UK Government considering October Bank Holiday because of lockdown

19 May 2020, 14:46

An October Bank Holiday is being considered by the UK Government
An October Bank Holiday is being considered by the UK Government. Picture: PA
Nick Hardinges

By Nick Hardinges

Brits could be given an October Bank Holiday near the school half-term in a bid to boost British tourism after spending four indoors because of the coronavirus lockdown.

Industry leaders are calling for a special bank holiday in October this year to make up for the two effectively lost in May because of the coronavirus crisis.

Patricia Yates, the head of Visit Britain, told MPs she has been discussing the possibility with the government in the hope it would inject money into domestic tourism.

Giving evidence to a virtual session of the Commons Culture, Media and Sport Committee on Tuesday, the tourism chief said: “The idea that we could possibly have a bank holiday in October, because the industry has lost the benefit of the two May bank holidays, I think that’s an idea that’s being considered, to have a bank holiday around the October half-term.

"Because what we’re going to need to do is not just stimulate people in July and August but really extend the season this year for the domestic market."

The prime minister's spokesman confirmed the government is in talks with the tourism industry, but warned the move would "come with economic cost" because of the hit to the UK economy brought on by bank holidays.

The Centre for Economics and Business Research think tank has previously said bank holidays cost the UK economy roughly £19 billion per year, or £2.3 billion on each occasion.

Ms Yates, Visit Britain's acting chief executive, told the Commons Culture Committee the organisation had submitted ideas, and "we're working through some of those with DCMS."

She added that those discussions included proposals on funding and furloughing.

But Downing Street stressed the idea is a work in progress.

“We are supporting the tourism industry during this period through the huge government support package for businesses and workers," Mr Johnson's spokesman said.

“That includes a 12-month business rates holiday and grants for companies. We are also regularly speaking with the industry to help inform our ongoing response.

“On the specific proposal from Visit Britain, we will, of course, respond to that in due course.

“It is worth acknowledging that extra bank holidays do come with economic costs, however.”

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The early May Bank Holiday was moved to a Friday this year in order to mark VE Day.

However, people were stuck in lockdown and unable to give the tourism sector the much-needed boost it needed amid the coronavirus pandemic.

Ms Yates said this was likely to deprive British tourist sites of billions of pounds.

She told MPs: "Every time we do the modelling the figures get worse. So for inbound, I mean we were looking at the beginning of this year at about £26.6 billion coming from inbound tourism, we reckon a £15 billion drop on that.

"And for domestic, an industry that's normally worth about £80 billion, a £22 billion drop on that. And that's actually before we've factored in the quarantine because we don't clearly quite know what the measures are going to look like."

Ms Yates said that while she hoped British tourism could pick up the slack this summer and help alleviate some of the losses seen in the international sector, a "lack of confidence" among people around travelling is a concern.

She said: "You've got a collapse of the supply industry as well as a collapse of demand and really to get British tourism up and running this summer, and the summer is hugely important, you're going to need that domestic audience. I think the worrying thing we see is the lack of confidence in the British public about travelling."

She added: "So there's a real job to be done there, given that it has to be the year of domestic tourism, there's a real job to be done there in convincing people that it's socially responsible to travel and enjoy a holiday. And that it's safe to do so."

When asked about possible arrangements between certain countries where quarantine rules would not apply, known as air bridges, Ms Yates said it was an "interesting" idea.

She said: "We have an international network, our American regional director is telling us sort of America is ready to go, American business is ready to go. So, possibly, you know, an air bridge between the UK and America might be one that would be valuable to us."

Outside of the US, the most valuable markets are France, Germany, Italy and Spain when it comes to possible mutual arrangements, she said.

Ms Yates added that Visit Britain was already looking at stepping up marketing in Ireland, which will be exempt from the quarantine measures regarding international travel.