THE BIGGEST annual influx of tourists for years could be under way in Cornwall, partly thanks to a tough new schools crackdown on term-time absence.
There are already reports of slow traffic on the A30 westbound at Temple this morning, as this weekend marks the start of the summer operation, Destination West.
The school holidays are crucial to the success of the Cornish tourism industry with more than a million visitors set to spend £1 billion over the next six weeks – around a quarter of the annual amount spent.
Industry bosses say the tough line taken by former Education Secretary Michael Gove on parents taking children out of class has hit the normally booming June market hard, with bed spaces down between 19% and 45%.
Key figures are planning to lobby the Government to reverse the unpopular edict and businesses hope the high season will be squeezed into July and August, thereby making up for the shortfall.
Malcolm Bell, head of Visit Cornwall, said this year could mark the start of a new phenomenon – “the Gove effect”.
“In the past a lot of parents will have nabbed a few days here and there and taken the kids out of school as teachers turned a blind eye to absences,” he added.
“But because of the school changes we have not had that, and the summer may well be compacted into the next four or five weeks.
“We will have the normal ramp up this weekend, and people should be prepared for a lot more visitors, but it may be more pronounced this year and might take people a bit by surprise.”
In Cornwall, the last week of July and the whole of August makes up 22% of all tourism for the year with 950,000 visitors spending £400 million pounds in the region.
Tourism in the region took a knock in 2012, when prolonged heavy rain made it the second wettest summer on record.
Businesses clawed back some of the losses last year during the heat wave, but bookings were down after storms damaged rail link at Dawlish in February.
Now a new survey shows bed occupancy in June was down 19% and tourist chiefs are convinced the education reforms are to blame.
Richard Smith, general manager at Flambards amusement park, near Helston, said they had seen a noticeable reduction in the numbers of older school children in June and July, though figures had begun to climb this week.
“It has not been drastic but the profile of people coming has been younger kids this year with teenagers not around at the moment,” he added.
“Easter was busy but in June when we would expect it to pick up things were fairly static. People have been saying it is getting stricter to take children out of school and with it being more expensive it is just not something they are prepared to do.”
Locals can expect stiff competition for their favourite beaches throughout the next six weeks with roads, car parks and shops also feeling busier than normal.
Temperatures into the mid-20s this week and long-range forecasts of more good weather to come have raised hopes of a record-breaking season.
The numbers searching the internet for “Cornwall Holidays” have shot up 79%, a holiday form says.