Devon and Cornwall are closed to tourists this half term

Tourism bosses in Devon and Cornwall are backing the police message to holidaymakers not to travel to the region during next week’s traditional half-term school holiday.

[Matt Hancock admits he’s booked a summer break in Cornwall after Transport Secretary Grant Shapps declared: ‘People shouldn’t be booking holidays right now – not domestically or internationally.’ www.dailymail.co.uk]

Colleen Smith www.devonlive.com

Despite the disastrous impact that Covid-19 has had on the holiday sector, industry leaders across the South West all joined the police and emphasised that lockdown still means lockdown: “Please, please do not come.”

The director of Visit Devon, Sally Everton, said: “Saying ‘Don’t come’ goes against the grain because my role in life is to promote Devon’s tourism industry – so for me it is really difficult. But we 100 per cent support the police message. We are still in lockdown. It is illegal to travel outside of your local area.”

It comes despite new figures which show that the region lost over half of its visitor economy in 2020, with 166,000 South West people currently on furlough – most of those in hospitality.

Devon and Cornwall Police issued their message earlier today urging people to stay local in order to prevent the spread of coronavirus. It called on people to “stay local this half term”, saying the region “will welcome you back again soon”.

In March 2020 CornwallLive, DevonLive and Plymouth Live joined forces with the region’s MPs, tourism leaders and the emergency services to issue one simple message – please come back later.

The campaign continues with its three main objectives, calling on visitors to pledge to:

Help stop the spread of corona and save people’s lives

Protect our NHS from further pressure

Support our tourism industry by pledging to come back later in the year and not now

Alistair Handyside, South West Tourism Alliance chairman, said: “We are in lockdown. We are closed. Please, please do not come.

“And then, when we do eventually get the announcement that we can open the message is very simple: Don’t come unless you have booked somewhere to stay because we will have less capacity.

“We have lost a lot of business and some are not operating. For example 15 per cent of holiday cottages will not open because they are not confident about dealing with the Covid cleaning and all the other issues around this terrible pandemic.

“Hotels will be operating at less than normal capacity, as will guest houses.

“Although people are predicting a boom what they don’t realise is that we are full because we have less capacity and more demand. This means people have to book before they come.”

Ms Everton, the director of Visit Devon, added: “Our message to tourists is very clear: Welcome back – but not until it’s safe. We are very much in the government’s hands and as things stand people have to stay away. It’s illegal to travel out of your local area. We 100 per cent support the police message.”

Malcolm Bell, chief executive of Visit Cornwall, agreed that that the tourism board’s message is very much in line with that of Devon and Cornwall Police.

Mr Bell added: “There is no reason for anybody to come because we are in lockdown.

“It’s stating the obvious to be honest but that does probably have to be restated and it’s always good to remind everybody.

“I think a lot of people might say that they knew that and of course, they are aware that they can’t come, but it doesn’t hurt to remind people of that.”

He continued: “As always public health comes first and that goes without saying. We did have two-and-a-half-million people down last year with no impact so it has proved that the tourism industry can operate in a Covid safe manner when safe to do so”.

North Devon MP Selaine Saxby yesterday called on the Health Secretary to give reassurances that efforts to get coronavirus infection rates in the region to among the lowest in England will not be eradicated by the return of tourists.

Ms Saxby asked Matt Hancock after he unveiled tough new measures for travel in England whether the Government is working on making sure the infection does not increase when tourists are allowed back.

The Conservative MP also asked about whether consideration is being given to easing lockdown measures in areas were infection rates are low.

Transport Secretary Grant Shapps raised fears that Britons might not be able to enjoy a holiday either in the UK or abroad this summer.

Mr Shapps told Sky News that border measures were now targeted against newer variants of the virus, rather than a means of restricting travel to areas with higher infection rates as under the now-scrapped “travel corridors” system.

“It’s not about the prevalence of the virus elsewhere now, it’s about the variants,” he said.

Ms Everton added: “Last year there was very clear evidence that tourists did not cause a spike when they were here during July and August.

“But now we have all these variants which are far more transmissible. In Devon and Cornwall we have done a great job and the figures for the virus are coming down and down. It proves that lockdown works.

“Many of our holiday businesses have spent thousands of pounds to ensure they are Covid safe and have the correct personal protective equipment. Now when we are allowed to reopen it’s up to the public to play their part – act like responsible adults and stay away from crowded places. The problem is that when people come away on holiday they tend to breathe a sigh of relief and think ‘Ah – thank God for that’ and forget the Hands, Face, Space rules still apply.”