For whom the bell tolls, Weymouth it tolls for thee


It may seem strange writing about something of a potential death knell tolling over a normally prosperous seaside town, but due to a sudden visitor drop in the peak holiday season, it does seem to me that is the position Weymouth could be facing at the moment.

I did write as early as January 2011 and several times since then of potential problems with the then forthcoming Olympics likely to deter holiday makers from making Weymouth their holiday venue of choice. In the 18 months since then. It does seem that the increasing number of official announcements about what was going to happen to the town during the Olympics was also increasing the deterrent effect to holiday makers during this period. It was not through any mystical crystal ball gazing on my part making it possible to forecast the future but plain common sense. Common sense to understand what the locals were saying. Common sense to understand what would deter holiday makers from coming.

Some hoteliers did not help the situation by apparently refusing to take holiday bookings during the of the Olympic period in the expectation of getting more lucrative corporate bookings. The bookings never materialised and hotel rooms in the peak holiday season now stand as empty as the shameful swathe of empty seats already witnessed at Olympic venues. Some hoteliers have suddenly started offering hotel rooms at greatly reduced rates in an attempt  to attract holiday makers but it is likely to prove a forlorn hope as holiday destinations tend to be booked well in advance.

For people travelling any distance there are only two effective methods of getting to Weymouth, either by car or by train. The advice being given to people visiting the Olympic sailing venue was to come by train and I think everyone was flabbergasted when only one week before the Olympics started, the train operators stated on national television that due to technical reasons, they would not be able to cope with greatly increased numbers of visitors and that people should come by car instead.

Some car parking spaces within a normally busy Weymouth have been reduced with alternative park and ride sites being set up. Charges for car parking at these sites was also set at £10 per day with additional fees for reserving a space. Not only is all this a potential deterrent to both holiday makers and casual visitors alike, but it also led to claims by numbers of people who travelled into Weymouth by car to work that they were facing substantial additional travel costs just to go to work. In what appears to be a desperate attempt to gain back lost holiday makers, the £10 per day fee has suddenly been dropped on certain days but I fear this will prove be too little, to late.

I visited Weymouth the day before the new restrictions came into effect. The beach was crowded and multitudes of people swarmed through the town. By contrast from what I now see on television, apart from the Nothe Park which has large numbers of Olympic spectators, local businesses report a dearth of visitors. News photographs show that even the sea has been screened of from view on parts of the Esplanade by a fence of horrible blue plastic sheeting. Weymouth must be the only seaside town where when strolling along part of the seafront, viewing the sea and vista beyond appears to be forbidden. How on earth anyone hopes to attract visitors who will have seen the same scenes on television is beyond me.

It is true that Central London has also experienced a large drop in visitor numbers coupled with people working from home,  giving Central London a ghost town appearance, but unlike Weymouth, London is a vibrant 24 hour city with excellent transport links well able to recover from temporary setbacks. I would have thought Weymouth’s economy is much more delicately balanced with bucket and spade holiday makers making a significant contribution to the local economy. Weymouth’s big challenged will now be how to attract those regular holiday makers back next year and that could prove a difficult problem once people have tasted elsewhere. Failure to do so particularly during a recession could lead to serious decline in the town.


Weymouth Harbour

Personally I hope the belated campaign to attract visitors works although I must confess to having doubts as to whether this will have more than a minimal effect. As a seaside town I have something of a soft spot for Weymouth. It is a fantastic holiday town  for families with a wide clean gently sloping sandy beach. Being part of the renown Jurassic Coast it is also a good location to start adventure trips from or fascinating just to stroll around the harbour. Weymouth has quite a good shopping centre too ranging from some wide traffic free streets lined with a mixture of large well known stores and local shops, to a labyrinth of small alleys all crammed full of curiosity type shops just begging to be explored. Dining, whatever ones taste is well catered for with a multitude of food outlets and restaurants.

I suspect once all the razzamatazz of the Olympics has passed it is inevitable the blame game will begin. I would not at all be surprised if the death knell of a few political careers is sounded or even if the political composition of the town drastically changes at the next election.

January 2012

January has arrived heralding the start of a new Somerset Year. Christmas and New Year celebrations despite their recentness are now rapidly receding into the depths of memory for the next 11 months before the whole festive process like the fabled self-resurrecting Roc, once again arise anew from the ashes.

Many holiday visitors to Somerset or anywhere in the West Country have lingering thoughts of warm halcyon days spent on beaches, walking the lush fields or visiting seemingly exotic places of interest. It’s strange how the further away a location is from where we live, the more exotic places appear to become. The New Year has become something of a tradition when people start to think about their next Summer vacation made even more endearing by the bleakness of winter. At the moment, although temperatures are nowhere near freezing, outside is grey, damp and windy making thoughts of the next holiday even more desirable. While many people have travelled abroad for holidays, with current economic uncertainties both at home and abroad it is likely that many more people will this year seek what has become known as a Staycation where people stay at home and take short breaks away.

It is likely the forthcoming Olympics will also have a major impact on summer holiday plans. I have many friends who live in Newham, the London borough that is hosting the bulk of the Olympics. Many are tired of the on-going upheaval caused by preparations for the Olympics and who want to get away from the area for the duration of the games. None of my Newham friends has tickets for any Olympic event or are aware of other locals who have any, either through self-choice or the inability to obtain any.

Weymouth is another location much closer to home that will be hosting the sailing arm of the Olympics. Weymouth has always been a popular seaside town based on the Jurassic coast that survived the decline many similar seaside towns suffered. There is a possibility the Olympics may discourage more regular holiday makers from staying there this year. The concern of possible increased hotel and parking charges plus additional traffic and any other temporary restrictions that may be imposed, especially at a time of severe financial restraint, can be strong deterrents to the average holiday maker whether they actually materialise or not.

Outside these potential problems, the magnetic allure of the West Country is still strong for people wanting to get away from it all, even if for just a short break. The population of Somerset for instance is only just over half a million compared to about eight million for a much more condensed area like Greater London. It is little wonder for those whose everyday vista is confined to terraced housing on the opposite side of the road with similar visually restricting rooftops behind them, the urge to get away grows by the day.

As for myself I was London born and bred and have personally experienced these escapist feelings. Now after living more than twenty years in Somerset I certainly know I will never be going back.

12/01/2012 Update

Cheer the Olympic Flame but not with flags

During the early Summer, the Olympic Flame is due to wend its way throughout the length and breath of the United Kingdom. Three of the locations the flame is due to pass through are all within a ten minute drive of my home, Yeovil, Ilchester and Somerton. The main event although likely to be relatively brief at each location will never-the-less to engender something of a carnival atmosphere wherever the Olympic flame passes.

Whenever semi-public events like street party takes place, lamp posts and houses suddenly become decked with bunting which seeming miraculously appears from nowhere giving the location a festive ambience. However the question of cost of providing official Olympic bunting for this event has caused great concern on each of the three local councils who all came to the same conclusion they simply could not afford it.

One local council claims the cost of official Olympic bunting is £92 for 20 metres plus there are also unspecified restrictions on its use. If correct, this does seem an extraordinary high price. A quick internet search shows a UK bunting supplier who can supply the same length of long lasting Union Jack bunting for 10% of that price. Bunting of less complicated design and print processes costs even less.

Two of the councils have already opted to decorate using bunting designed by local schoolchildren.

It makes one wonder just how many other councils throughout the UK may shortly come to similar decisions?

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