Visit England on holiday? Tourists are too scared of our careless Covid policies to make the trip
‘Not for love nor money would I visit that island’ is how one friend in New York summed up his enthusiasm for my invitation to visit Old England this winter.
The problem? Covid. He doesn’t want it, understandably, and believes he’ll get it here – or at least that he’s more likely to because we are ‘acting like the pandemic is over’. Not a ringing endorsement for the flag-waving spectacle that was the lifting of UK-US travel restrictions last week then.
Nor the government’s aspiration to restore our position as the world’s tenth most visited country. It recently had a clearout of England’s many travel restrictions with this in mind. The vaccines accepted for entry were widened to include all those listed by WHO. That means someone vaccinated in Beijing is now treated the same as someone vaccinated in Birmingham – with no pre-departure tests or quarantine when visiting. All under-18s were also exempted from those restrictions. That frees up family trips.
It all amounts to a grand reopening of UK tourism. Only the reaction from much of the world has been thanks, but no thanks.
From friends in Verona to family in Dublin I hear the same misgivings. People don’t want to come because they think we’re careless about Covid-19. This is only partially about our high infection rates. They’re more alarmed by the fact we don’t use vaccine passports, don’t mandate mask wearing and well, don’t do much of anything.
These measures divide us as a nation. Quite literally, with Wales and Scotland both using vaccine passports domestically. We’re not alone in that division. New York may use passports, but many other US states ban them. Yet, look at the countries we’re closest to and our exceptionalism is striking.
58 per cent of UK residents wore a mask when in public places last week. That’s significantly lower than France (75 per cent) and Italy (81 per cent). You could look at other countries and other measures. They tell the same story. We take far fewer precautions than other countries with similar vaccination rates.
This is not about the effectiveness of those precautions. It is about perception. The way we act is seen as unsafe by most people around the world. That’s a problem.
You might read this and shrug your shoulders. Why should you care if my friend doesn’t fancy visiting London because many people don’t wear masks? More room at the pub for you.
Well, not if the pub is closed. For many tourism businesses the lack of overseas visitors is fatal. B&Bs in the Cotswolds need American guests to survive, pubs in the Highlands need German walkers and our restaurants need French gourmets.
The economic repercussions are potentially serious. In 2019 UK residents spent £19.5 billion on overnight trips in England. Overseas visitors spent £24.8 billion. So you can see the multibillion pound problem.
<figure class="inews__shortcode-readmore"> <div class="inews__shortcode-readmore__image"> <img src="https://i.inews.co.uk/content/uploads/2021/10/PRI_203825220-155x155.jpg" height="84" width="84" alt="Read More - Featured Image"> </div> <div class="inews__shortcode-readmore__text"> <h4>Read More</h4> <a href="https://inews.co.uk/inews-lifestyle/travel/every-holiday-relies-nature-impacts-tourism-climate-change-1238009">Every single holiday we take relies on nature – and impacts on it, too. Tourism has to change to protect it</a> </div> </figure>
I have more frightening numbers. While international visitor numbers to Greece, France and Spain increased between 2020 and 2021 as restrictions eased and confidence grew, the UK forecasts a further 31 per cent decline. Those figures are alarming for our tourism industry, our economy and our international standing.
The rest of the world sees us as out of step on Covid, and while that’s the case the rest of the world won’t come here – not for love nor money.
Rory Boland is Travel editor at Which?
From friends in Verona to family in Dublin I hear the same misgivings. People don’t want to come because they think we’re careless about Covid-19