Jim Parker: At last some light - and the dawn of a new era for our English Riviera

Night-time shot of demolished hotel

Last glimpse of the Palace - Credit: Barry Shoto

The final clearance of the former Palace Hotel site in Torquay was timed to perfection. 

It came just as Prime Minister Boris was laying out his roadmap to – God willing – steer us back to a life of some normality after one of the most horrendous years in a century. That included potential timelines for the re-opening of our shattered tourism and hospitality sector. It looks as if we may have a summer season after all and for our self-catering holiday parks and businesses the ‘we’re open’ signs could be going up within weeks. 

The demolition teams moved in on the Palace almost a year ago. It is one of four hotel sites in the Bay being developed by the Fragrance Group as part of a £140 million regeneration package. 

The Palace is making way for a five-star hotel and luxury spa resort with some housing development in the grounds. Two hotels on Paignton seafront are taking shape and contractors are currently being sought for the demolished Corbyn Head Hotel in Torquay. 

The sprawling Palace site stretches as far as the eye can see and towards the sea as if it is opening the door on a new future for the English Riviera. 

And that is just what it is doing. It obviously won’t be ready for any re-opening party but billionaire Singapore-based owner James Koah is playing the long game here and Staycations are the future with his hotels right at the front of the queue. 

Martin Rogers, his man in the UK, says: “I spoke to him the other day. He knows the importance and potential of Staycations. He is in it for the long term.” 

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He added: “Staycations are the way ahead. We have hotels in New Zealand and Australia. The government are subsidising people to take holidays in New Zealand. 

“The pent-up demand for holidays will go bonkers.  

“It is not just about this year. We should be planning for 2030.” 

“Promoting the English Riviera and shouting from the rooftops as to how fantastic our resort is for Staycation holidays will now be our top priority,” said Carolyn Custerson, Chief Executive of the English Riviera BID Company. 

She revealed: “From March 25 we will be investing in a high-profile Digital Marketing Campaign across Birmingham actively encouraging people to visit the English Riviera this summer. In the first 12 hours since the Prime Minister’s announcement we saw a 68 per cent increase in website traffic. 

“As a coastal destination we are in an enviable position to fight back from COVID-19. The great outdoors is one of our key strengths and seaside locations like the English Riviera provide an enviable choice of coastal walking and water-based activities on our doorstep. Our revised branding and positioning: English Riviera – Naturally Inspiring, we know will work well.      

 “I am most excited about is the number of new visitors that we are expecting to visit this summer who would normally travel abroad. It is really important that we ‘win the hearts and minds’ of these new visitors because next year will be a very different year with stiff competition returning from the popular overseas destinations. 

“Continued investment in high profile professionally coordinated Destination Marketing is more critical now than ever before.” 

Andy and Julian Banner-Price run the award-winning 25 Boutique B&B in Torquay. Andy said: “Before the Prime Minister had even finished speaking in the Commons the phone started ringing.  It was a combination of pent-up demand from people who had been waiting for a date to be announced, and existing guests who were booked in prior to May 17. 

“We’re now over two thirds booked for the rest of the year.  We’re now getting a steady stream of bookings for 2022 also.  Many of our bookings are for people who have not visited the English Riviera before which is a great opportunity to build business.” 

Claire Flower, director of Beverley Holidays in Paignton, said: “We are absolutely delighted with the news we can open on the April 12. The phones were ringing off the hook yesterday. We went from just a handful of calls and bookings a day to over 400 calls. 

“We had so many excited and happy customers who couldn’t wait to secure their holiday dates.” 

At last – that blooming light at the end of the tunnel!