OPINION: Can our tourism businesses cope with a whole year wiped off their calendar?

Tourism is knackered for 2020.

There is no nice way of saying it. It’s been winded by the hardest body blow. It could never have expected this… nor could it have prepared for it.

While it is a bitter pill to swallow all over the UK, in fact the world, it is perhaps harder in this part of the country where tourism is more seasonal, distances are farther and we are largely a final destination, given that we are in one of the far corners of the continent.

A three-week lockdown would have been doable, six weeks might have been covered by financial help from the Government, but with the reality that the lockdown will likely extend, in one form or another, to the latter part of the year, and the likelihood that hospitality businesses such as restaurants, bars and hotels, might be the last to re-open, tourism businesses are looking at a full 12 months before things are back to some sense of ‘normal’.

And that might mean many cannot re-open for the 2021 season. Tourism business can’t afford a gap year, they can’t pay to keep an empty building ready to leap back into action at a moment’s notice.

Even with the lockdown lifted mid-season, there are stills mountains to overcome. There will be difficulties with staffing, wholesalers, tour operators.

And what about marketing, the 2020 budget has probably already been spent… on 2020, with a zero return on investment. Tourism business can’t outwardly market themselves until they can see a light at the end of the tunnel, and we’ve only just entered it.

And then will people be willing to travel, will there be reluctance to attend events, and what about the loss of income that consumers have had to suffer from job losses and furloughs. The knock-on effect will last for years. We never really recovered from FOBO – Fear of Brexit Obfuscation? – it just got hidden by something bigger.

That leaves a lot on the plate of the recently formed TBID, coming into being on the crest of a six-year upward curve of tourism success, but also at the start of another unwelcome curve indeed. It’s got a lot of work to do.

But at least we now have a properly-funded organisation that can fight for more Government help, represent us on the world stage, do the underlying marketing that individual companies can’t be seen to be doing, and preparing for the re-emergence of a stronger, more resilient tourism sector.

And that’s what we must aim for. We must stay positive and do what we need to do to get through this, together.

Tourism is a volatile sector at the best of times, but if we can get through this, we can get through anything.

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