Overcrowded, overpriced and overwhelmed

By | Category: Travel rumblings

This was a headline that the American news station, CNN, ran over the weekend to describe UK staycations this year.

Tenby: South Beach where social distancing was in evidence

The tone of the story was that staycations in the UK were a nightmare.

I have no idea where the writer – Joe Minihane – got his information but some of it looks suspect.

I have this quaint old view that any factual writing should try and attain, balance, accuracy and truth.

Like Mr Minihane I was also taught that the reader tends to read the first sentence or even paragraph and then the level of interest can drop so you have to capture your readers with a punchy opening.

That Mr Minihane achieves.

“Beaches strewn with waste, wild campers destroying fragile habitats, warnings from an increasingly overstretched Coastguard, unaffordable accommodations.” is his opening.

At this point if I was visit Britain I would be taking strong exception because such an opening is likely to deter people from visiting. Luckily not that many can travel to the UK without undergoing a series of obstacles so, in this case, his less than balanced comments will probably have no effect and Visit Britain’s overpaid staff can rest comfortable in their beds.

Notice the word “overpaid.” I can slip a note of bias into my copy as well without justifying its use!

Looking at his claims, let’s start with rubbish. More people means more rubbish. It is also true that when holidaymakers travel they seem to take on a different guise from when they are at home. There is an increase in litter but that is nothing new. Each September there is a beach clean-up around the UK and tons of litter is collected as well as things washed u by our coastal sees. Is it any worse than in previous years? Mr Miihane doesn’t say.

Margate – This is what some people want to find; quietr beaches but margate is only like this in winter

As for fragile habitats being destroyed, apart from a few references to capers in places where they should have asked the landowners’ permission, digging pits for campfire and damaging trees there is nothing to suggest “fragile habitats” are being destroyed. You could argue that digging a pit for a campfire is responsible and controllable rather than just building it on open ground.

Overcrowded beaches are and probably always will be a problem and Minihane refers to the huge crowds seen at Bournemouth and Brighton a month or so ago. Certainly social distancing was nigh on impossible at those beaches but as the local council leader pointed out at the time, part of the problem was that all the attractions and amusements in the town were still closed due to lockdown. The public only had the beach.

And here is the other feature of that famous weekend. Even with an estimated 350,000 people along the Dorset coastline there doesn’t seem to have been a spike in virus cases. Why not? Could it be that being on a beach on a hot day requires less social distancing?

But that’s getting away from the point of my argument which is that Minihane’s story is unbalanced.

Beaches do get overcrowded, something which Bournemouth, Brighton and any number of places have been saying for decades. Blackpool in the fifties and sixties was packed tighter than tinned sardines. But as Minihane does mention as a result from some interviews he conducted, there are plenty of beaches that don’t get packed.

North wales landscape
Snowdonia is seeing tourists again… and parking problems as too many people arrive and the roads and car parks can’t cope

I was at Tenby in Pembrokeshire last Tuesday and Poppit Sands on Cardigan Bay the week before, both very long and wide beaches for much of the day. I saw social distancing and although car parks were pretty full, the beaches weren’t overcrowded. The same couldn’t necessarily be said for the narrow roads and lanes in the town of Tenby itself.

As for excessive pricing, yes that certainly is happening and will happen when supply is less than demand. A complaint stretching back decades has been that holidays in the UK are expensive compared to the packaged holidays you can buy for France, Spain, Portugal, Italy, Greece and Turkey to name just a few.

That is true but largely due to the fact that the big tour operators don’t focus on the UK but abroad. British holidays are largely self-packaged because you don’t need a flight, just accommodation and because there are often not the cost advantages of 500 room hotels everywhere you do pay more. Are some accommodation providers milking it? Undoubtedly. Is it a problem more this year than last? Probably not since last year was also a goodish year for staycations. Is it any worse than being fleeced in Manhattan, Miami Beach, or Los Angeles during peak season by fancy accommodation costs? Again, the answer is probably not.

As for busy roads, why are they busy? Britons had been told to use public transport sparingly so that social distancing could be practiced and that the emergency services staff could use them. That is about to change as masks are enforced on train and bus services so more people might use public transport in greater numbers.

There is another argument for using cars again. People feel safer in their own bubble and being in your own car with no outsiders is as about as safe as you can get. That is a major reason in an upsurge in car usage and probably will remain so until trains and buses inspire confidence again.

But in criticising Mr Minihane, I must confess to a cardinal sin of my own. Write briefly not long I believe and today I have broken that rule.

So here I stop and let you make up your own minds about whether his story is balanced.

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