Should we really be welcoming tourists back to Devon?

PUBLISHED: 15:50 11 August 2020

Combe Martin beach was busy with holidaymakers at the end of July. Photo: Tony Gussin

Combe Martin beach was busy with holidaymakers at the end of July. Photo: Tony Gussin

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As coronavirus lockdown restrictions have eased, our Grumpy Grockle columnists is conflicted about the seasonal influx of visitors

I am torn. On one hand I would love to welcome back all those lovely tourists to our beautiful county with open arms. But a little bit of me wants them to stay away.

As a relatively recent blow-in to Devon, I feel sure that my opinion matters not one jot, and the fact that I do not work within the tourism sector leaves me firmly on the sidelines too.

I do not rely for my livelihood on the tourists, who have arrived in their hordes, and I can understand the pressures on those that do. No tourism, no job, no income. Ruin. We have already lost more than our fair share of businesses who relied on the visitor’s pound to get by and there will be more before the season is over, that is for sure.

Neither do I blame the people who want to get away to the coast and, under normal circumstances, where better than a staycation in some of the most beautiful parts of the country? The sight, the sound, the smell of the sea and the rolling and rugged countryside married with a sustained period of good weather, beckoning all and sundry to share the natural beauty that is Devon.

I know I would want to if I had been stuck in a city throughout lockdown with only my own four walls to contemplate and where the only stretches of green available to me were in undersized, overused urban parks.

Second homeowners, who have been unable to visit their expensive getaways to check on maintenance, have naturally wanted to hit the road south to reunite with their solace spots in the country. I know that we should welcome them all because, without them, Devon will be left even further behind in the already economically unbalanced, geographical carve up that is Great Britain.

We should ignore the risks that they bring with them, accepting the fact that they boost the economy of where they live by working there and economy of Devon by spending their earnings here

We should ignore the fact that normally they would spend no more than a few days in the South West, preferring instead the sunshine of countries further afield, that can only be conveniently reached by air.

We should ignore the fact that they are relaxed because that is what they are here for, and perhaps turn a blind eye to their similarly relaxed attitude to social distancing. They are, after all, on holiday.

We should continue to serve them the alcohol that makes us money and them even more lax, as they revel in their joy at being away from the urban conurbations where the R number is higher than here.

Perhaps we should also be happy that they congregate in ever larger numbers in ever smaller spaces, because that means we are busy, and that means the economy is doing well.

Perhaps.

On the other hand as our towns, villages and cities began to fill from the traffic-choked motorways that were, once again, the feature of radio traffic bulletins, I wanted to take to the bridges, under which tens of thousands of cars crammed with holidaymakers flowed, and shout at each and every one of them to go home.

Go back to your cities, we are not ready. Go back to your own patch, where your health can be collectively monitored and contained in your own big city hospitals, not ours.

Give us just a little bit longer to sort ourselves out, for things to settle, for us all to come out of self-isolation, end shielding and ensure there is no second spike just around the corner.

More to the point, we need to be sure that the second spike does not arrive here because of tourists bringing the virus with them from the hotspots around the midlands and the north.

We need to be sure that our tourists do not bring us a temporary economic boost at the cost of the health and perhaps the lives of the locals.

Over the top? I hope so, but until the much talked about vaccine is proven and rolled out, I for one will be keeping my head down and waiting for our visitors to go home.

No offence, and, as a resident of this county for only four years, I know there will be those who think I probably have no right to my views, particularly as I moved here to do exactly what the tourists are doing, to get away from the city.

Hypocritical? Could be. But a deadly virus that spreads around the world has that effect on people. Ultimately it makes you a little but selfish in an ‘I want to keep my family alive’ sort of a way.

Not in a selfish, ‘I really need a holiday sort of a way and where can I go that is available now and within driving distance?’ Not that sort of unthinking selfishness. Not even in an ‘I am on holiday and therefore the rules do not apply to me and why would I look stupid wearing a mask and bathers?’ sort of a way.

Ultimately, we are all a little bit selfish and mostly it does not affect us, but right now I feel the actions of others are impinging on all our lives and there is more at stake than the economy, stupid.

Despite the virus being an early visitor to this county we have been relatively lucky in Devon in terms of the death toll. At the beginning of this crisis we put people first but you have to wonder what the effect of the next few months will be, what the true cost of opening up our borders to all comers will be.

So, I am conflicted, and I suspect will remain so until we are vaccinated and this dreadful threat fades into memory. Welcome to Devon.

Yorkshire-born David Gledhill, who moved to Devon four years ago, writes a monthly column for Devon Life called Grumpy Grockle. You can also follow him on Twitter .

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