Concern among tourism sector as Blackpool left without rail services on strike days

Social Affairs Correspondent Sarah Corker hears from the people of Blackpool as the rail strike nears

Seaside resorts across England will feel the full force of this week’s rail disruption. From Blackpool to Bournemouth, Skegness to Scarborough, many areas reliant on tourism will be left with no rail services at all on strike days as mainline routes are prioritised.

On the Lancashire coast, businesses along Blackpool’s Golden Mile of attractions were hoping for a bumper summer season - but hoteliers are already seeing trips postponed and holidays cancelled due to the strike action. On the top of the town’s famous tower overlooking the golden beaches, Kate Shane, chair of Blackpool Tourism Business Improvement District told me some businesses are still in "survival mode from the pandemic" and described the timing of this industrial action as "terrible".

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“It’s the first summer without Covid restrictions since 2019, but now we have the cost of living crisis, cost of fuel and now rail strikes. It's just all going against us,” she told me. “25,000 people are employed in tourism, and then there's our wider supply chain. It’s not just the fact that a family from Glasgow can't make their way down to Blackpool for a day or for three or four days a week, it's the impact on all of the businesses right the way through supply chain that will be affected by the rail strike.” The recovery had been going well. Figures from Visit Blackpool reveal a 75% increase in visitors compared to pre-pandemic levels. 12.2 million people visited town centre between September and December in 2021, up from nine million in 2019. Now tourism bosses are worried about what may lie ahead.

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Union leaders argue that spiraling inflation means a decent pay rise for rail staff is essential. At Blackpool North Station – where two million passengers use the six platforms every year - there were mixed views on the strike amongst travellers.

“This is their only option to get fair pay and conditions,” one man told me.

Others had little sympathy at a time when millions are feeling the pinch - the industrial action is "total rubbish - rail workers are paid enough", another commuter said. The owner of The Station Cafe - a popular spot for rail workers on their lunch breaks - expects takings to be down 50% this week. Francis O’Hare told me he’s already noticed customers spending less and cutting back on meals out as inflation nears 10%. Despite the impact on his business, he supports the strike action. “I think a lot of people deserve that pay rise. There’s a lot of workers in the rail sector on low pay, they worked through the pandemic, and I have sympathy for staff trying to get a wage that matches inflation,” he said.

Cafe owner Francis O’Hare says he’s already noticed customers spending less and cutting back on meals out as inflation nears 10%.

He accepts though that a summer of potentially ongoing strike action will have a big knock on effect on this business.

"It already been an erratic couple of years and people just don’t have the money at the moment,” he said. The hospitality industry is still recovering from three Covid lockdowns, and businesses are struggling with staff shortages and rising costs. The rail disruption will force more people onto the roads at a time of record-breaking petrol prices. While office workers will be swapping commuting for a week of video calls from home, for those who have to travel on the railways it is set to be a miserable week.

With warnings that there could be more strikes on the horizon in the months ahead, it may not be the summer that Britain’s seaside resorts like this were hoping for.