by Alberto Amore, Solent University
As of July 19, the UK Government has moved to the fourth stage of easing Covid restrictions. With this final phase, all legal limits on social contact have been lifted and leisure, hospitality and events businesses are now able to operate and allow customers and attendees within their premises. This followed the results of a scientific Events Research Programme to test the outcome of certain pilot events across England, including the EURO 2020 Final at Wembley, the Formula 1 British Grand Prix at Silverstone and the Wimbledon Tennis Tournament.
These announcements and the speedy vaccination rollout across the country is expected to have direct impacts on the mobility of domestic tourists across the country. As a report by Tourism Economics issued in March 2021 predicts, the baseline scenario for the Summer of 2021 is for domestic overnight trips to remain 46% below 2019 levels and fully recovery by 2023. Conversely, outbound tourism from the United Kingdom is expected to resume to 2019 levels only in 2024.
The Tourism Recovery Strategy issued by the Ministry for Digital, Culture, Media, and Sport in June 2021 stresses the importance of safely getting the sector reopened again. In particular, it stresses on the importance of Covid-status certification as key condition to ensure domestic and international tourism mobility. Similarly, the European Travel Commission launched a series of initiatives to ensure free movement of people for travel and leisure purposes in full adherence with health and safety measures.
Undeniably, tourism is inherently a demand-side phenomenon that much depends on the ability of people to move and travel, both domestically and internationally. Focusing on domestic tourism travel, the NHS Covid Pass is subject to the discretion of individual organizations, yet it is highly recommended for facilities where people are likely to be in close contact. The track-and-trace system, on the other hand, has been widely criticised by businesses, with employees exposed to Covid cases being asked to self-isolate.
As for outgoing travel, the introduction of the EU Green Pass this summer represents one of the main initiatives with direct consequences in the mobility of UK tourists overseas. Far from being straightforward, the ability of UK residents fully vaccinated to travel in Europe has been subject to the dispositions of the Foreign Office and of each of the European destinations.
For instance, Madeira has been for most of the summer under the green watchlist, while the Azores and continental Portugal moved from green to amber list in early July (both subsequently moving back). The UK represents one of the main tourism markets for Portugal, and the listing to amber had negative consequences on international tourist arrivals to the country this summer.
Conversely, the Italian Government maintained the mandatory isolation for tourists coming from the UK over the summer. From August 6th, leisure businesses in Italy require customers to use the Pass for indoor dining, visits to museums and outgoing travel. Partially due to the implications of Brexit on Covid certifications within the EU, UK residents with the NHS Covid Pass have experienced problems entering bars and restaurants.
As the summer season comes to an end, some conclusions can be drawn. Undeniably, the introduction of Covid passes, and country lists has provided some monitoring and travel advice to tourists. At the same time, the rise of Covid cases across the UK and the trend registered in key British overseas destinations should raise concerns as to how the easing of Covid restrictions has been handled. Back in July, the scientific community warned on the dangerously premature decision of lifting almost all restrictions. In their view, Covid infections “can still cause substantial morbidity in both acute and long-term illness”.
The rhetoric behind slogans like new normality, post-pandemic and reigniting tourism shows us that, much of the UK Government response is lacking a cohesive approach to recovery and resilience of tourism as claimed in the Tourism Recovery Strategy. This can also be seen in the tourism marketing campaigns launched this summer. For example, Visit Scotland launched the Now is Your Time campaign in July 2021 to promote excursions, city breaks and holydays across UK residents. This echoes other initiatives across the United Kingdom and key tourism destination for UK residents like Portugal, Greece and Spain.
After nearly 18 months since the first lockdown, the tourism industry in the UK is struggling to recover. In particular, tourism and leisure businesses have shown high vulnerability throughout the pandemic, and their recovery is tied to the easing of lockdown restrictions. Similarly, the survival of festivals and events nationwide are currently at stake, as Government has not provided an adequate insurance relief scheme for the sector. Finally, leading Tour Operators have warned on how UK holidaymakers have faced more uncertainties than other key European tourism markets as consequence of changing travel restrictions over the summer.
About the author: Alberto Amore is a Senior Lecturer in Tourism and Event Management at Solent University, UK. His research expertise include crisis and disaster recovery in tourism, tourism and public policy and travel and mobility studies. He joined the RGS in 2019 and he is Committee Member of the Geographies of Leisure and Tourism Research Group (GLTRG).
Suggested further readings
Stoffelen, A. (2021), Managing people’s (in)ability to be mobile: Geopolitics and the selective opening and closing of borders. Transactions of the Institute of British Geographers. Accepted Author Manuscript. https://doi.org/10.1111/tran.12486
Hall, C. M., Scott, D., & Gössling, S. (2020). Pandemics, transformations and tourism: be careful what you wish for. Tourism Geographies, 22(3), 577-598.
Sharma, G. D., Thomas, A., & Paul, J. (2021). Reviving tourism industry post-COVID-19: A resilience-based framework. Tourism Management Perspectives, 37, 100786.