It was supposed to be the summer to rekindle the joy of the great British holiday, with demand for 2022 domestic breaks already rising. But hospitality staff in many tourist hotspots beg to differ, saying they have suffered a barrage of complaints from “impatient” visitors and “Tripadvisor warriors”.
Restaurant and hotel owners said visitors were regularly complaining about slow service amid high demand, and that some had seemingly struggled to adapt to the change from their usual all-inclusive getaway abroad.
Susan Briggs, the director of the Tourism Network in North Yorkshire, said businesses had reported an increase in grumpy customers who were “more demanding and even abusive when they can’t get a table in a restaurant or have unrealistic expectations of service”.
Hotels and campsites have reported record bookings across Britain as travel restrictions mean millions more people swapped Spain or Portugal for a holiday in the UK.
However, the influx of visitors coincided with a chronic shortage of staff across much of the hospitality industry, with the “pingdemic” sending nearly 700,000 people into self-isolation after contact with positive Covid cases at its peak last month.
Although the number of people isolating has fallen – in part because rules have been relaxed for fully vaccinated people – Covid cases are on the rise, particularly among the young. Many tourism businesses were struggling before the pandemic owing to a reduction of eastern European workers after Brexit.
This weekend social media were filled with hundreds of posts from hospitality workers urging customers to #BeKind as bars and restaurants were filled with bank holiday punters.
Jim Walker, the chair of Cumbria Tourism, said hotel owners had noticed some grumbling from young first-time holiday-makers who are surprised they have to “generate their own itinerary” because they are used to booking a package deal where “everything’s laid on for you at the resort”.
The Lake District launched a “be kind” campaign this summer to encourage visitors to be pleasant to under-pressure staff. Cumbrian businesses have urged Trudy Harrison, the Copeland MP and aide to Boris Johnson, to raise the issue of staff shortages “at the highest levels”.
Walker said: “We’re asking people to be kind when they visit, be kind to local communities and be kind to the staff who will serve them because they have been through a lot. Everybody is in a slightly fragile state in the whole nation and this is the time to be kind to people.”
A cafe in Fowey, Cornwall, won applause for hitting back at what it called “Tripadvisor warriors” whose online complaints were causing distress to staff, prompting them to change professions “for the sake of their mental health”. They said in a Facebook post: “What happened to be kind? My amazing staff are working so so hard, but for some of you this isn’t good enough, some of you can’t wait, some of you are in a rush.”
Francois Strydom, who owns the Fat Chef company, which operates restaurants in Malton and Helmsley, told the Yorkshire Post that staff shortages and increased demand were “creating a bit of chaos”, with many customers being impatient. “Some people are very understanding,” he said. “Some people can be really mean and nasty and just get up and walk out. We’ve had people just get up and walk out because we can’t get to them within the two minutes after they sit down.”
Jamie-Lee Job, the owner of the Summer House restaurant overlooking the beach in Perranporth, Cornwall, said customers since the pandemic were “a lot more aggressive” and it was “demoralising”. “Customers at the moment have a cabin fever about them. People seem to have lost their sense of humanity,” she told the BBC.
Kate Nicholls, the chief executive of UKHospitality, said: “After such a difficult 18 months for staff in the hospitality sector, to hear of this behaviour is extremely disappointing and completely unacceptable. The past year has shown the value and importance of hospitality and the staff that make up our sector are at the very heart of all the good the industry does.
“I urge all customers to treat hospitality staff with respect and remind them that just like any other person, staff are trying their best to navigate the pandemic.”