Tourism businesses were the first to be hit by the Covid-19 shockwave and they will likely be among the last to emerge from its after-effects.
A sector that has enjoyed a decade of growth will now need further financial and regulatory help to lift it off the floor.
North Wales Tourism has a £100,000 marketing campaign, paid for before lockdown, that’s ready to go.
This includes a nationwide radio advertising and Manchester trams with vinyl wrap liveries.
Now the campaign is on hold and no one is quite certain what its key messages will be.
“Open for Business”? Perhaps. “Fresh Air – Fresh Views”? Yes, but when?
“The effects of Covid-19 will be felt long after the lockdown is lifted,” said Jim Jones, chief executive of North Wales Tourism (NWT).
“The next few months aren’t going to be plain sailing for the tourism industry.
“But when travel bans are lifted I have no fear that North Wales will be inundated with enquiries for long weekends and short breaks – and we need to plan for this now.”
Businesses are desperate to re-open and, with NWT, have coalesced around a three-point plan aimed at restoring confidence.
Jim Jones, chief executive of North Wales Tourism, Llandudno
Before North Wales re-opens for visitors, tourism and hospitality providers will need to get local communities back on board.
Mindful of ongoing vitriol towards long-distance lockdown breakers, the sector accepts this will be no easy task.
“This is the biggest single hurdle we will face over the next 12 months,” said Victoria Roberts, joint chairman of Anglesey Tourism Association (ATA),
“In March we shut the door and told everyone to stay away.
“Over time we need to rebuild community confidence and show that, as activity and accommodation providers, we have responsible plans to re-open.”
A sign on on the A494 in Bala warning tourists to stay away (Image: Ian Cooper/North Wales Live)
Roadside billboards across North Wales continue to tell visitors in no uncertain terms they are not welcome.
Many do so impolitely, reflecting the level of local concern in communities that feel safer in isolation.
Indeed it was local sentiment, rather than government, that forced some tourism providers to shut down in the first place.
As a result the sector recognises it will need community support before it can consider re-opening.
In the coming weeks and months a programme of community engagement will highlight the measures tourism businesses are putting in place to prevent a second Covid-19 wave.
“We will need to show we are all acting responsibly and going about it the right way,” said Phil Scott, director of RibRide Adventure Tours, Menai Bridge.
North Wales Tourism has begun asking local authorities for their support as a go-between for businesses and residents.
“Without confidence in local communities, it is going to be very difficult for the bigger attractions to open,” added NWT’s Jim Jones.
Llandudno’s promenade stands empty in the lockdown (Image: Hadyn Iball / North Wales Live)
After lockdown there is likely to be huge pent-up demand for domestic travel. Yet people will only venture out if they feel safe.
To restore confidence, larger operators want a set of universal hygiene standards for accommodation and activity providers.
RibRide is among a group of companies aiming for set hygiene protocols and guidelines.
One example is the length of turn-around periods between bookings at hotels, holiday cottages and B&Bs.
“Discussions are ongoing on whether this should be 24, 48 or even 72 hours,” said RibRide director Phil Scott.
NWT is asking its members for feedback on the health and safety measures they intend implementing to reassure customers.
These will then be added to individual listings. Measures could include in-room hand sanitiser, room-service meals and no housekeeping for stay-throughs.
“Some providers may want to offer hampers of local Welsh produce so that guests don’t have to go out looking for food,” said NWT’s Jim Jones.
The region’s accommodation providers have already earned kudos for supporting NHS efforts to contain Covid-19.
Holiday cottage owners, whose rental incomes have disappeared in the lockdown, have donated accommodation to NHS and other frontline workers who need to self-isolate from their families.
Menter Môn’s Ciando scheme has so far found free lodging for 34 key workers.
People on mobility scooters make their way across Rhyl’s deserted promenade during the coronavirus lockdown (Image: Christopher Furlong/Getty Images)
Ensuring staff feel safe
For some businesses there will be staffing challenges. Some may have relocated or secured work elsewhere. Others will have been made redundant.
For those who remain, ensuring they feel safe at work is an immediate priority – both amongst fellow employees and with customers.
Some, if not all, might be required to wear face masks.
“For details of what may be needed we are waiting for UK and Welsh Government roadmaps for easing the lockdown,” said Mr Jones.
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The furloughing of staff has given some businesses a stay of execution.
As much as the tourism sector would like the scheme to stay in place, the Chancellor has indicated this is not financially feasible.
If and when it ends, tourism and hospitality businesses expect a surge in redundancies.
To give the sectors a fighting change of trading their way out of the lockdown, sector-specific funding and other measures will be needed.
A key ask is a temporary VAT concession. This, said NWT’s Jim Jones, is cost-effective alternative that would give businesses an incentive to keep going until 2021.
It’s an idea proposed by Andrea Knox, a commercial and insolvency solicitor in Colwyn Bay.
She believes that, in order to focus the financial rescue package on those businesses seeking to trade out of difficulty, companies in certain sectors should be able to retain some, or all, of the VAT charged on their sales to provide additional working capital.
This could be a different percentage in different sectors, enabling the scheme to target sectors particularly struggling in the wake of Covid-19.
(Image: Visit Wales)
Longer term, the tourism sector will continue to lobby for a permanent VAT rate of 5% to bring Britain into line with many of its EU competitors.
More immediately, action is needed to help tenants with commercial leases, said Mr Jones.
“As things currently stand, heavy-handed landlords are waiting to swoop on June 28 when, under the Covid-19 Act 2020, three months back-rent is due,” he said.
Councils are also being asked to consider support in other ways, such as relaxing the 10.5-month opening rule for caravan parks.
Staying open for the whole of 2021 will help some businesses to recoup losses, said Mr Jones.
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A matter of survival
Last year tourism brought £260m to Anglesey : per capita, no other county in the UK is as dependent on visitors.
For the sake of the island’s economy, the drawbridge needs to be lowered as soon as possible, said ATA chair Victoria Roberts.
“Tourism is vital to North Wales and particularly to Anglesey,” she said.
“Without it the island simply wouldn’t survive.”
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