Summer 2020: quarantine move will trigger ‘bank holiday traffic every day’ as prices soar above £2k for a week at Center Parcs

Exclusive: ‘As well as staggered working hours we need to stagger holidays,’ says AA president Edmund King

Simon Calder
Travel Correspondent
Sunday 10 May 2020 08:34 BST
Simon Calder explains why the travel industry will recover after coronavirus

At 7pm on Sunday, the prime minister will effectively cancel millions of overseas holidays ⁠– and create a tangle of problems for the UK tourism industry.

Boris Johnson will confirm that almost everyone returning to the UK from later this month will face 14 days of mandatory self-isolation.

The move, which he will justify as preventing a second spike in coronavirus cases, has infuriated the airlines and travel companies.

They say it will write off all overseas holidays for the main part of the summer and stifle bookings for the autumn.

Travel agents and tour operators are braced for a surge of demands for holiday refunds when they start taking calls on Monday morning.

Airlines and airports, meanwhile, will be surveying the wreckage of their plans for “Project Lift-off” ⁠– gradually restoring links in time for the main summer months of July and August.

Brian Strutton, general secretary of the British Airline Pilots’ Association, said: “The aviation sector is already facing 23,000 job cuts, with the potential for many more in the weeks and months to come.

“The government’s proposed 14-day quarantine proposal for incoming international travellers will put even more pressure on the industry for the foreseeable future.”

Conversely, by ruling out international travel for most or all of the summer, once lockdown is eased millions of families will instead seek holidays in the UK ⁠– with some extreme consequences.

As families realise that their planned escapes to the Mediterranean or Florida will not take place, demand for holidays at Center Parcs is soaring.

The firm’s locations in Bedfordshire, Cumbria, Nottinghamshire, Suffolk and Wiltshire are currently closed, but are taking bookings from 29 May.

For the last week of August, the cheapest lodge for a family of four at Woburn Forest is £2,128, which works out at £76 per person per night.

The following week, when many schools are likely to start, the price falls by £800.

Uphill struggle: a climbing wall at Center Parcs
Uphill struggle: a climbing wall at Center Parcs (Simon Calder)

Malcolm Bell, chief executive of Visit Cornwall, warned space in the county may simply not be available. He told The Independent: “Many businesses already have between 50 and 85 per cent bookings for large parts of July and August so there will be limited capacity to fill.

“We will need to keep capacity at a level that is safe for guests, safe for staff and safe for local communities. So it may be that many who might want to book a stay in Cornwall this summer might have to wait until September.”

Reaching holiday destinations is also likely to be fraught. The transport secretary, Grant Shapps, said that social distancing measures on board trains will reduce capacity by 90 per cent.

Given that summer services to seaside resorts are normally crammed, train operators will face severe difficulties controlling demand.

Many rail travellers will instead switch to cars⁠, adding to the pressure on the roads.

Edmund King, president of the AA, warned: “Every day in the summer after lockdown has the potential to be like a congested bank holiday on the roads.

“We all know the tailbacks experienced on the A303, M5 to the southwest, roads to the Lake District and coast on a bank holiday. This could become the new normal.”

He called for holidaymakers to try to stagger departure dates to try to ease the traffic jams: “As well as staggered working hours we need to stagger holidays.”

While the quarantine decision will cause massive financial damage to UK airlines and airports, there had been hopes that a summer “lock-in” could give a short-term boost to the British seaside and countryside.

The annual tourism balance of payments deficit – the excess of the amount British holidaymakers spend abroad compared with the sum foreign tourists bring in ⁠– is normally £25bn.

But Joss Croft, chief executive of UK Inbound, warned that domestic tourism cannot compensate for lost overseas visitors.

He told the BBC’s PM programme: “That 14-day quarantine is going to put off pretty much everyone from travelling to the UK.

“That’s going to have a massive impact on the 10 per cent of the population that’s employed in tourism.”

Mr Croft said that domestic visitors, who spend two-thirds less than international visitors, will not compensate for lost income from abroad.

“Whilst welcome, it’s really not going to make up that shortfall of £23bn coming into the UK from international visitors,” he said.

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