Brexit turns the tide for Yorkshire coastal holidays – Andrew Vine

THE owner of a Whitby guest house where I always stay is in the best heart I’ve seen him for years.

Runsswick Bay and other locations along Yorkshire coast are enjoying a resurgence according to Andrew Vine.

He was full at Easter, the Bank Holiday weekend just past was also busy and the bookings are rolling in nicely for the summer months ahead. All in all, it’s shaping up to be the best year he’s had in quite some time.

His neighbours on the West Cliff, who also run bed-and-breakfasts, are noticing the same thing. The “no vacancies” signs are going up in the front windows with pleasing regularity, mostly at the weekends for now, but at the height of summer they’ll be there on most weekdays too.

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A few miles north, in Staithes, the owner of a holiday cottage said that she and her fellow owners were all on track to be fully booked.

Yorkshire's coast is enjoying a boom thanks to Brexit.

Down the coast at Bridlington, a couple who run a hotel had the same story to tell – the holiday season off to a good start and bookings up on last year.

And in Scarborough, a businessman I know with a string of cafes is confident enough about the way things are going that he’s about to open another, close to Peasholm Park.

It’s all anecdotal, but over the past few weeks and months I’ve caught a sense of optimism on our coast that has often been lacking in recent times, when owners of businesses sometimes gave the impression of hanging on for dear life in the face of competition from cheap foreign package holidays.

There’s a touch of poetic justice in the upturn in their fortunes because, if anything, it’s the uncertainty about Brexit which is giving them a boost.

Heavy waves batter Scarborough's South Bay over the weekend.

After so long being regarded by visitors as a place for a short break instead of the main holiday of the year, the seaside towns can dare to dream that they are once more at the forefront of tourists’ thinking.

All the people I’ve talked to say that new bookings are coming from people who have decided to holiday in Britain this year. The regulars are booking, just like they always do, but there’s an influx of customers who haven’t stayed before.

Worries about the hassles that might beset going abroad have prompted them to remain here. What was once easy might suddenly become complicated, with queues at airports for newly-introduced passport checks, or currency fluctuations between sterling and the euro that means their spending money won’t go as far as they’d budgeted for.

The other thing that the people offering accommodation in Whitby, Staithes and Bridlington have noticed is that people are booking for longer. Weekenders are now adding an extra day or two, edging back towards the golden era of seaside holidays before cheap packages.

Here is a real opportunity for our coastal towns. If there is an influx of people who don’t know Whitby, Scarborough, Filey or Bridlington, and they like what they find, there’s every chance of them becoming regulars. Our coastline is habit-forming in the best possible way. Its contours, charms and even quirks keep people coming back once they get to know them.

Whatever happens with Brexit, the uncertainty over going abroad on holiday is likely to persist for at least the next couple of years.

Add to that the rising cost of holiday accommodation in Spain and the Balearic Islands in recent years, and the foreign competition that sucked so much life out of the British tourism industry for three decades beginning in the 1970s looks much weaker than it once did.

Capitalising on that means investing. All the people I’ve met have spent money on going upmarket, making their accommodation as comfortable and appealing as possible, and it has paid off, because that’s what holidaymakers have come to expect.

Years of going abroad to bright, modern hotels means visitors will no longer tolerate the often drab guest houses and private hotels that too often infested the coastal towns in decades gone by.

Thankfully, that’s just a memory. Walk around any of the towns now, and there are plenty of bright and appealing places to stay. Consumer websites like Trip Advisor have also played their part in boosting the holiday trade, by giving the best accommodation recommendations that have a national or even international reach, and pressuring that which falls short to raise its game.

The coast is long overdue for a boost in its fortunes. The hordes of day trippers that pack in are more than welcome, but if our resorts are to have a real future, visitors need to stay and spend money. Unexpectedly, a Brexit which is causing so much soul-searching in other areas of the economy could result in exactly the boost that is needed at the seaside, and there is every reason to be optimistic Yorkshire can cash in.

Andrew Vine is author of Yorkshire Coast Path: A guide to walking 120 miles of magnificent coastline from Redcar to the Humber, just published by Safe Haven Books.