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Bank holidays – a beloved break or a business burden?

ThinkstockPhotos 101566814

From maypoles to Morris dancers, the May bank holiday brings with it an array of odd, and quintessentially British traditions. But if you own a business the sound of jingling bells might not be so welcome.

For many, the bank holiday signals a long anticipated day off, but for many businesses it heralds reduced orders and lost working hours.

2011 and 2012 sparked equal amounts of joy and outrage when extra bank holidays were added to the calendar for the Royal Wedding and Diamond Jubilee.

Admittedly 2011 had a total of 5 in a 6 week period, sparking claims of damage to the UK economy.

According to the Centre of Economics and Business Research (CEBR) ‘each bank holiday costs the UK economy £2.3 billion’. With a total of 9 bank holidays per year in England Scotland and Wales, they seem to be a rather expensive day off. 

In April 2012 the government proposed following Portugal's lead, who reduced their numerous bank holidays from 14 to 10, claiming that workers could not afford to take time off whilst the Portuguese economy was in such bad shape.

The CEBR predicted that scrapping our bank holidays could see an annual boost of £19bn for the economy.

However, the Department for Culture, Media and Sport estimated it as a £1.2bn loss to the economy, with an article in the BBC reporting ‘a broad margin of error … there could, in fact, be a boost to the economy as great as £1.1bn to GDP - or a loss of as much as £3.6bn’.

It seems the financial impact of bank holidays is incredibly difficult to measure and as Les Mayhew, professor of statistics at Cass Business School, puts it ‘...there's no easy relationship between having a bank holiday and the rate of GDP’.

He also articulates that it is important to distinguish between genuinely lost custom or just delayed spending as many bookings/appointments attributed to small businesses (think garages, hairdressers etc.) will be made for another day, working around the bank holiday opening times.

Furthermore, since the outrage and predicted plans of 2012, we haven’t heard anything more about scrapping bank holidays –  and it's worth remembering that, for some small businesses, bank holidays are some of the busiest times of the year.

Sectors such as leisure, tourism, food, and retail are just some reaping the benefits, with many expecting to see a rise in takings this month.

Businesses beating the bank holiday blues:

Ice cream vans & parlours

Whether you’re pulling up in your van or running an Ice cream parlour, selling luxury gelato or Mr Whippy, ice cream is always a popular summer snack and the mark-up on this frozen favourite is a lucrative perk..

With a van, all you need is the eye for the perfect pitch, a good grasp for food hygiene and a driving licence. Another bonus is you don’t have to wait for the customers to come to you – just work out where children and families are congregating and secure a prominent spot.

Needless to say, the unpredictable British weather can have a big impact on ice cream van sales but unless the whole summer is a wash-out, the sunny days keep the profit margins healthy.

Tea rooms

Whatever the weather, the Brits love a good cuppa and running a Tea room could be a viable business opportunity.

Tea rooms are the epitome of Britishness. However our high streets are filled with Americanised coffee shop chains, leaving a significant gap in the market for a more civilised refreshment stop.

Catering to an increased demand, recent years have seen the resurgence of traditional afternoon tea and a significant rise in the sales of speciality and herbal teas, making opening a tea-room a smart move .

Garden Centres

Garden centres are no longer just a day out for pensioners, or for green-fingered folk. You can now buy almost anything at your local garden centre.

Selling anything from farm foods to gifts and often with a café or restaurant, the experience has evolved into stress free shopping in a more peaceful environment than a shopping centre (and often with free parking).


The pub - one of Britain’s most loved institutions. You can guarantee that if the weather's good, the beer gardens will be bustling.

Bank holidays are one of the best times of year for the pub sector, as they generate profit on a Sunday night as well as throughout the day on a Monday.

So, whether your customers fancy a spot of pub grub, or just a beer, a bank holiday will ring with the sound of happy customers, and, thankfully, your cash register.

Outdoors activities businesses

Days out and Outdoor activities are an underestimated business opportunity.

Indeed, the England Leisure Visits Survey completed by Natural England states that the leisure sector generates £90 billion for the UK economy on a bank holiday alone.

In 2013 an impressve £73 million was injected into the economies of Devon and Cornwall over the bank holiday period.

So whether folk are heading down to the seaside, getting stuck into the garden, getting the family involved in outdoorsy activities or just spending the day at the pub, they will certainly be boosting the small business economy.


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