10 August 2023 – With a busy summer of UK staycations in full swing, Virgin Media O2 has announced a massive boost to its 4G and 5G mobile network, with a focus on rural areas and holiday hotspots.
The operator, which was recently voted best combined mobile and WiFi provider, has upgraded its network in more than 72,000 ‘destination’ postcodes since May last year with some of the nation’s favourite staycation destinations including the Scottish Highlands and the Hebrides, Kent, East Sussex, and Yorkshire already benefitting. These upgrades include popular seaside towns such as Whitstable, Scarborough, and Brighton.
Virgin Media O2 has also partnered with the Welsh Government and rural coverage experts Wavemobile to bring next generation connectivity to historic not-spots. The first area in the UK to benefit is South Stack, a nature reserve and popular tourist destination in rural Wales managed by the Royal Society for the Protection of Birds (RSPB), where new technology has brought permanent mobile connectivity to the area for the first time. Visitors can now reliably access mobile signal in the area and card payments can be taken at the visitor centre in a boost to the local economy.
The announcement comes as new research commissioned by Virgin Media O2 reveals that 65% of Brits are planning a staycation this year, with the most popular destinations including the South West (16%) and Scotland (13%).
Poor connectivity poses a problem for staycations
With many upgrades delivered ahead of the school holiday rush, Virgin Media O2’s improved 4G and expanded 5G network will help travellers stay connected this summer. Poor connectivity has been a problem for many peoples’ past staycations, with research revealing that over half of Brits (51%) have had a UK holiday hampered by a lack of signal. The most common not-spot destinations include the Scottish Highlands and Islands (19%), Yorkshire (15%), and Cornwall (14%).
These negative experiences have made access to the internet table stakes for many holidaymakers, with good internet connectivity important to almost three quarters (70%) of Brits when choosing a staycation destination. In fact, over half (57%) would avoid choosing a rural location if it had limited or no connectivity.
Summer holidays spark staycation spike
According to O2 Motion data, the beginning of the summer holidays has already caused a notable spike in Brits getting away for a staycation. The aggregated and anonymous crowd movement data reveals that the first weekend of the school summer holidays saw visitor numbers at various tourism hotspots across the country rise.
The data shows that North Wales is one of the most popular staycation destination, with Gwynedd seeing a 23% increase in visitors and Conwy seeing a 22% rise. Scotland also provided an escape for many Brits, with Argyll and Bute (15%) and Renfrewshire (12%) both seeing visitor levels rise. In England, East Lindsey (19%), Great Yarmouth (17%), and the Isle of Wight (12%) were the most popular places to visit.
Rural tourism’s £842 million opportunity
As part of its work to improve rural connectivity, Virgin Media O2 recently commissioned Cebr to assess the potential of improved connectivity to transform the rural economy. Its analysis demonstrates that rural tourism continues to contribute £4 billion in GVA to the UK economy but with technology and digital connectivity rapidly changing the way people travel, the rural tourism industry risks falling behind its urban counterpart if it is not able to adapt.
Comprehensive economic modelling published by as part of its Great Rural Revival report finds access to excellent digital connectivity in rural areas could increase turnover by 9.9% (£842 million per year) for rural tourism businesses and boost rural tourism employment by 3.8% (4,606 jobs).
Jeanie York, Chief Technology Officer at Virgin Media O2, said:
“With the school summer holidays well underway, we are doubling down on improving and expanding our network so that, come rain or shine, our customers have access to the services they want wherever and whenever they need them.”
For those heading further afield this year, O2 is the only major network not to charge customers extra for EU roaming up to 25GB.