Scarborough predicts a bumper tourism season (if it can find enough staff)

The log cabins are gleaming, the tipis look tip-top and the champagne is on ice. Pinewood Park will host its first wedding in 22 months on Saturday as 120 guests descend on the popular glamping site near Scarborough, Yorkshire.

For Kerry and Dave Woodhead, the married couple who own the park, the influx of visitors as schools prepare to break up cannot come soon enough. “It’s been a long time coming but we are over the moon to get back to normal,” said Kerry, on a rare break between managing bookings.

As with many hotels and campsites across Britain, their phone has barely stopped ringing since many holidaymakers abandoned their hopes of a trip to the Algarve or Costa del Sol this summer. Pretty much every tipi, cabin, caravan and tent in Pinewood Park is fully booked until September. “It’s definitely the best year ever for bookings,” said Kerry.

According to the tourism group Visit Britain, a third of UK adults are planning a domestic break of some kind this summer, which would lead to an estimated £4.9bn of spending between July and September. Seaside towns and coastal resorts were the most popular destinations among the adults it surveyed, followed by breaks in the countryside. Across the whole year the group has predicted domestic tourists will spend a total of £51.4bn – down from £91.6bn in 2019.

The spirit of optimism is felt almost universally in Scarborough, the North Yorkshire town that bills itself as Britain’s first seaside resort. Ten million people a year usually flock to its sandy beaches, spending a whopping £610m and sustaining more than 20,000 jobs in the local economy.

Over the past 18 months, the town has been in relative hibernation. Almost half of its workforce of 47,000 people have been on furlough while visitor numbers are thought to have dropped by as much as 70 or 80%, according to Janet Deacon, the council’s tourism manager.

On Scarborough’s cacophonous seafront, restaurants, pubs and amusement arcades were packed while the town’s ever-present donkeys trundled children along South Bay beach for £3 a ride. But beyond the cheerful din from the penny arcades there is cause for concern: hospitality businesses are suffering from a severe shortage of staff.

At least seven restaurants were closed last week due to staff having to self-isolate, according to John Senior, who chairs the South Bay Traders Association, with many hotels working at 70% capacity due to staff absences. Senior said one in four of his staff were currently self-isolating and that his three restaurants, all operating at reduced capacity, were “on the threshold” of having to close for a week.

“That is really quite a serious situation,” said Senior. “From a point of view of supporting businesses and getting us back into a position where we are healthy again for next year, because very soon we’re going to be paying taxes and full VAT rates.”

At Raven Hall hotel, a cliff-top country house and golf club, the staff shortages have been keenly felt for months due to Brexit, said managing director Diane Uhalde. The hotel has seven job vacancies, said Uhalde, and had struggled to find local workers willing to perform roles previously filled by eastern European staff.

Bookings at Raven Hall have gone through the roof and soon 140 people will be staying on its 100-acre site. Despite the relaxation of restrictions on Monday, the hotel will keep social distancing measures in place and has held some rooms back to reduce the number of guests. Despite the joy to be open, there was some trepidation about the path ahead, said Uhalde: “We’re all sort of slightly on tenterhooks about it but we’re just all going to have to do our best.”