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201006 | Rude tourists, the Instagram effect and Cornwall's summer of Covid

Rude tourists, the Instagram effect and Cornwall's summer of Covid

Cornwall's summer season of Covid with 2m visitors was like no other

Busy Fistral beach in Newquay, Cornwall, on Saturday July 11, the first sunny weekend since lockdown restrictions easedBusy Fistral beach in Newquay, Cornwall, on Saturday July 11, the first sunny weekend since lockdown restrictions eased. (Image: Greg Martin / Cornwall Live)

It’s fair to say that this summer was the most contentious tourism season Cornwall has ever seen.

It was a period of mixed messages from local residents and businesses alike – did we want visitors during a coronavirus pandemic? But could we withstand the economic impact if they didn’t come during what was already a curtailed holiday season?

There was also the issue of reduced accommodation capacity to allow for social distancing, so would they come at all?

As we all know, holidaymakers did arrive in their droves, helped by glorious weather.

There were two million of them over three months, in fact, not far off a typically good summer in the Duchy.

Malcolm Bell, chief executive of Visit Cornwall

Malcolm Bell, chief executive of Visit Cornwall

However, as well as all the positives that brought, there were also negatives – busy beaches, parking issues, littering and, in some cases, rude visitors taking their frustrations concerning Covid limitations out on locals.

I spoke to Malcolm Bell, the man who had the unenviable task of overseeing this unique summer as chief executive of Visit Cornwall.

He readily admits there are lessons to be learned and it important that Visit Cornwall, Cornwall Council and other agencies come up with a ten-year strategy now that the county is growing, both in population and visitors.

He told me: “We want maximum gain but minimum pain.

“A couple of years ago we had a problem with over-tourism and I got crucified for saying ‘don’t come’, which I didn’t – and there have seen indicators this year in places of over-tourism. Not as much as people say – because we were so damn quiet it suddenly felt very busy.

“I’m actually finding it harder to drive around at the moment than I did in August.

“What we should take from the last two incidents is if we don’t have a plan we will end up with over-tourism and that’s no good for the industry, it’s no good for the communities and it’s actually no good for the customer.”

He added: “Tourism is a tool to help Cornwall, it shouldn’t be a hammer to knock it on the head.

“We need to get the balance right and we’ve been getting there – we’ve just had a couple of shockwaves.”

He verified that there were around two million people who visited once lockdown was lifted, though it will be another year before the exact figure can be calculated.

“It was busy – looking at the car parking numbers is interesting because you can’t really do a comparison, like previous years, as a lot of people were working from home and not moving around so it’s been quite difficult judging it, but the RNLI have had a very busy summer which is one indicator.

“We weren’t far off the numbers [we usually see] but it will take a year to get the true figure of staying visitors.”

The strong numbers don’t appear to have been affected by reduced capacity caused by social distancing measures.

“The holiday parks all ran below capacity because they rely on the bar, swimming pools, leisure and entertainment which first of all was curtailed and then greatly reduced, so that took out capacity,” said Malcolm. “There was also capacity taken out of some hotels.

“Camping sites did well, obviously because it’s self-catering, so we were probably at or just below the normal staying visitors.

“What we did see – and there’s no criticism of this – was a lot of people visited friends and relatives. Lots of people who had people in Cornwall visited them. There were also a lot of people on flexible working, so there were a lot of people on the beaches during the week.”

A busy Perranporth beach at the beginning of August

A busy Perranporth beach at the beginning of August (Image: Ben Gardiner)

Lessons to be learned

The tourism boss admitted: “There were challenges in Perranporth, St Ives and Padstow so one of the things we’re talking to the council about is lessons learned.

“The first couple of weeks ramped up slowly but as August went on there were a lot more people down, particularly over the last ten days.

“There are lessons to be learned about how, first of all, you can’t stop people going to a town, you can ask them but you can’t stop them. Secondly, there were a lot of people parking at some of the more popular beaches. So we would look at local regulations that can help.

“Obviously we want the gain, but we don’t want too much pain. We have to balance it with the economy and jobs but not to the point where it’s impacting on local people.

“There were certain areas that wanted more visitors and there were certain areas where they clearly wanted less.”

He said there needed to be a long-term strategy to complement tourism with the changing face of Cornwall and its growing population and increased housing stock.

“When I was a boy it was a quarter of a million who lived in Cornwall – in the last 50 or 60 years it’s gone from that to 530,000.

“With new properties being built, we’re the first to acknowledge you have a real challenge with an extra 50,000 residents [a day during the summer]. That’s potentially 50,000 residents who go to the beach every day. You can see the problem.

“We had slightly more visitors in the 1970s but it was only for six weeks and not so many local people went to the beaches as less people had cars. But the season goes on longer now.”

No impact on coronavirus

Malcolm said that despite two million extra people in Cornwall over 12 weeks, Public Health confirmed it made no impact on the virus spread.

“I think for two or three reasons,” he told me. “Businesses didn’t want to be the first one to bring Covid in, so a lot of them doubled their cleaning costs and doubled the staff cost in cleaning.

“A lot of our business tends to come from the suburbs, so the vast majority probably came from low infection areas where people had been working from home for three months.”

Grumpy visitors

He added: “On the negative side, we did have visitors who probably didn’t want to be here. We were their second choice. They did seem to be rather grumpy at times – it was only a minority of visitors but it was enough to make a difference.

“On occasions the minority were disrespectful to Cornwall and its people. It was a very small number but you don’t need that many to wind local people up."

Malcolm stressed that the over-popularity of beaches, because the weather was good, means the problem of litter needs to be addressed and there are plans to work with groups like Clean Cornwall.

A busy Porthcurno beach full of people on a hot sunny day

Porthcurno Beach is always one of the most popular spots in Cornwall during the summer (Image: RNLI / Sam Hawken)

Instagram effect on beaches

Malcolm said that the ‘Instagram effect’ continues to draw visitors to some of our most popular beaches – despite some locals not wanting the influx.

“At the Portchurnos and Kynances – which I’m allowed to mention now because summer has gone – we’ve probably got to look at how we deal with parking.

“The Instagram generation take the pictures – we don’t promote those beaches. They do appear on our website but we never promote them on social media. Unfortunately, too many other people do.

“Ironically, a lot of those are local people who then complain – they don’t do it on purpose, but it’s so pretty you take a picture of it and bung it on social media and other people see it and want to visit.”

Next year

He reiterated that Visit Cornwall and the holiday sector need to take stock and get together with multiple agencies, including Cornwall Council and the RNLI.

“Let’s have a mop-up and learn from the problems this year.

“Maybe we won’t have the same problem next year and people can fly to wherever they want. But let’s be prepared and manage the negatives.

“We’re working towards that the virus will still be around. The airlines probably will be open as I don’t think the airline industry can survive otherwise, so that will probably take some people away who came here because they couldn’t fly.”

He said that this year’s early message to ‘book ahead’ certainly eased the tourism load and that message will continue.

“I think we will see good numbers next year because people always return the following year when they’ve had good weather. That’s why we have to prepare.

“We will look at some of the issues in certain areas and mitigate before we get there.”

“This summer proved we could run a visitor economy in a Covid situation but there were some negatives that we need to get our heads round and, after that, let’s look forward ten years.”

 

 

 

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