Calls for long-term solution for tourism and hospitality as lockdown restrictions are lifted today
The long-awaited reopening of the tourism and hospitality sector in Yorkshire has been tempered by apprehension as the months of recovery that stretch ahead present a hugely challenging picture for the industry.
Experts have warned of a lack of guidance for owners and a reluctance from punters to flock back to attractions, as worries over coronavirus persist.
And even next summer when it is hoped restrictions are fully lifted, the fear is people will flock abroad to make up for holidays cancelled this year.
Businesses have been allowed to open for the first time today since England went into lockdown on March 23.
But shadow tourism minister Alex Sobel warned the sector - which is worth £9bn in Yorkshire with 8.5 per cent of all jobs (224,000) reliant on it - essentially faced three successive winter seasons due to the knock on effect from coronavirus, and director of The Tourism Network Susan Briggs said the demand usually seen in summer had to be extended into the colder months.
Mr Sobel called for Government support schemes to be extended in tourism and hospitality, allowing staff to be furloughed for longer and businesses to be able to access grants, a sentiment echoed by The Campaign for Real Ale (CAMRA).
Tom Stainer, Chief Executive of CAMRA, said: “We have been calling for government to make sure that their support package is extended so that those pubs can be supported, that their staff can be supported, and they can be ready to go when maybe restrictions are lifted a bit further and we can open more pubs in a normal way.”
Minister for Regional Growth and Local Government Simon Clarke yesterday announced a £10m pot for communities that depend on tourism.
Speaking at the Local Government Association’s annual conference, Mr Clarke confirmed the new funding will be distributed to communities immediately to kick start tourism in time for the summer as part of the Government’s drive to boost the recovery of the economy.
But Mr Sobel, who is also MP for Leeds North West, said there also needed to be a long-term solution, where industries could pivot to other income streams during down months, to survive. For example, he said caravan manufacturers in Hull could produce modular housing also.
He said : “Tourism in the UK is a seasonal industry where the winter is a low season, there’s very little tourism and in some places none at all.
“And effectively what's happened now is we've got three winters, two actual winters - the winter we've had, and the winter we’re going to have - plus a third winter, when the entire sector was locked down from March, through Easter, into the beginning of the summer season, and now the summer season will be and will be a slow reopening with reduced capacity.”
He said the dual threat was that people may not go on holiday, even in the UK, through fear of infection, and even if they did social distancing measures made it impossible for some businesses to operate.
For those without outdoor areas, or small pubs, the situation was extremely challenging, and historic venues faced issues with making changes such as putting up perspex screens.
Mr Stainer said: “The industry wants to reopen, they know that their customers in desperate need for them to reopen as they offer such a great benefit to communities, they are places for people to meet and talk and they help combat loneliness and isolation.
“But they weren't given much notice, which is what they called for throughout the last three months, they're concerned about how effectively they can put the guidelines into place, they're still asking for quite a lot of clarity on the guidelines, which have been quite light on detail and left to the responsibility of the business owners to interpret.”
He added many pubs would struggle with tight margins to make a living with reduced punters.
Greg Mulholland, Campaign Director for the Campaign for Pubs said: “We welcome the fact that many if not all pubs can begin to serve their local communities again and publicans look forward to welcoming their customers.
"We hope people will come out and support pubs again, safely and sensibly and showing the same commitment to following the rules as our hardworking publicans are and then over the coming weeks we can see our pubs getting back on their feet and playing the unique role they do in our society.
“With the unacceptably short notice pubs and brewers were given, it has been a huge challenge for those pubs that are able to reopen now, but others will be opening over the coming weeks and some cannot profitably trade at all with social distancing in place. So with all pubs still facing restricted trade, there is a need for ongoing support from the sector and the Government.”
Business leaders are now examining how they can push the traditional tourism season into the Autumn and Winter to create a year round level of demand for visiting the region.
And MPs in an all-party group representing Yorkshire yesterday called for the Government to cut VAT on tourism.
Susan Briggs, head of The Tourism Network in North Yorkshire, said she and the North York Moors National Park had begun a project to enact this and said that if it was successful it would "change Yorkshire".
She said: "For the 30 plus years I’ve been involved in tourism, off-peak has been a major issue that no-one has addressed properly.
"Occupancy levels dip to below 50 per cent for much of the year so there’s huge unsold potential and many attractions and cafes etc close from October to March.
"So we need to work to encourage more attractions and cafes and so on to stay open that bit longer. Many of them want to but worry there is not the demand.
"But I think this year there will be the demand, because it will be more staggered in terms of trips.
"We have got to work quite hard to develop that off peak tourism and right the way through the winter time.
"It would change Yorkshire if we could do that.
"It would make a massive difference to visitor economy revenue."
A Department of Culture, Media and Sport spokesman said: “We are supporting the tourism industry through an unprecedented government package including the job retention scheme, a years' business rates holiday for leisure businesses and the Bounce Back Loans scheme which hundreds of organisations have already received support from.
“We are also encouraging people to boost tourism across the country, including Yorkshire, by enjoying the summer safely and are considering ways in which we may be able to support the sector further."