COLUMN: A holiday season like no other - by Michele Coe-Baxter, head of leisure and tourism at Duncan & Toplis

From March to October each year, the Lincolnshire coast comes alive for the official holiday season.

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From March to October each year, the Lincolnshire coast comes alive for the official holiday season.

Now, more than ever before, all eyes are on the 2021 season as businesses hope to recoup as much of their losses as possible when restrictions are eased.

While it is hoped there’ll be a boom in domestic tourism later this year, there are also calls for an extension to the tourism season in Lincolnshire to give businesses more time to capitalise on the end of restrictions.

The merits of this seem clear: the longer the season, the longer businesses in the sector can take bookings, welcome guests and generate revenue. It would also keep people in work for longer, extending temporary or seasonal employment and enable businesses to capitalise on the Christmas and New Year periods, which could be especially lucrative.

Of course, there are good reasons why the tourism season is over the warmer months; the idea of people shivering in frozen tents or being blown about on a rainy beach isn’t exactly the most appealing image, so the benefits of a longer season won’t affect every tourism business equally. There are also more serious concerns about a prolonged season, particularly around the risk of flooding and the added pressure on healthcare services in rural areas.

As we know, some areas of Lincolnshire, particularly low-lying areas near the coast, are prone to flooding and this can be incredibly costly - not to mention dangerous. However, flooding is also a risk in other areas of the country such as Wales and the Lake District where tourism is year-round and this is dealt with through careful planning and sensible precautions.

But there’s also a question over coronavirus: we all hope and pray that we’ll see the back of it soon, but there are warnings that we may see more surges in case numbers as we approach winter and that could mean more restrictions will be needed. If this is the case, attracting large numbers of tourists from across the country may not be welcome or, indeed, possible, and it could increase the financial cost future restrictions may have.

But, on the contrary, having a short season means encouraging more people to visit at the same time, and this could pose a challenge for social distancing, with tourists vying for the limited seating at bars and restaurants, for example.

There may also be concerns over the impact a longer season will have on local communities as well as natural environments, and, generally, the ‘down season’ does prove a useful time for businesses to assess, evaluate, adapt or invest to improve their offer for the next year.

But while the drawbacks may be complicated, we should consider how valuable an extended season could be. Nationally, VisitBritain figures show that the holiday tourism industry in England generated £11bn in 2019 and the UK tourism sector accounts for almost 10 per cent of the UK’s total GDP and 11 per cent of all jobs. Meanwhile, it was reported that the tourism industry in Lincolnshire reached £1.58bn in 2018, employing more than 20,000 people, so even a modest increase in visitors could be a great boost for the economy. However, the main drivers for coastal tourism are the weather and school holidays, so businesses will need to work hard to give people a more year-round offer if they’re to take advantage of a longer season.

Whether this season is extended or not, the Lincolnshire coast is well positioned to capitalise on the ending of restrictions: unlike other tourism hot-spots, coastal resorts in the UK thrive on domestic tourism and city breaks may be less appealing to people who are likely to be more wary of crowded areas and busy streets.

Indeed, if we look back to last summer, research by Springboard suggested coastal towns fared better than others, with retail footfall last August having reduced by 24.4 per cent compared to 30.8 per cent nationwide and 64 per cent in central London.

Hopefully, whether it’s a longer season or not, this summer will go a long way towards helping the industry bounce back.