Under normal circumstances, budget airlines would be signalling the start of summer by herding tens of thousands of sun-hungry Brits onto planes destined for Europe and beyond. But these aren’t normal circumstances, and far-off memories of people queuing up to get through airport security already feel like they belong to another world. For now, we’re being asked to sit at least part of the summer out.
It’s not just foreign travel that’s on the back burner. Council bosses in popular UK holiday destinations such as Blackpool and the Lake District are begging people not to visit, conscious of the threat of a second wave and therefore not quite feeling ready to invite masses of people to laze on beaches or stand huddled together at beauty spots holding selfie sticks.
For now, we’re being asked to stay alert, whatever that means. Our sunny leisure time should take place closer to home, maybe in the garden for those who are lucky enough to have one, or in nearby parks and woodlands, and always at a safe distance from others.
Theme parks, funfairs, museums, galleries, cinemas and other attractions remain closed, and the cost to the economy is massive. Official tourist agency VisitBritain estimates there will be a £15 billion drop in income from visitors coming to Britain from overseas, combined with £22 billion from lost domestic tourism.
For towns that rely on tourism to sustain livelihoods, the impact is devastating. Thousands of seasonal workers have been left without work, hotels remain eerily empty. Financial help from the government for those who have been lucky enough to have been furloughed doesn’t cover tips or overtime, which can make up a large portion of income for seasonal workers on minimum wage.
We’re going to have some making up to do, once it’s safe to do so. I’d be happy for a holiday to the restaurant down the road, that’s how domestic my travel plans are at the moment. Instead of keeping an eye on Skyscanner and awaiting the announcement of airline seat sales, I’ve resigned myself to spending a year on home soil.
VisitBritain is currently lobbying the government to grant an extra bank holiday in October in an effort to try and recoup some of the money from two lost May bank holidays and a silent Easter weekend, but Downing Street is dragging its feet, saying an extra bank holiday comes with “economic costs”.
Meanwhile, in another flawless demonstration of how to lead a country, New Zealand prime minister Jacinda Ardern has touted the idea of introducing a four day working week to help get the country back on its feet. While our government mulls over giving workers an extra day off, Ardern is considering offering an extra 52 “holiday” days every year to help boost domestic tourism and encourage a healthy work-life balance.
Of course if summer does get postponed, our only issue is the weather. Ice cream doesn’t quite have the same appeal on a rainy UK summer day as it does in a sweltering Italian piazza, but the coronavirus crisis is forcing us all out of our comfort zone, and maybe our holiday habits will have to change too. Fish and chips on a cold October day? Count me in.
Saskia Murphy is a Manchester-based freelance journalist. Follow her on Twitter @SaskiaMurphy