Cumbria’s staycation tourism boom is likely to vanish next year, according to one of the county’s most experienced hospitality leaders.

“I think next summer we will see everyone jumping back on planes for the Med,” says Antony Penny, who is a hospitality consultant with clients including the resurgent Farlam Hall near Brampton.

He says Covid is the biggest crisis to hit hospitality in his 30-year career.

“We have been somewhat protected because people have taken staycations in the Lake District,” said Antony.

“The five-star market in London is working on 25 per cent occupancy right now because it relies on international travel which has all but disappeared.

“Hospitality businesses are going to have to be creative and identify niche markets, because I don’t think the unconstrained demand which we have seen this year will be evident next year.”

Antony, who managed a number of four-star hotels for Thwaites and was headhunted by the 100,000 visitor-a-year Lakes Distillery near Bassenthwaite, launched his own business, AWP Consultancy, last month. He specialises in hospitality consultancy and business coaching.

His clients include Farlam Hall, a boutique hotel and restaurant which has had a multi-million-pound transformation under new American owners.

He is also advising Carlisle restaurateur James Hill on managing his expansion plans with his new Pan-Asian restaurant Oka due to open.

Antony believes action must be taken in the hospitality sector to tackle the staffing crisis which has been forcing venues to cut their opening hours.

“After Brexit a lot of Eastern European staff went home,” he says. “I whole-heartedly agree with Tim Farron’s proposal to bring in a new visa system.”

The MP for Westmorland and Lonsdale wants the government to issue visas to allow overseas workers to come and work in hospitality in Cumbria.

Antony also believes hospitality leaders will need to look at salaries and working conditions.

“People’s priorities have changed after 18 months at home on and off,” he says. “Some of the chefs I have spoken to have lost their passion for the high pressure 50-hour weeks.

“I was talking to a friend yesterday who has handed in his notice as executive chef because he wants to be able to take his little boy to football training on a Saturday.”

Antony’s career began with a temporary job in the bar at the North Lakes Hotel in Penrith when he was 23. He went on to manage a string of four-star full-service hotels with restaurants, spending 20 years at general manager level.

He managed The Crown at Wetheral and was a regional manager overseeing The North Lakes Hotel in Penrith as well as five Thwaites inns.

Antony lives in Melmerby with his wife Sarah, who is headteacher at a local primary school, and sons George, 21, and Joseph, 19.