Shadow tourism minister Alex Sobel calls for government support for UK sector during English Tourism Week
This week is England Tourism Week. In normal times this would be our opportunity to showcase the beauty of our landscapes, our unique and diverse cultural heritage and the very best in the service and hospitality sector.
However, this year the week comes at the most difficult moment for domestic tourism in living memory. The reality for our domestic tourism is that it won’t get a return to anywhere near normality until next spring. Eighteen months with only government support and any reserves or savings they might have (and many do not) to rely on. This is a year where success in the domestic tourism industry is not measured on whether the sector thrives, but whether it survives.
The impact is far reaching. UK tourism and its services including accommodation, attractions and events are interlinked to a supply chain around food (much locally produced), transport, construction and maintenance. Financial turmoil in the tourism sector leaves a great number of coastal and rural communities economies exposed to near collapse without significant support. It’s no coincidence the recent Centre for Towns report on ‘Covid and Towns’ found that Coastal Towns were far more financially exposed to Covid-19 than other communities and four of the five worst affected are coastal towns reliant on tourism – Newquay, Skegness, Cleveleys and St Ives. The effect on workers and their families if the right support doesn’t come forward could be absolutely devastating. This is especially true for seasonal workers who’s work starts after the cut-off date for government support schemes.
The extension of the furlough scheme is of course welcome, but it finishes just as the leanest period of the year starts for tourism businesses. Without support over the winter, businesses could see a sharp decline. At a time where many more than usual will be tempted by a UK holiday and a change of scene after being in lockdown for months, some businesses won’t even be able to operate due to planning restrictions that limit the opening season for particular tourism businesses.
While these schemes cannot continue indefinitely, we cannot allow the success they have had in reducing job losses to be lost in the domestic tourism sector. The extension is welcome, but in a sector that is unlikely to return to being fully operational for quite some time it is unlikely that asking employers to contribute even 40% of salaries would fend off large scale job losses. Labour is calling on the government to make the scheme more flexible. Businesses should not have to wait until the start of August to allow furloughed workers to return on a part-time basis; this flexibility is key to many companies relying on the domestic tourism trade.
Many in the industry feel that the Tourism Sector Deal, published last summer, is no longer fit for a post-Covid world. It may be important to look again at the deal, to find out what short-term infrastructure support is needed and recast it to take into account the new future the industry must now face. Looking closely at planning restrictions that limit tourism businesses may also be needed to account for the ‘new normal’ and is certainly needed over the next few months if we are to extend the season during the recovery so all tourism businesses can operate over the winter.
It is absolutely true that a stimulus package for post lockdown will ease the burden on the British people as well as boost the domestic tourism Industry. If holiday businesses shut, where will the great British public take their post lockdown break? We have every Thursday applauded our essential workers, whether in the NHS, care, blue light or in our food shops. These workers have been putting their lives on the line every day in the most stressful and difficult conditions. After the crisis is over these workers deserve a holiday but many are the lowest paid in our society. Considering ways we can both reward our essential workers and stimulate the sectors most affected by the lockdown should be a cornerstone of policymaking for the recovery.
Let’s mark this year’s English Tourism Week with a package that brings confidence to the industry and a strategy that ensures the sector can survive this crisis. Let’s set out now, a post coronavirus world where our coastal and tourist-dependent towns and are not just protected, but are the setting for the renaissance of UK tourism. Let’s allow the domestic tourism industry do what it does best and create a stimulus that rewards our citizens, provides for our workers, and saves this industry.