Have we fallen out of love with our seaside ?

A heatwave to rival similar temperatures in 2006 made the summer of 2013 very memorable indeed. Memorable for being outstanding compared to recent seasons of rain, wind and cold. So whilst the sun may have lifted the moods of millions up and down the land, I believe that as a nation we have fallen out of love with our seaside. And it’s easy to see why.

If you think of seaside, the first resort that comes to mind is Blackpool. Once a thriving coastal hotspot, thousands of workers flocked from the factories and hardships of working class life to relax and escape during the industrial revolution. The 1800’s and early 20th century was really when Blackpool boomed and was a must visit place. New infrastructure including railway stations allowed the mass population to travel to the coast to take in the “healthy” sea breeze, take part in leisure activities and visit new attractions including the piers, Blackpool tower and of course the famous illuminations. Today a fairly large question mark hangs over our seaside resorts – are they in decline?

Industrialisation and the motorisation period did bring benefits to coastal resorts, namely as people could now access them. But as the development of aeroplanes and the popularity of flight increased, more and more people have fled British resorts altogether and headed abroad for their holidays. Resorts such as Benidorm offer a new environment for British holidaymakers, high-rise buildings, sandy beaches, blue waters and a certain hot weather. As the age of flight took millions around the globe, package holidays offering cheap vacations abroad, the decline of the British seaside had begun. It became more affordable and more attractive to holiday abroad than to holiday on the British coast.

All is quiet at Brighton Beach

All is quiet at Brighton Beach

The illuminations in Blackpool not only signal the end of the Summer season but also represent a seemingly outdated nostalgia on the coast of the Irish Sea. My memories of visits to Blackpool are night-time trips to “The Golden Mile”, walking in the cold and wind, in awe of the bright lights, trams and fairgrounds. Very sentimental. I have only really visited Blackpool once in daytime light and frankly I wished it was dark so I couldn’t see the town. It is a shame but too many of our resorts, Blackpool, Brighton, Morecambe, Clacton-On-Sea and the rest have built up a reputation of shabbiness, uncleanliness and general disappointment. And furthermore why would any family choose to holiday on the British coast when 46 of our beaches have been labelled as “health hazards”?

The theme of decline continues. A study by the Office for National Statistics concluded that Skegness had the highest level of deprivation out of a total of 57 large and medium-sized seaside towns in 2010. Once resorts that flourished with tourists are now in dire need of help when it comes to health, disability, poverty and employment levels. Blackpool, which still brings in more visitors than any other seaside resort, had the second highest deprivation levels. Despite that, tourism and council leaders still suggest that more people year-on-year are choosing to retire at the seaside as the air is fresh and health benefits are significantly better than in land towns and cities. Nevertheless the take off of package holidays abroad and cheap deals elsewhere have driven tourists away from the coast.

It is beyond transparent as to understanding why tourists choose new styles of holidaying. Camping in Britain is on the increase across the countryside (which can be completely exquisite when the weather is right) namely because it is cheaper and perhaps offers more family bonds and a different sense of adventure. City breaks have become popular. I’ve visited Bruges, Berlin, Glasgow and Edinburgh amongst others for my ‘getaway’ and they are truly magnificent. My favourite are European cities; they offer a buzz in a mix of traditional architecture and modern infrastructure. It’s also become apparent that cruising, once reserved for the elite, is now a hot favourite amongst families choosing to combine everything. Beaches, great weather, luxurious accommodation, great food and interesting locations to dock at, it is no wonder that taking a cruise has become a real sense of adventure, exploration and genuine excitement. And of course, the traditional beach holiday to The Canaries, Portugal, Costa Del Sol and beyond are affordable in any one of the hundreds of package holidays available. Everything to do with holidays has modernised, from accommodation to the way we actually get there, yet the British seaside resort still seems stalled in an era of low expectations.

Whilst the British seaside may have become a little stagnant, lets not forget that actually it is quite an iconic place to visit. The annual day which sees ‘soaring’ mercury leads to the newspapers printing impressive images of hundreds of people crammed onto the beach basking in the sunshine which is great. Nowhere does seaside food better than Britain – Fish and Chips for a start. Beach huts which parade the beach perimeters are a lucrative business and the trams at Blackpool are instantly recognisable. But then again the littering of arcades and gambling businesses on the seafront take the shine from our resorts, as do unclean and poorly maintained buildings, and let’s face it if we are comparing a British seaside hut to the extraordinary sky rise towers of Europe, Asia and beyond then something has gone wrong. Yes, there are good sides to our resorts but everything is very minimalistic compared to our foreign cousins.

Benidorm is popular with foreign tourists.

Benidorm is popular with foreign tourists.

I visited Blackpool this year for the first time in a blue moon because I wanted to see first hand if anything had changed from what I remember and what I had researched. I’m afraid to say it hasn’t. The lights are still as underwhelming as ever in comparison to other life experiences, the row of children’s arcades are simply unattractive and buildings including the ‘Sandcastle’ are monstrous. It really was no surprise when it was revealed by the Blackpool tourism board that £372,000 was lost from the switch on of the lights. People aren’t interesting in visiting a place with a less than fantastic reputation in the cold to see some fairy lights. Regardless of how long the tradition has continued for.

There is evidence that our resorts are attempting to adapt to the 21st century. Part of the promenade at Blackpool is very modern and spacious for visitors; Some of the fleet of traditional trams have been replaced by the inter-city type tram and there is a growing celebrity culture associated with our coastal resorts. For me it’s too little too late. Our seaside towns are going to have to work in overdrive to pursue old reputations away and convince thousands that visiting and holidaying in the big coastal resorts is an adventure to rival other types of holidays.

Many, I’m sure, will continue to flock to our coastal resorts as it is cheaper than going abroad. But for that you get no security in the weather, little to do and a donkey walking along the beach. I’m positive there is still some love for the seaside; It’s like an old friend. Today, there is so much more to see and do and parts of the world to explore. I know what I’d be choosing. I’ll get booking those plane tickets right away.

For more on the study by the ONS on seaside deprivation see http://www.theguardian.com/uk-news/2013/aug/21/english-seaside-towns-deprivation