Calls for Government to support Cumbria’s tourism industry

Latest Cumbria Tourism research reveals that business confidence levels are plummeting as the industry heads towards winter – prompting renewed calls for a winter package to support the county’s tourism industry and save jobs.

This latest research follows a petition launched earlier this summer by Cumbria Tourism alongside Westmorland and Lonsdale MP Tim Farron, who represents the constituency with the highest density of tourism and hospitality businesses in Cumbria. The petition highlighted the growing need for greater financial support and has since received cross-Parliamentary backing from MPs both in Cumbria and country-wide, as well as the Lake District National Park, the Tourism Alliance and other visitor destinations across England.

More than 150 tourism-related businesses from across the county have taken part in Cumbria Tourism’s latest in-depth survey, carried out in conjunction with independent chartered accountants Lamont Pridmore. Almost half of respondents don’t feel confident that their business can survive the next six months, and nearly two-thirds don’t feel confident about their longer-term survival.

It also highlights that:

  • 10% of tourism businesses are still unable to reopen in a viable way
  • Average capacity per business is just 75% of what it would normally be
  • Average spend is significantly down
  • Staffing capacities are reduced and 43% of businesses are keeping some staff on furlough
  • 75% of businesses will not be recruiting – up from 50% a month ago
  • 23% of businesses plan redundancies, with management posts amongst the most common to go.

These results came before the Government’s latest Rule of Six announcement, which it is already impacting on bookings. Now, as we head into autumn and winter, and with the added complexities of evolving government restrictions, it is clear that the industry will continue to be impacted and will need to keep adapting. As a result, the organisation is now teaming up with Mr Farron – alongside fellow Cumbria MPs and the Lake District Hotel Association (LDHA) – to renew its plea for urgent Government intervention to support jobs, businesses and customers through the challenging winter months.

The collective ask from the Government includes:

Protect Jobs:

  • Support to help fund hospitality tourism jobs, November 2020 – March 2021
  • Funding to support skills and business innovation, efficiency and development.

Support Businesses:

  • Temporary extension of existing schemes
    • VAT rate extension – the UK has some of the highest visitor taxes in the world
    • Business rates holiday extension
    • Business mortgage holiday extension
    • Extension of business grant funding
    • Extension of licensing and planning relaxations to support COVID-safe trading and extend the season
  • Review Travel Package Regulations to help businesses work together to create holidays that appeal to visitors.
  • A consistent UK wide approach to under 12s in the Rule of 6 changes
  • Keep under constant review existing guidance and increase flexibility of group numbers when and where appropriate
  • Review structure and funding of strategic Destination Management Organisations and regionally devolved marketing budgets to strengthen local recovery.

Support Customers

  • Reintroduce ‘Eat Out to Help Out’ type initiatives during the winter months.

Gill Haigh, Managing Director of Cumbria Tourism, comments, “As we head into the traditionally quieter autumn and winter months, and with the added uncertainty about the continuing impact of COVID-19, this new research shows precisely why this is such a critical time for our industry.  The closures between March and July wiped more than £1.5billion from the county’s economy and saw parts of Cumbria identified as the ‘England’s furlough capital’.

“Although most businesses were able to start reopening and welcome back staycationers from 4 July onwards, the results show there has been no automatic bounce back. Even before last week’s announcement regarding the rule of six and the implications this has for the hospitality sector and its customers, business confidence was plummeting.

“A number of crucial markets remain decimated, including international visitors, group travel, corporate, large parties, events and weddings. We had hoped to see some relaxation of corporate and possibly other restrictions, but this has now been paused. In July, serviced occupancy levels were on average just half of what they should be at one of the busiest times of the year.  We need continued Government intervention to support businesses and Cumbria Tourism will continue to make the county’s voice heard at the highest levels as we continue to call for urgent action.”

Tim Farron, MP for Westmorland and Lonsdale, adds, “We are of course very grateful for the support so far which has helped the majority of businesses. Sadly though, we have already lost a number of businesses and others cannot yet open and trade viably. Easter to October is when tourism businesses make the money that should see them through the winter. This year more than half that season was lost. Even after 4 July consumer confidence took time to return, staff and visitor safety has reduced capacity, reduced spend and increased costs, plus a number of markets cannot yet return.

“Now, with the prospect of schemes such as furlough coming to an end, many are facing a real cliff edge. That is why we are renewing our calls for a package of winter support to protect jobs and help give the confidence businesses need to help them survive the winter months.”

Dr Neil Hudson, MP for Penrith and The Border, comments, “The support that the Government has provided through this crisis has been phenomenal and a lifeline for many businesses.  I am pleased that the Government has responded to our calls for targeted support for the Tourist and Hospitality Sectors such as the Discretionary Grants, the VAT reduction and the hugely successful Eat Out To Help Out Scheme.  Whilst I acknowledge that many of the schemes cannot continue, I am working with colleagues across the House to urge the Government to keep these sectors, which may be slower to recover, under review, with additional targeted government support provided if necessary to help them through to the next full season.”

Ben Mayou, Chairman of the Lake District Hotel Association, says, “Government initiatives such as furlough, grants, loans, VAT reductions and the Eat Out to Help Out Scheme have all been welcomed by the industry. Without them, many more jobs would have been lost.  But as the main season now recedes and we head towards winter – generally a loss-making time of year for the industry – business confidence is plummeting. With no way of making up the income lost and the furlough scheme due to end on 31 October, we agree with the findings from Cumbria Tourism’s research that business survival confidence has worsened and back calls for this package of continued support.”

Source: Cumbria Tourism