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Coronavirus: Will camping be on the cards this summer?

Greenway Touring and Glamping Park Image copyright Jane Chesson

With foreign holidays up in the air this summer, could campsites and caravans provide a "staycation" solution if the coronavirus lockdown eases?

In a boost for Britons facing uncertainty over holidays, Culture Secretary Oliver Dowden said on Wednesday that ministers have a "very ambitious plan" to get UK tourism back on track as early as July.

With a planned two-week quarantine for arrivals from abroad expected to begin soon, and hotels still closed to guests, there are signs some people are hoping to embrace the great outdoors.

Tent pitch booking platform Cool Camping said Sunday was its busiest day since August, Google search interest for campsites is at its highest since September, and retailer Go Outdoors said online camping sales were up 460% last week on a year ago.

But while demand from guests appears to be rising, campsite owners tell the BBC they are unsure what might be needed to reopen safely.

'Can't hide forever'

Stephanie Fernihough, 41, says she is still looking forward to a planned getaway to a family-friendly camp site in St Ives, Cornwall, with her two 10-year-olds this summer.

"When you go to a family campsite you usually find hygiene levels are very good because there's not loads of people and it's not too busy," she says.

Image copyright Stephanie Fernihough
Image caption Stephanie Fernihough on a camping trip with her children

"I'm going for the beach and beaches are quite big and even if I just sit on the beach, watch the sun and eat camp food I'll be quite happy with that.

"We can't hide away forever can we?" she adds.

'Champing at the bit'

Peter Keen, 71, regularly drives his motorhome to sites across the country with his wife - and they hope to make use of it on a break to North Devon in July.

"In a motorhome or caravan with its own facilities you can completely self-isolate without interfering with anyone else at all," he says.

Image copyright Peter Keen
Image caption Peter Keen's motorhome has a small bathroom and could allow him and his wife to "completely self-isolate"

Though the couple normally use the on-site facilities to take a shower, Peter says they could easily make use of their own bathroom - and by booking ahead, he thinks the risk of overcrowding can be reduced.

"By the time July comes that will be peak season and I should think the camping and caravan club and caravan and motor home club will be champing at the bit to reopen and as long as they alternate pitches and only admit people who book ahead, I think they should be able to," he says.

Graham Lacey is one of many campsite owners voicing uncertainty around rules and regulations he fears could be a stumbling block to hopes of reopening this summer.

"We don't know what safety measures will be required and we will not open unless we can comply with them," he says.

"At the moment, because there is no guidance yet I can't tell you exactly what we'll do but there's lots of things we can do."

Image copyright Graham Lacey
Image caption Graham Lacey with his wife Tracey have devised a plan to allow for social distancing

Graham and his wife Tracey have devised a plan to space out pitches and reduce capacity if restrictions are lifted by August, when his site at Godshill, near Fordingbridge in the New Forest, Hampshire, usually opens for a month.

"Spreading people out is the main basic premise of what we're setting out to do if we open this year," he says.

Image copyright Jane Chesson
Image caption Glamping pods could be a solution for those who prefer not to sleep in a tent

But like many sites, the communal facilities, like shared toilets, showers and kitchens, pose a challenge.

If they are allowed to be used, new protocols might be needed to ensure they are kept clean and to reduce the risk of transmission between different families and households.

"Clearly there's going to be a completely different regime in terms of cleaning and queuing to maintain social distancing," Graham says.

Jane Chesson runs a small camping, caravanning and glamping site, Greenway Touring and Glamping, in Shropshire.

She says shared facilities are a concern for her, too.

"Yes, we can have two metre queuing system outside the toilet but one has to wonder how effective that would be because, at prime times, there will be somebody coming out and somebody going in straight after," she says.

Site owners will also need to balance the books and consider if it is worthwhile opening if regulations reduce occupancy.

"We appreciate that the safety of our guests and ourselves is more important than money," Jane says. "But it has to be viable for us to open."

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