ISLE OF WIGHT, England – For the second year in a row, a sacred rite for millions of people in Britain – who migrate to the warmer climate of the Mediterranean – has been disrupted by the pandemic. The number of flights to and from Great Britain is half the level of 2019.
This year, the Isle of Wight, a small island off the south coast of England, has drawn even more visitors to its sandy beaches, coastal walks and arcades. But pandemic restrictions, staff shortages and the often uncooperative British weather are challenging visitors and business owners this season.
Like many popular British holiday destinations, such as Cornwall and the Lake District National Park, the Isle of Wight suffers from labor shortages, especially in hotels and restaurants. One problem is that people have had to go into self-isolation for 10 days after being pinged on the country’s coronavirus tracking app. This restriction could be eased from Monday, as fully vaccinated people will no longer be asked to isolate themselves if they come into contact with someone with the virus. But there are more intractable limitations: many workers have taken jobs in other sectors in search of more secure work. And Brexit hasn’t helped — the pool of European Union nationals working in Britain has shrunk by hundreds of thousands.
As a result, small businesses on the island cannot take full advantage of the increase in visitor numbers. They are wary of overload and do not have enough employees to meet the demand. Instead, they limit the number of people they serve and limit opening hours.
One such entrepreneur is Yvonne Richardson, who opened Bellamy’s Bistro 14 years ago in Sandown, on the island’s southeast coast. While working with a small staff, she has had a busy summer.
“There are a lot of repeat visitors who come annually, which is lovely,” said Ms. Richardson. “Also, there are a lot of new people who normally go elsewhere.”
Still, with extra space between tables and longer turnaround times between dinners to allow more time for cleaning, the restaurant is taking on less money than it was before the pandemic. Bellamy’s Bistro was also unable to extend opening hours to accommodate the extra visitors. The kitchen is open from 10:30am to about 2:30pm, before reopening for two and a half hours at 5:30pm. The restaurant is closed on Sunday evenings and all day Monday to allow the team a rest.
“Everywhere has had a bit of a problem with staff shortages,” said Ms. Richardson. “We are lucky that our chefs come back to us every year. But getting additional staff would have been impossible.”
Osborne House, a palatial summer residence built for Queen Victoria and Prince Albert in the mid-19th century, had visitors waiting in long lines due to Covid security measures, such as time-limited entry and tickets.
Ms Richardson hopes that the revival of British staycation – if it continues – can breathe new life into British coastal towns. She also regularly went on holiday to Spain, Britain’s most popular travel destination. In 2019, residents of the United Kingdom made 18 million visits there.
“Over the years it became cheaper and cheaper to go to Spain,” she said. “But unfortunately the British seaside resorts have suffered for that,” she said.
West of Newport is the Calbourne Water Mill, a working flour mill with a restaurant, museum and cottages to rent. The property evokes the deep history of the island, with records indicating that there were mills on the site as early as the 11th century.
The plant’s owner, Sally Chaucer, said she had been busy taking on new and long-term customers since it reopened in mid-July. Still, the company has limited its food offerings due to a smaller kitchen staff. Ms. Chaucer said she has also reduced the workload for her small staff, such as reducing the number of museum lectures so that she doesn’t compete with other local companies for employees. Access to the mill site is currently half price.
The boom in staycations has made Ms. Chaucer optimistic. With new visitors discovering the island, she can expand into winter vacations and become a wedding venue. “It’s just a great place to come and get away from it all,” she said.