Boom in domestic tourism breathes new life into UK seaside resorts

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The pandemic has resulted in an unexpected boom for traditional British seaside holidays. / Paul Ellis / AFP

The pandemic has resulted in an unexpected boom for traditional British seaside holidays. / Paul Ellis / AFP

Until very recently, there was a growing sense in England that the traditional seaside vacation – characterized by hard candy bars, buckets and scoops, and frozen dips – would be firmly left in the 20th century.

But with expensive COVID-19 testing, vaccine certification, quarantines and the UK government’s ever-evolving traffic light system making overseas travel less appealing, there has been a boom in domestic tourism.

This tour breathed new life into UK seaside resorts, revitalizing what had become some of the poorest areas in the country.

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The town of Blackpool, located in the north-west of England on the Irish Sea, is a good example of the rise and fall of the quintessential British seaside town.

Famous for its sandy beaches, stunning illuminations and 158-meter Eiffel Tower, Blackpool became the country’s leading mass tourist destination as the railways proliferated in Britain.

Blackpool was once Britain’s premier mass tourist destination. / Paul Ellis / AFP

Blackpool was once Britain’s premier mass tourist destination. / Paul Ellis / AFP

In the 19th and 20th centuries, city dwellers flocked to escape the urban bustle and enjoy local entertainment.

But from the 1960s onwards, air travel and affordable vacations began to attract more and more Britons abroad, cutting into Blackpool’s once dominant tourism industry.

In 2008 it offered 40% less sleeping space than in 1987, and Blackpool’s reputation for recreation and pleasure was to be replaced by a reputation for abject poverty. A 2019 UK government study found the city to have eight of the ten most disadvantaged neighborhoods in England.

Blackpool’s famous sandy beaches, stunning illuminations and 158-meter tower have long drawn tourists to the city. / Paul Ellis / AFP

Blackpool’s famous sandy beaches, stunning illuminations and 158-meter tower have long drawn tourists to the city. / Paul Ellis / AFP

And at the start of the pandemic, Blackpool’s continued dependence on its declining tourism industry meant the closures were having a devastating effect on the city’s economy and vulnerable social groups.

But now Blackpool and similar British seaside towns have seen domestic visitor numbers soar, with many witnessing an extended tourist season.

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Its annual Illuminations turn-on day earlier this month drew large numbers of tourists, many of whom continue to crowd its tower, piers, theme park, beach, game rooms and restaurants. shops in preference to vacations abroad.

Blackpool’s reputation for recreation and fun has waned since the 1960s overseas vacation boom. / Paul Ellis / AFP

Blackpool’s reputation for recreation and fun has waned since the 1960s overseas vacation boom. / Paul Ellis / AFP

Owen Wells, a 23-year-old welder, has decided to travel to Blackpool instead of the Spanish seaside resort of Magaluf to celebrate his bachelor party.

“With COVID-19, it’s been embarrassing – a lot of my friends haven’t been vaccinated,” he said. “This is where we can go where we don’t have to isolate ourselves for two weeks.”

Administrator Michelle Potter, 55, said she usually travels to Spain, Turkey and Cyprus, but this year she chose to take her nine-year-old daughter to Blackpool.

“I couldn’t be bothered by the hassle of going abroad and having to abide by restrictions. The UK is just as good,” she insisted.

Many Britons swap tapas in Spain for fish and chips on the British beach. / Paul Ellis / AFP

Many Britons swap tapas in Spain for fish and chips on the British beach. / Paul Ellis / AFP

Many locals are also celebrating the return of high numbers of tourists, as surveys from the UK Tourism Board continue to indicate that domestic holidaymakers have preferred traditional coastal towns this summer.

Blackpool restaurant owner Alex Lonorgan, 37, has had two consecutive busy summers after the first lockdown in March 2020.

“It’s amazing that so many families have had something different spending a holiday in the UK – Blackpool is going to be back on everyone’s map,” he said.

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Local workers in the tourism industry are happy that tourists are starting to return to Blackpool. / Paul Ellis / AFP

Local workers in the tourism industry are happy that tourists are starting to return to Blackpool. / Paul Ellis / AFP

Another local worker, Alfie Hayden, 18, was happy to see business return after the donut shop where he worked had to close several times.

While trade is not reaching pre-pandemic highs, it remains optimistic.

“We were losing a lot of sales and it wasn’t very good. That’s what it is,” he said. “This is the best place to come for a quick getaway and it has increased our sales a lot.”

Blackpool Council Chief Lynn Williams said recent regeneration work was also aimed at attracting private investment to encourage return visits from UK tourists who typically vacation abroad.

Blackpool “has changed since childhood and the way it is portrayed. But we will not change in that we are a welcoming seaside resort,” she added.

Vaccination programs are already making international travel easier, meaning Britain’s seaside renaissance could be over quickly. / Paul Ellis / AFP

Vaccination programs are already making international travel easier, meaning Britain’s seaside renaissance could be over quickly. / Paul Ellis / AFP

However, mass vaccination programs are already helping tame the pandemic across Europe and North America, making international travel easier, meaning Britain’s seaside renaissance could be a flash in the pan.

But Williams believes Blackpool’s rebirth will be long-lasting, as Britons rediscover attractions closer to home.

“The three pillars and the tower – no one else has that,” she said. “To see the illuminated tower in all its glory is a beautiful sight.”

Lonorgan added: “A lot of people come to Blackpool religiously every year – this group has grown.

“It should have a ripple effect. The positive side of a very difficult 18 months for Blackpool is that people have seen how good it is. Let this continue for a long time.”

Source (s): AFP


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