Stay-at-home holidaymakers warned of summer essentials shortageon June 7, 2021 at 2:03 am

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UK importers say they are still waiting on goods stuck on container ships in other parts of the world.

A family at a camp site

image copyrightGetty Images

Firms are struggling to secure summer essentials like garden furniture, picnic baskets and outdoor toys, as consumers prepare to holiday in the UK.

About 60% of British suppliers have experienced import delays in the past month, according to customs clearance platform KlearNow.

The six-day-long Suez Canal blockage in March is partly to blame, as goods meant to arrive weeks ago are still stuck on container ships elsewhere.

But there are other factors at play.

“A combination of Covid-19 restrictions, the backlog from the Suez Canal blockage, increasing global demand for shipping containers, disruption to shipping caused by India’s public health crisis and a shortage of packaging materials means UK businesses are already struggling to meet summer demand,” said KlearNow’s founder and chief executive Sam Tyagi.

“With competition for container space so high, some smaller businesses are simply being priced out of landing the goods and materials that they need.”

Items like camping equipment have seen a spike in demand as more British families look to domestic holidays, with the government tightening rules on international travel rules and moving Portugal to the amber list.

Since many popular products are manufactured in China, retailers are being impacted by shortages in their supply chains and US retailers have experienced similar problems procuring summer essential items.

However, shipping delays are only one part of the problem – according to retail expert Kate Hardcastle, there has been an explosion of demand coming from the hospitality industry, as it gets back onto its feet following the third coronavirus lockdown.

“Campers and caravaners have got competition from restaurants and hotels for outdoor equipment,” she said.

“The demand is so high, not just because of a shortage in supply, but also because things are being repurposed in very different ways.”

The Devonshire Arms Hotel & Spa sourced bell tents, garden furniture and other items so it could continue running its spa business from its lawn

image copyrightDevonshire Arms Hotel & Spa

One example is a small independent hotel in Wharfedale, North Yorkshire, which has brought its entire spa operation outdoors.

The Devonshire Arms Hotel & Spa on the Bolton Abbey estate is offering a “secret spa” experience, using eight bell tents on its lawn that customers can rent out for the day.

The experience includes areas for patrons to relax and experience hospitality around their spa treatments.

“We had the demand for treatment but we didn’t have the space for people to relax pre or post-treatment,” the Devonshire Arms Hotel & Spa’s managing director Richard Palmer told the BBC.

“Without the space outside, the spa business wasn’t viable, so we needed to create additional relaxation space.”

Mr Palmer said the idea was “dreamed up” during lockdown, and the hotel set about ordering garden furniture, bell tents and other equipment in March, as it feared supply chain problems amid the easing of coronavirus restrictions.

Even so, the firm still found it a challenge to procure the items it needed from the suppliers it was used to dealing with.

Marble-topped tables sourced from closed Carluccio's branches served as a solution when the hotel was unable to procure the lawn furniture it needed

image copyrightDevonshire Arms Hotel & Spa

“What we found is that your first choice is not always available and you need to think out of the box,” said Mr Palmer.

“Our general hospitality supply chains are not always ready – it’s domestic consumer supply chains that have come to the rescue and even Amazon.”

The hotel even ended up sourcing some of the lawn furniture it needed second-hand from Carluccio’s, after the troubled Italian restaurant chain shut 40 restaurants.

Many other hospitality businesses are looking at similar services, because British consumers are still concerned about their safety and more inclined to do activities outside in the fresh air, according to Ms Hardcastle.

“All parties are now outside, so kids need camping gear, plastic tables and toys,” she said.

“Everyone’s trying to compete by trying to create the theatre and ambience and space – it’s been a horrendous time for retail and this is just another incredible challenge for retailers to deal with.”

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