BLACKPOOL: Children clutching glow sticks shrieked with delight and onlookers gazed awestruck as Blackpool’s Illuminations lights festival launched to a spectacular volley of fireworks from its 158-metre Victorian tower.
The northwest English town’s lights display crowns an extended tourist season as Britain’s traditional seaside resorts benefit from a domestic tourism boom during the coronavirus pandemic.
Expensive Covid tests, vaccine certification, quarantines and the UK government’s ever-changing traffic-light system for international travel have made overseas trips less attractive and even inaccessible for British holidaymakers.
But the lifting of restrictions has helped domestic tourism, providing a boon to seaside resorts that were once Britons’ favourite destinations before the advent of cheap overseas package holidays to warmer and sunnier climes.
Blackpool, on the Irish Sea north of Liverpool and Manchester, embodies the rise and fall of the quintessential British seaside resort.
After the arrival of the railways, it became Britain’s premier mass tourist destination in the 19th and 20th centuries for city dwellers to escape smog and enjoy bracing sea air and cheap entertainment.
But affordable air travel and holidays from the 1960s lured Britons overseas and knocked Blackpool off its perch. By 2008, it offered 40 per cent fewer bed spaces than in 1987.
Once synonymous with leisure and pleasure, Blackpool became a byword for decline and poverty.
A 2019 UK government study found Blackpool had eight of England’s 10 most deprived neighbourhoods.
And its historic dependence on tourism and hospitality meant the coronavirus pandemic dealt a devastating blow to the town’s economy and vulnerable social groups.
But Blackpool and seaside towns like it have seen soaring domestic visitor numbers while international travel remains unpredictable.
Tourists thronged its promenade on Illuminations switch-on day earlier this month, to explore its tower, piers, theme park, beach, amusement arcades and shops selling fish and chips, ice cream and local sweet treat Blackpool rock.
Owen Wells, 23, a flamboyantly dressed welder, plumped for Blackpool instead of the hard-partying Spanish resort of Magaluf to celebrate his bachelor party.
“With Covid, it’s been awkward. A lot of my friends haven’t been vaccinated. It’s where we can go where we don’t have to isolate for two weeks’’, he said.