Our holidays are under threat from a new era of puritanism

·4 min read
louvre museum holiday - Getty
louvre museum holiday - Getty

Holiday nostalgia isn't what it used to be. There was a time when we looked back fondly at the days of postcards, traveller’s cheques and fine dining at 35,000 feet. Little did we know that everything that came before 2020 was in fact the golden period for holidays, before we entered this new era of post-pandemic puritanism.

This week Airbnb announced the party is officially over. In August 2020 the holiday rental company banned party houses to prevent raucous knees-ups in their properties at a time when social mingling was outlawed. Two years on, Airbnb announced it is “officially codifying the ban” after reporting a 44 per cent year-on-year drop in party complaints.

Which, when you think about it, is fair enough. Banning party houses will mean less bad press for a company with an already complicated public image. But what’s interesting about Airbnb’s party ban is that this was a measure brought in to help curb the spread of Covid-19, then the measure never went away. Now it still suits Airbnb rather nicely, so they have made it a permanent policy. And they are not alone.

Let’s take Japan. This month the country reopened for tourism, but only to foreign visitors entering on a group tour. For many years Japan has struggled with overtourism in areas such as Kyoto, a topic of passionate public debate; they even published an “etiquette manual” for tourists in 2015. But when the borders closed during the pandemic, the problem went away and locals liked the change. Keeping tourist numbers on a tight leash is an example of a politically desirable end achieved through the guise of Covid-cautiousness.

At restaurants both in the UK and overseas, we continue to be encouraged to access menus via a QR code, even after Covid cases plummeted and evidence suggests the risk of catching the virus through surfaces or objects is one in 10,000, according to the CDC, similar to the odds of being struck by lightning. What this means is that we are forced to spend the first ten minutes at a bar or restaurant fiddling on our phones, when all we want to do is say “dos cervezas, por favor”, put on our sunnies and pop a five euro note on the table before we leave. But for the restaurant, the technology is now in place, it stops the faff of bills and change, allows people to order as and when they wish, and means they can keep the staff count down. Why would they go back?

Museums and galleries are at it, too. From the Louvre to the British Museum to the Taj Mahal, cultural institutions introduced booking systems during the pandemic to control numbers at a time when social distancing was de rigueur. Fast forward to 2022 and many still require or urge visitors to book a time slot before arrival. For the tourist, this strips back the pleasure of spontaneity that we enjoyed before the pandemic. For the museum or gallery, it allows them to keep tabs on numbers and to distribute footfall through all hours of the day: a faculty of control, conveniently and quietly kept in place after the Covid world has gone away.

Restrictions continue on the rails, too. In November 2020, Scotrail introduced an alcohol ban on its trains to “support the public health measures put in place by the Scottish Government to tackle coronavirus”. Fast forward to July 2022 and the measure remains in place, despite the fact that Scotland has ended all Covid measures. Stephen Elliot, ScotRail Security and Crime Manager, said: "There is no timeframe to change the policy, but will keep it under review." So you’d best keep those tins of gin and tonic closed, or else you may be asked to disembark in a remote corner of the Highlands.

The list goes on: B&Bs inexplicably no longer serving breakfast, hotels with empty or depleted minibars, cafes refusing cash payments, restaurants only opening over weekends, hotels pushing back their check-in times and pulling forward the check-out times to allow for “deep cleaning time”.

When governments around the world stripped back Covid restrictions in the first half of 2022 there were hopes and whispers of an impending “Roaring Twenties”. But we have returned to a world of less spontaneity, more bureaucracy and rules which hinder rather than enhance our freedoms and indeed, fun, on holidays. If things don’t change soon, the “Boring Twenties” might feel more apt.

Have you noticed any restrictions introduced during the pandemic that are here to stay? Comment below to join the conversation

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