Among notable highlights last week, we saw the lifting of the firebreak lockdown in Wales and its replacement with a new single pan-Wales set of restrictions instead of the previous patchwork of local restrictions. As the First Minister was at pains to point out, while they are confident that the 17day firebreak will have an effect in the come days and weeks, it is still too early yet to measure the impact. The new pan-Wales rules remain relatively restrictive: overseas travel, for example, remains banned, as does travel to and from England during its current national lockdown. The First Minister has also urged that whist residents can travel in Wales they should not unless it is really necessary. Nonessential shops, services and hospitality are now reopened but in reality, they are operating under significant restrictions, for example a new 4-person rule now applies both indoors and outdoors in pubs and restaurants.
Early in the week news of the potential success of one of several major vaccine trials lifted the nation’s spirits and even share prices, particularly in areas like the hard-hit travel and airline sectors. Speculation as the week progressed about what it actual all means and by when suggests that, like the impact of the Welsh firebreak, it is far too early to call. Nonetheless, what is increasingly clear is that effective, widely available and widely applied vaccine or vaccines remains central to avoiding the successive imposition of lockdowns and varying levels of restrictions as the primary means of controlling the spread and impact of covid-19 and, thus, vaccines are almost certainly, critical to the earliest possible return to normality. We may not be there yet but we have made a leap closer to achieving it at some point in 2021. Today another successful trial in the US was announced, albeit this time of one of the vaccine that the UK Government has as yet no pre agreed access rights to.
The changing tone of reporting over the week suggests that the benefits of any successful vaccination programme are more likely to fall towards the end of 2021, rather than the begin but that too is speculative as there are so many unknows, options and variation of approach and policy in play. How those variables might then impact on domestic, domestic outbound and inbound international travel and, therefore, the implications of that on the value and volumes of domestic visitor economy in 2021 is as yet still largely informed guesswork. The only really certainty is that as ever the key window of opportunity for recovery in our industry remains firmly fixed between late March and October with critical period, focused on July and August. The precise timing of any marked improvements, vaccine driven or otherwise, are as if not more critical in 2021 as they were in 2020.
Reports that interest in, and in some case bookings for, outbound domestic international travel in 2021 have increased significantly last week (from a low base?) might suggest that any return to normality could also mean a relatively rapid return to the competitive frictions between domestic and domestic outbound travel. There will also be additional competition for the domestic leisure pound between traditional domestic destinations and popular inbound international tourism destinations that urgently need, temporarily at least, to replace lost international visits. This assumes as VB and others predict, that international business and leisure tourism will be somewhat slower to recover to, or towards pre-covid-19 levels, than either UK domestic and UK domestic, international outbound travel. What is clear is that they have a long way to climb back (see comment on ONS IPS figure below).
In other news last week also saw the announcement of a large number of new and updated guidance notes on the support available to business, particularly in England. I saw no point in highlighting their release, as this now well-established process. What I would highlight, however, is that there does still appear to be considerable confusion about what is available to whom, particularly but not exclusively in those areas which went in quick succession from local restricted areas, to tier three to national lockdown where businesses may or may not, therefore, be eligible for various forms of locally negotiated and agreed support as well as new or amended national support programmes. One of the bigger issues I am told has been getting businesses to apply for grants that they are not entirely sure they are eligible for. Some businesses as a consequence may be missing out now or may miss out if and when discretionary grants are subsequently tweaked as they sometimes are.
Last week ONS published the latest IPS inbound international travel estimates for June 2020 these are genuinely even more of an estimate, as not unreasonably ONS have suspended the face to face surveys that are normally used in and key to modelling the IPS figure. They June 2020 headlines show a 95% drop in visits and a 98% decline in income against the same month in 2019. Forecast for the full year are currently predicting a 74% decline to 10.6 million visits and 79% decline in spending to £6.1 billion. The scale of the losses and the impact on businesses are frankly hard to grasp: https://www.visitbritain.org/latest-monthly-data-1
Finally, there was considerable coverage last week of research suggesting that Northern England had been particularly hard hit by the social and economic consequences of covid-19. The base research documents underpinning this case has been added to our c-19 research library for anyone wishing to better understand what is essentially a case for greater central support the North over and above other regions of England. I suspect that this may be of interest to Northern members and to, arguably, equally challenged towns and areas within other outwardly more affluent parts of England. If pressed for time Page 4 contains the summary detail: https://britishdestinations.net/c19-research/