Don’t get me wrong – I love the tourists as much as the next man – but can Cornwall really cope with the expected surge of visitors this year? Some locals, as we know, call them Emmets...


Laurence Reed tackles tourism with Malcolm Bell PICTURES: PAUL WILLIAMS

12th May 2021

Some locals, as we know, call them Emmets, which is an old slang word for “ant”, and they are certainly poised to descend like a swarm of the creatures.

Here are a few startling facts and figures for you: tourism earns the county a whopping £2 billion a year (almost double Cornwall Council’s annual budget), and the industry employs around 77,000 locals, both directly and indirectly.

Indeed, for many years I earned my own living from it. Long before my career with BBC radio, I used to run cafés, gift shops and car parks in Tintagel and a market stall in neighbouring Boscastle. I also provided entertainment, spinning the discs at holiday parks
throughout the South West, and I even tried my hand running an ice-cream parlour in Greenwich, so I do understand just how important the industry is.

But it would appear even the man who runs Visit Cornwall is worried that this year could be busier than ever before, even surpassing the mid-1970’s hey-day. Malcolm Bell is dreading a heatwave which would bring last-minute campers flocking down here.

He’s warning we may need to batten down the hatches, with the worst-case scenario being a huge 20 per cent hike in tourist numbers – that’s an extra 40,000 people a day, on top of the normal 180,000 daily summer figure. Many of us locals won’t be holidaying abroad either, further exacerbating the problem.

But if we think we could have it bad down here, spare a thought for other seaside resorts like Bournemouth and Bognor with huge conurbations on their doorsteps.

Mr Bell has been forced to remove all signwriting from his car, after being targeted by the anti-tourist lobby who “kicked the back of his car in”, and "trolls who don’t want visitors here”. He’s fearful that unscrupulous people could cash in on the tourist bonanza, say, by renting land We’re full of tourists and full of optimism!
This ice cream shop in Perranporth ensures canines are catered for out to campers at over-inflated prices.

I’ve been told of football clubs in Cornwall gearing up to provide make-shift campsites, while locals will rent out their houses and rooms, often with no health and safety compliance, and no mention to the tax man.

Many of those planning a trip down here have had foreign holidays cancelled due to covid-19 and have more cash available after three separate lockdowns. Such is the demand for accommodation in Cornwall, some visitors have got themselves into bidding wars, prepared to gazump fellow holidaymakers to secure a hotel room, cottage, caravan or site pitch.

If there’s a heatwave as predicted, some upcountry folk will decide at the last minute to throw a tent and sleeping bags in their cars and find anywhere in Cornwall to pitch up illegally. It’s not wild camping, it’s unauthorised, illegal and tantamount to trespass – but how can you stop it?

For some residents, there’s a real fear of covid rates rising if hordes do decide to make Cornwall their main holiday destination.

Malcolm Bell says there was no evidence that last year’s tourists spread the disease; he’s more concerned about over-capacity. He says locals know the quiet areas and how to avoid the crowds.

At the time of writing, Boardmasters organisers have tweeted that they have three headliners and 100 acts for the popular summer show. This has been cancelled several times due to weather issues and covid, so it seems Cornwall is slowly getting back to normal.

Mr Bell is urging us to be generous and kind to the tourists, many of whom have been locked away in high-rise flats in Reading, Solihull or Swindon, unable to share any time with their relatives.
More importantly, he adds that covid lost Cornwall’s tourism sector £1.2 billion pounds last year. Businesses need cash in the bank at the end of the summer, which will then filter down to builders, painters, plumbers and electricians, all of whom could go under without it.

Visit Cornwall is currently working on a strategy to have all accommodation registered, as a way of managing visitor numbers throughout the year and preventing cowboy operators renting out potentially dangerous homes.

He says even a brand-new home would not come up to the legal standards required for holiday use, and if not declared, you could find your house not insured.

But it’s tempting, isn’t it? I’ve been told of one man who has moved out of his modest seaside cottage to live in a shabby caravan during the summer, hoping to pocket a whopping £18,000.

We’re full of tourists and full of optimism!