regular life. This, combined with the difficulty in travelling internationally, meant that many more people were eager to take a staycation within the UK. The majority of the visitors to the seaside are return visitors; this year, there were people, especially younger people, visiting the seaside resorts for the first time. Visitor numbers to beaches were up 30% compared with the same period the year before the pandemic, and this is expected to grow even further during summer 2021.

The upturn in visitors was a highly welcome life raft for the UK seaside industry, who, during the early days of the pandemic, feared that the lockdown could be the final nail in the coffin. The boost brought a level of visitors typically associated with “boom times.” 

Perfect conditions

Of course, it’s important to keep the rise in visitor numbers in context. While the coronavirus pandemic was a false reality, it’s also possible that the current boom period is also a false dawn. There are several conditions that have made people more likely to visit a seaside resort. 

One is lockdown exhaustion; people want to go out of their house or town and explore somewhere new. Another is foreign travel bans. Even though there are several popular destinations on the ‘amber list,’ the complication around travelling has made international trips unappealing. In order to go, people would need to do - not to mention pay for - multiple PCR tests and also quarantine when they arrived home. In that landscape, it makes much more sense to visit somewhere within the UK borders, with a seaside resort making the most sense.

Finally, there’s an issue that isn’t coronavirus related but which has helped the numbers of visitors during 2021 to swell: the good weather. People are more inclined to visit somewhere in the UK if they can be reasonably sure they won’t be rained on during the duration of their trip.

The future?

So is this a one-off? Will there be a backswing at some stage? It would be surprising if there wasn’t. This year has created ideal conditions for people to explore the UK, but there’ll come a point where that’s no longer the case. There will be washout summers, and international travel will return, most likely after the summer. Certainly by next summer. When that happens, people who looked to the UK for a fun getaway will be more likely to look elsewhere. 

However, on balance, it’s possible that the coronavirus pandemic will have been positive for the UK seaside industry. It has introduced a new generation of visitors to all the wonders of the UK seaside, and that’s not something that’ll be instantly forgotten just because the pandemic has passed. What this provides is an opportunity for seaside resorts to grow, but they’ll need to work to make the most of the opportunity. 

Boosting longer term interest

So what can resorts do to ensure the current spike of activity turns into a long-term interest and revival for this sector of the UK's travel market? Here are some initial strategies to kick things off.

  • Refresh Tourist Marketing: marketing is the foundation of getting people on board and in many cases a much more modern and adaptable approach is needed.
  • Make it Convenient: people will be more likely to visit if there are good public transportation links/plenty of parking, and so forth.
  • Find a New Angle: some seaside resorts, such as Margate, have reinvented themselves by elevating certain aspects, such as promoting their local arts scene.
  • Invest in the Basics: people want good food, clean amenities, and safety. That’s something that resorts should prioritise as an absolute no-brainer.

It has been some time since resorts were in their heyday. With the coronavirus pandemic upending more or less everything, this is an opportunity for seaside resorts to cement a long-term interest among domestic travellers. There are no guarantees, but there are many seeds of potential to be explored. Kick it off by getting your resort hotel onto tomorrow's booking offer platform and give those margin-thieving conventional OTAs a kick: join up with hoo here.

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