Tourism in the South West: New challenges for 2022

Wed 18th May 2022

As tourism gets back on its feet after the Covid pandemic, Coodes Partner Helen Willett is hopeful that 2022 will provide a bumper summer season…

Tourism is the beating heart of the South West economy – it has the largest domestic visitor market in the country, outside of London and generates an annual visitor spend of over £7 billion pounds. It supports hundreds of thousands of jobs, directly and indirectly and accounts for 9% of all Gross Added Value (GVA) for the region.

As tourism businesses in Cornwall and Devon gear up for a busy summer season, it is hoped that 2022 will provide a bumper year for the industry, rivalling and potentially exceeding pre-pandemic visitor levels.

With European and international air travel severely curtained by Covid, the South West has enjoyed record numbers of visitors over the last two years, as holidaymakers flocked to the region for their ‘staycations.’

The challenge this year for the tourism and hospitality sector is sustaining visitor numbers and meeting the expectations of tourists coming to Cornwall and Devon.

It is about encouraging people to stay in the UK and spend their money on domestic tourism – keeping our stunning part of the country in the forefront of minds when choosing where to go on holiday.

The new ‘normal’ for tourism

Tourism body VisitCornwall concedes that with competition from overseas and the increasing cost of living, people will have less disposable income to spend on travel this year. Having had a rush of holidaymakers to Cornwall in the last two years, it expects visitor numbers to be more ‘normal.’

I don’t think this is necessarily a bad thing, as I was concerned about the quality of experience holidaymakers were having when visiting. Many businesses struggled to cope with demand and were stretched to or beyond capacity. A lot of new visitors may have gone away with a poor impression, as they were unable to book restaurants or pubs and, in some cases, unable to park.

With many people in the South West tourism sector busy preparing and getting their businesses ready for the influx, there is a real opportunity to make this year even better.

Tourism’s economic challenges

Like everywhere, Cornwall and Devon have weathered some tough times. There are some headwinds facing the wider economy, not least rising costs across the board including supplies, food and drink, fuel, and energy. VAT for the hospitality and tourism industry also reverted to 20% from 12.5% at the beginning of April.

Coupled with that increasing inflation, Brexit, the situation in Ukraine, staff shortages in all sectors, including tourism and the record levels of job vacancies.

There is also the challenge of tourism businesses relying heavily on seasonal workers and the lack of long-term affordable rental accommodation in the county. With increasing house prices and a shortage of affordable housing, this is a real struggle for those in hospitality.

Many people who owned rental properties took them out of the market, renovated them and made them into holiday lets because the sector was booming. As things start to settle down, you have to question whether having that level of private holiday lets and accommodation is sustainable.

As Head of Business and Commercial Services at Coodes, I have seen a real flurry of buying and selling businesses in Cornwall – the pandemic seemed to crystalise activity. Lots of tourism-related companies changed hands including camping and caravan sites, as well as holiday parks that had been in families for generations. Some of these were sold to larger, national operators.

Keeping tourism ‘real’

Now I think it’s about keeping tourism ‘real’ – remembering that while Cornwall is a unique and beautiful destination, it’s also a ‘real’ place and not just Instagram picture-perfect. Many visitors are attracted to Cornwall because they simply love the beaches and the way of life.

It needs to remain accessible for all, catering for a broad range of visitors to Cornwall, managing people’s expectations and providing and sustaining a variety of quality accommodation at all levels, not just catering for the wealthy.

Rise in green tourism

Sustainability is also important in green tourism – many of our hospitality clients are really focused on providing ecologically and environmentally sustainable alternatives when it comes to accommodation, and this should be commended.

Visitors do check green credentials when choosing where to stay and it is important that we capitalise on this opportunity – we want to attract these environmentally conscious tourists. Of course, there is always more that can be done but it would be remiss not to highlight just how important this is.

A year of real opportunity

So, while there are many challenges facing the South West’s tourism and hospitality sector, there are many opportunities and much to be proud and positive about.

Encouragingly, a lot of our clients in tourism and hospitality are doing well and we see resilience and adaptability all around, people have been incredibly resourceful. There is a great deal of willpower and determination in Cornwall which will carry it through. There’s a real sense of optimism in the air.

Wed 18th May 2022

Helen Willett

Head of Business Services

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