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Have our high streets capitalised on the 2021 ‘Staycation’?

Have our high streets capitalised on the 2021 ‘Staycation’?

The word staycation is now embedded in our vocabulary and came to prominence in the early 2000s. It is defined as ‘a holiday spent in one’s home country rather than abroad, or one spent at home and involving day trips to local attractions.’

With the impact of Covid-19, 2021 was the year when staycations could have a positive economic boost to our town and cities, as holiday traffic put off from flying abroad, was re-directed to our high streets and domestics destinations  Were our towns and cities geared up for this influx? Who are the winners and losers? And are there long-term benefits in getting customers to revisit and fall back in love with the places they have enjoyed this year?

Coastal towns and destinations were well poised to benefit from the staycation. With increased in demand and less supply, these places should do well.  Visitor management in these places must consider, the welcome, the infrastructure and the experience.  Get this right and people leave happy and potentially return, get this wrong and it’s an own goal.

I spent a few days exploring the coastal towns of north Norfolk which was accompanied by some pleasant summer weather in a picturesque and beautiful part of the UK.

The welcome – at the point of arrival, tell customers were to go and park.  Those savvy towns will give clear parking instructions and prevent the ‘search for a car park’ that just leads to congestion and pollution.  Wells-next-the-sea, got this right with some clear variable message signage in advance of arrival making sure their small town wasn’t clogged with cars.

The infrastructure – after a year of accelerated use of contactless payment due to covid, I was surprised to read in one coastal town the amount of notices in shop windows stating, ‘cash only’.  A surprised visitor remarked, ‘the High Street must be really in trouble here if they all need cash – must be hand to mouth.’  Upon enquiry with a local car park operator, who did have contactless, I asked him why others were not following suit. ‘Ahh’, he replied, ‘the signal is so naff in the High Street many traders want cash only’.  Infrastructure – a simple booster ariel or some foresight would have no doubt enhanced the economic takings of the town in question.

The experience – the term clone town has been used over the years and I recall the slogan being graffitied onto a Costa Coffee – an image used in presentations I have attended from the High Street Task Force.  So, when visiting Sheringham for the day it was good to see a mix of independent traders alongside those familiar high street brands.  The hospitality sector has been one of the hardest hit by the pandemic, with staff shortages and limited covers due to social distancing, but it was encouraging to see a bustling and busy coastal high street with cafes and food providers in full flow.  Bearing in mind the shortness of the season in the UK, I was surprised at how many venues closed from 4.30pm making it near impossible to receive any hospitality other than to visit those well known high street names, who often receive all the flack, but to their credit did remain open.  Therefore, the experience is key for your customers and making hay while the sun shines – You can only take the money once – they won’t be buying hospitality in a cold November, you can shut at 4.30pm then.

The UK simply doesn’t have enough UK tourism supply on the coast to meet demand, so in land town and cities have also capitalised on the staycation, with short breaks, day trips and visitors exploring local attractions.

With major cities seeing footfall dip to -50% during the pandemic, a summer staycation was an opportunity to ‘Welcome People Back’.  Business Improvement Districts, as identified in the ‘Build Back Better High Streets’ paper, published by the Government in July 2021, are well placed to get the business community working together, animating the destination and welcoming people back safely.  In Leeds, like other major cities, our footfall was down, as the office sector worked from home.  Now with summer holidays in progress and working with shopping centres and the local authority, the Leeds Jurassic Trail 2 has been a successful model of providing animation and driving footfall back into the city.  Coupled with educational activities and the healthy schools programme, partners have ensured they add their own dimension and offers to the initiative which gives visitors more to do, see and experience.

Providing the animation framework allows everyone to benefit from this, and the saying is true that you get out what you put in.  It is only through collaborating and working together in creating events and pop-up activity, that a high street can elevate itself above the norm.

City Hotels have also benefitted from shorter city breaks capitalising on the summer holidays and their room availability, with cities like Leeds offering 3 nights for the price of 2 as part of their ‘Be my Guest’ campaign.  Seeing the staycation market and adapting accordingly.

So have places benefited from the staycation, the answer is clearly yes, but getting customers to return will only be achieved through delivering a welcoming and memorable experience.  The aforementioned documents states that ‘place making, relies on being able to create a high street and other public spaces that are clean, sustainable, welcoming and accessible for everyone.’ Get this right and people will return.

Andrew Cooper
Chief Executive of LeedsBID and High Street Task Force Expert.