Staycation UK: Wish you were here ? Oh! You are!

And the way they are taking it is marking a fundamental shift in the nation’s
social habits. For the first time in a generation, more Britons are
holidaying in their own country than abroad.

From the Western Isles to the beaches of Brighton, and from the sands of
Northumberland to the cliffs of Cornwall, there is hardly a part of the
country that is not seeing a substantial swelling of visitor numbers. Hotel
groups such as Travelodge are reporting bookings well ahead of last year at
resorts and on routes to Scotland and the coast. Major providers of
self-catering holidays, such as Hoseasons and Haven, say business is well up
on recent years with family accommodation now almost booked up.

Resort after resort is reporting the best trade for years; some areas such as
the Isle of Wight expect a rise in visitors that could exceed 50 per cent,
and caravan and camping sites are seeing record years. So marked has been
the migration to the country’s resort areas that tomorrow Debenhams will
announce it is shipping extra stock to its branches in seaside towns to try
to cope with the “unprecedented” demand there. Other chains are
expected to follow suit.

Fully a third of all Britons, and a clear majority of those having a holiday,
will this year take their breaks within these shores. And while tourism
chiefs recognise that negative factors ? such as the unfavourable pound-euro
exchange rate and the hassle of security-obsessed airports ? play their
part, they think something more deep-seated is going on.

First, that in the credit-crunched world, with the reality, or fear, of
unemployment a monkey on all our backs, a UK holiday seems a thriftier move,
and, if taken spontaneously (as many seem to be doing), allows a swift
return home as soon as the budget runs out. Second, there has been an
enormous amount of investment in tourist facilities here, from the cluster
of little cedar lodges on a Yorkshire farmer’s land to millions spent on
all-weather facilities at holiday parks and on bringing the infrastructure
of major resorts up to snuff.

Our summers are warmer and the UK is a more variedly welcoming place than it
has ever been. Festivals, whether of literature, jazz, kites, film, or
boats, have brought excitement to many a fading venue; then there are the
farm shops, restaurants and boutique hotels that have made holidaying in
Britain more pleasurable.

VisitBritain is now beginning to believe that its projection earlier in the
summer ? that the increase in Britons holidaying in the UK could amount to
five million extra people ? is being fulfilled. Certainly the evidence from
around the country is pointing that way. A sampling of tourism offices
around Britain yesterday produced the following enthusiastic responses: “unprecedented
demand” (Penrith, Cumbria); “busiest season in five years”
(St Ives, Cornwall); “really busy June going into July. More Brits than
last year” (Poole, Dorset); “in the past, guests have complained
about high prices, but this year people are very positive about the cost”
(Winchester); “we had a slow start but now we’re having to scout around
when looking for accommodation” (Bude, Cornwall); “a great season
so far” (Sheringham, Norfolk).

This anecdotal evidence is backed by what the major holiday firms and
organisations are finding. Travelodge hotels says that forward bookings at
locations such as Edinburgh, Blackpool and Brighton are well ahead of last
year. Its spokesman, Nick Dines, said that its roadside hotels, especially
on routes to Scotland and the West Country, are “very strong”, as
are bookings at hotels in resorts such as Blackpool and Scarborough.

Hoseasons, a huge operator taking about one million visitors to UK holidays,
said that business was 20 per cent up on last year, which was itself a
strong year. Family holiday beds were now in short supply, and its
spokesman, Peter Joyner, said the firm was “on the verge of trying to
rush round and find accommodation for people”. Hoseasons was not alone
in reporting that, as well as traditional holiday areas such as the
South-east and the West Country, some less obvious locations such as
Northumberland and Essex were doing well. “People,” he said, “are
discovering things and places about their own country that they didn’t know
about.”

One of the ways they are doing that is by taking short breaks, and by camping
and caravanning ? perhaps the most identifiable boom sector of all. The
Camping and Caravanning Club says advance bookings at its sites are 15 per
cent better than last year, and at one Haven static caravan site on the
south coast, sales of caravans are 70 per cent ahead of last year.

Peter Hampson of the British Resorts and Destinations Association said there
was “incredible demand” for budget accommodation from Britons. He
also said that the National Trust and English Heritage were seeing booming
membership numbers as well as an increase in visitors ? in the case of the
former, a 20 per cent rise reported in June, and, for the latter, an
increase of 25 per cent in visitors to their North-east properties alone. Mr
Hampson said: “This is really good news for the UK economy.”

That is mirrored by many other attractions, especially in the North. Ullswater
Steamers in the Lake District says it is “very busy”; York Minster
said its June visitors were 22 per cent up on last year; and the North York
Moors centre was 18 per cent up in the first six months of 2009.

In the end, the enduring success of the Great British Holiday Revival will
depend on the weather. And, for now, with the Met Office talking of a warmer
than usual, if not entirely dry, August, the prospects are looking good.
Enjoy the break ? we all deserve it.

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