The restrictions and uncertainty that Covid-19 has injected into international travel means that many of the readers of this blog are likely to have holidayed at home this year, rather than abroad. The countryside of Devon, Cornwall and Scotland appear to have been popular choices, but which cities have seen a domestic tourism boom?
Centre for Cities’ High Street Recovery Tracker suggests that the seaside towns of Blackpool and Bournemouth have been the biggest winners. Not only have they seen the largest recovery in footfall and spend of all town and city centres, a larger share of this footfall was from visitors too. The chart below shows that on the eve of the first lockdown, 43 percent of visitors to the centre of Blackpool were from elsewhere. Last month this has increased to 67 percent. Meanwhile in Bournemouth the share rose from 33 percent to 54 percent. York, Brighton and Edinburgh show similar patterns too, although their overall recovery in footfall is more muted.
Figure 1: Origins of city centre footfall
London, meanwhile, is at the other end of the scale. Pre-Covid-19, international visitors in central London made up the largest share of footfall of any town or city centre. The slump in international visitors has not been swapped for a substantial rise in domestic tourists. At just 43 percent of pre-Covid-19 levels, Central London has had the weakest recovery to date. And visitors to the centre make up the same share as they did pre-Covid-19, although encouragingly there was some improvement in this in August.
It is also bad news for airport towns around London. Crawley continues to have the largest share of people on furlough, followed closely by Luton and Slough (many of its residents work at Heathrow). Of all the claimants in Crawley, one third work in transport and storage, the highest of any place in the country. The lack of international tourists has big implications for these places too, even if few of those tourists visit their high streets.
What this means for the longer term remains to be seen. The clamour for international holidays would suggest that Blackpool’s rebound summer won’t be the start of a long term shift, and it’s deeper, long-term challenges will remain. Meanwhile the likely slow recovery in international travel, particularly for business, poses a big question for London and its surrounding airport towns in particular as the furlough scheme finishes at the end of this month. As attention focuses ever more on levelling up in the coming weeks, the Government may be pressed into action to stop levelling down in these places.