If domestic holidays are on the agenda for Britons this year, camping may be one of the practical options.
Campsites in England are preparing to reopen in July, with social distancing measures in place and reduced capacity. Under the government’s Plan to Rebuild (pdf), published on 11 May, accommodation providers may be able to reopen from 4 July, subject to certain conditions.
Bookings with Cool Camping, a website and guidebook representing 600 UK campsites and glamping sites, have increased fivefold since Boris Johnson’s speech on 10 May announcing the plan, although they remain lower than usual. On 15 May the company launched a coronavirus booking guarantee, allowing customers to book with a 20% deposit, pay the balance 10 days before the holiday and move the booking date for up to 18 months in the event of continued or renewed restrictions.
While 4 July is the earliest possible reopening date, this will apply only if the government’s tests have been met regarding the NHS, death rates, infection rates, testing and PPE, and if it is confident that easing measures will not contribute to a second peak. This could mean that campsites in some regions of England may be open before others, while the devolved administrations in Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland may adjust restrictions at different times. In Wales, holiday accommodation is due to remain closed until 26 September, but this guidance is being reviewed every 21 days.
Listings on the Cool Camping website now also include proposed social distancing measures. All sites will increase cleaning and many will reduce site capacity to allow more space between pitches. Chapelfield Camping in the New Forest, for example, is opening a second meadow in order spread out the tents. Some sites will be adding more toilets and showers, while others, such as Ettie’s Field in Leicestershire, will introduce time slots for using the showers. Many will reopen basic facilities before communal areas such as on-site shops.
The Camping and Caravanning Club, which represents more than 1,300 UK sites, is also looking into social distancing and other safety measures, and has called for more official guidance. In a statement, Sabina Voysey, the director general, said: “We would urge the government to provide greater clarity on how the sector can safely open and operate campsites with additional measures in place.”
Voysey has suggested that, initially, campers should be permitted to visit only local sites: “We believe that you don’t have to travel far for a break and a change of scene – by supporting local businesses and local economies in a sensible and phased approach, we can start to help the rebuilding process when the time is right.” She added that, based on the earliest possible reopening, the organisation will have lost £25m during lockdown.
The Caravan and Motorhome Club also said it is developing new operating, cleaning and safety protocols ahead of reopening. While Pitchup.com, which lists about 1,500 UK campsites, says bookings have increased 135% since Johnson’s speech compared with the previous week. It estimates that staycations could increase 81% year on year if holidaymakers are unable to travel abroad. Dan Yates, Pitchup’s founder, has noticed that while tents are usually the most popular form of accommodation, people who are already booking ahead for 2021 are choosing lodges, cabins, caravans or motorhomes. “Structured accommodation offers a layer of protection and security which is important to holidaymakers who understandably feel a bit wary at the moment,” he said. “However, this uptick could also be representative of families who haven’t traditionally holidayed outdoors in the UK who have more money to spend on higher-cost accommodation.”
Bookings with Canopy and Stars, a collection of glampsites, have also increased over the past week. However, Mike Bevens, the managing director, said: “There is still a nervousness from travellers who don’t want to book too early. Over 50% of our guests said that they are planning to make a last-minute booking when they have more information about travel restrictions.” The company is introducing a Clean & Safe charter for site owners to sign up to, committing them to additional safety and hygiene measures. It has also collated the sites that offer self-check-in, requiring no contact with anyone else.
Visit Britain, meanwhile, is developing a quality mark for tourism businesses, including campsites, in response to Covid-19. It is designed to reassure customers that businesses are adhering to government guidelines.
Martin Smith, the founder Campsites.co.uk, said bookings are still down 90% on 2019 and sounded a note of caution: “Even when sites are allowed to open again, many owners will be concerned for their own and their team’s health. Some sites are choosing not to take campervan or tent guests when they reopen – only those with their own facilities – so that they can close their toilet and shower blocks.”
But even if the opening date is pushed back, Yates remains optimistic that many Britons will manage a domestic holiday this year. “We live in hope of an Indian summer, and around 20% of sites are open all year. Others may ask their local councils for permission to open longer.”
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Photo Credit: A file photo of Bestival camping in Dorset, England on September 7, 2012. Campsites will reopen in England in July. Jurriaan Persyn / Flicker.com