Why Covid-19 has hit Cornwall hard, but may come to benefit it
Updated: Jul 20
Ah, the ‘staycation’. A concept that is bought into by millions each year and has, more recently, been shunted to the forefront of our travel-thirsty minds. Originating in the mid-noughties thanks to Canadian comedian Brent Butt, the idea of a staycation took off in the US during the troubling years following the 2008 recession. As we enter another era of financial woes, the allure of a staycation is well and truly back…
As Covid-19 tears through healthcare networks and economies, many travellers have had their adventurous plans scuppered. Because of this, the news has become a wash of airline upon airline requesting government bailouts or filing for bankruptcy. To put it simply, the travel industry is on its backside and it is struggling to get back on its feet again. As a travel writer, many believe that I should always be jolly regarding the industry – but no, I am rather pessimistic about how the travel sector will bounce back. It will eventually, just not as quick as once hoped. Through times of darkness, humanity has a knack for finding glimpses of light. This is no different when it comes to seeing the extraordinary wonders of our planet. Often the far-flung destinations distract us from the beauty that perches upon our own doorstep.
So, join me as we discover the rugged jewel in Britain’s crown, a county steeped in both tradition and outstanding natural beauty. This is Cornwall.
It is common knowledge that, on a typical summer’s day, the A30 is a congested nightmare with holidaymakers coming from miles around to experience the county’s endless assets. Granted, the A30 is the only main road into England’s most isolated corner, but the top-to-toe tailbacks should act as a timely reminder of Cornwall’s popularity. History. Adventure. Pasties. The westerly county has it all. There is something for everyone, from exhilarating water sports for the youth among us to refined history for the older generations. For decades now, Cornwall has been seen as an iconic destination for campers and surfers alike – but is the region starting to witness a transition within the eyes of the British population. In recent years, England’s southernmost county has gone from being connoted with cold drizzle to an aura of unique sexiness - all because of a certain Ross Poldark.
Ever since Poldark first hit our screens in 2015, millions and millions of viewers have been intrigued by Cornwall’s most famous hunk. For me, it’s the history not the hunk that catches my eye. Poldark follows Aiden Turner’s character as he reexplores his Cornish homelands after coming back from the American civil war – thus offering the viewer a fantastic insight into old time Cornwall. A thoroughly good watch and a rather handy history lesson too!
Cornwall has had a tumultuous history, even before the years of Ross Poldark. Around 10,000 BC did the first hunter gatherers settle on the moors and mounds of the Cornish countryside, and ever since the county has been a hub of bustling trade. Tin was discovered in the region in 3000 BC, which was followed by the exponential growth in their mining industry. Taking a drive around Cornwall’s quaint scenery can one still see the remnants of an incredibly successful mining heritage. Despite the abundance of rare earth minerals, Cornwall is the poorest of England’s 48 counties. Where Cornwall’s financial wealth falls short, its cultural wealth compensates.
The county’s Celtic influence is unanimous. For many millennia now, Cornwall (or Kernow as it is often known in local dialect) has been considered as a Celtic nation – alongside Scotland, Ireland, Wales, Isle of Man, Galicia and Brittany. Ever since the Celts landed on the Atlantic coast over 4000 years ago, their influence has scythed through the local environment. Because of this, many Cornish people associate more with Ireland, Wales and Scotland rather than England – this often leads to small-scale civil unrest with many wanting independence. This may be just a pipe dream, but strong feelings do run rife throughout the county.
Around every corner can a small sliver of Celtic culture be witnessed.
Cornwall acts more as a small island than a seaside county. On the high-altitude sections of the A30, a view to both your left and right will present the scintillating blue of the Atlantic – thus resurfacing memories of eventful childhood adventures. The sea is everything to Cornwall. The inland countryside is picturesque however the county would deteriorate if it were not for the ocean. The famous ebb and flow of the waves also symbolizes an ebb and flow of essential revenue. On average, tourism accounts for over 12% of Cornwall’s GDP, with the tourism sector contributing a whopping £1.8 billion in 2011 alone.
The Atlantic-ravaged county saw its first sizable influx of tourists in the mid 1960’s, and Cornwall’s economy has been on the rise ever since. To say that Cornwall isn’t reliant on tourism would be an understatement, with multiple towns and areas being identifiable as tourist hotspots. Newquay is the centre of the water sports industry, Padstow is the centre of the culinary industry, St. Ives is the centre of the art industry – and that’s just the north coast! Ever since Newquay International Airport became solely focused of civilian use in 2005, Cornwall has had its eyes beamed on the tourist prize.
One thing Visit Cornwall has been putting its efforts into is the increase of international tourism, with Cornwall historically seeing its most revenue from British tourists. Newquay serving foreign destinations seems like it could catalyse the Celtic nation’s interconnectivity with the rest of Europe, with the airport frequently receiving flights from Düsseldorf, Copenhagen and Alicante in certain seasons. Cornwall was flying high, but all was about to change.
On Sunday 22nd March 2020, the UK’s tourism industry fell into freefall.
It was that night Boris Johnson signalled the start of a months-long lockdown in the UK, a lockdown which is still enforced as I write this. People could not leave their towns, let alone their county or country thus casting a dark shadow over the tourism industry. Coronavirus claimed travel company after travel company, whilst also tragically claiming hundreds of lives every day around the UK. As mentioned before, Cornwall needs tourism like a steak needs seasoning – a lockdown would surely hurt the UK’s poorest county tremendously then? To say it would hurt does not put the economic damage into perspective.
Latest reports from Cornwall’s local stakeholders predict that over £630 million in revenue has been lost by the end of last month.
Just over 14 weeks after the first lockdown announcement, in the early embers of July, international holidays look to be on the horizon once more. This does raise an interesting question. Would you feel comfortable boarding an aircraft, given that there is a higher likelihood of transmission? For many, the travel urge is too strong – but thousands of others are willing to whether this storm and wait till international travel is safer. This brings us back to the staycation, a way of seeing such vibrant beauty without sitting in a departure lounge. It is through this concept which Cornwall may thrive once more…
With so many against the idea of air travel right now, a trip down the A30 will shine brightly as a safer alternative. As the summer holidays beacon ever closer, the Cornish countryside is tipped to be one of the UK’s busiest tourist destinations – and that is where the county has been rather lucky. If the virus had hit 3 months later, and lockdown was at its strictest in July, Cornwall would have been in a far deeper pit.
Depending on the prominence of a second wave, the south-western county may just hit the jackpot and receive a greater barrage of tourists this year – something which many locals are opposed to. Despite tourism offering swathes upon swathes of financial revenue, and a vast abundance of local employment, the local populations health must be considered. Many have seen the rather unbelievable scenes on Bournemouth Beach during June’s heatwave and how that has sparked such controversy, showcasing why Cornwall’s council must work to mitigate such occurrences.
In the optimistic circumstances of Covid-19 remaining under control yet still present, Cornwall may just find a new treasure trove of newfound tourist revenue. Watching bulletin after bulletin of daily news reports reveals the meteoric rise of the staycation, even before the b&b population awakens from its 3 month hiatus. It really does bode an intriguing question… Why have we always looked abroad for our fix of natural beauty, opposed to the stupefying splendour present on our own doorstep. Obviously, the elephant in the room is the arduous and debilitating queues lining the A30, however our small rock in the Atlantic spoils your travel-famished mind for choice. Snowdonia, The Norfolk Broads, Peak District – to name but a few. You can travel around the world twice-over and struggle to come across the pure juxtaposing dramatism of the Cornish coastline; and despite this pandemic offering a substantial speedbump in the county’s economic road, Cornwall will surely reap the rewards of this decade’s new staycation trend!
The stunning photos in this article were kindly donated by Billie Evans. To see more of her fantastic portfolio, please visit @billieevans_art on Instagram!