2020 – What a year!
No cruises. Airlines making massive losses. Hotels and venues closed. Business travel has disappeared. Cultural and sporting events cancelled. Museums and heritage sites locked down. Tourism has been mothballed!
Yet the motivation to travel remains strong – we are inherently social and inquisitive creatures. We yearn to spend time with friends and family, to be outdoors, to seek pleasure and enjoyment, to learn new things and to experience new culture. Unable to travel now, means there is pent-up demand once restrictions are lifted and it is safe to travel.
Pressure on public finance
The UK furlough scheme has protected jobs but the call on the public finance has been huge. So looking ahead, politicians have tough choices to make about public spending. With many calls on those funds, why should national and local government invest in a sector like tourism?
Tourism – an engine for growth
After the economic crash of 2008, we saw tourism impacted with significant job losses. More importantly we saw it grow back quickly and strongly outstripping most other sectors over the following decade. At the end of 2019 tourism was estimated to account for 10% of the world’s economic output (UNWTO).
To address growing unemployment in 2021 and get large numbers of people back into work, tourism is the sector which can help do that quickly and easily. It isn’t just the direct tourism jobs – it is the construction jobs, the automotive and aircraft manufacturers, the food suppliers and the myriad other sectors that supply the tourism industry.
A new relationship with Europe and new immigration rules, mean the jobs that are created will be channelled to UK residents. In previous growth periods, migrant labour has quickly taken up large numbers of the casual and seasonal jobs that tourism creates. This time around, Brexit will require the UK economy to develop the skills among its resident population to take on these roles through short, sharp job readiness schemes, apprenticeships and on the job training.
With fewer trips, visitors are being more careful in selecting experiences that offer the highest quality. Experiences are more special as they are harder to take and are less frequent. ‘Okay’ just isn’t good enough and that applies to destinations too. Improvements to public realm, basic amenities, investment that improve the range and quality of experiences in a local area are not just ‘nice to haves’, they are essential.
Responsible and sustainable
Recent research suggests sustainable destinations aren’t a motivating factor for travel – instead being sustainable is a ‘hygiene’ factor – so getting this right isn’t an option. Public investment in sustainable waste, energy, vehicles, property, water management and wildlife conservation add to the credibility of a ‘guilt-free’ destination. Destinations also need to be better at telling stories of what they are doing as most visitors are unaware of the steps they have taken.
New ways of working = new ways of travelling
New work practices mean a lot of people are working differently, in terms of where and when they work. That means they can travel differently – with more midweek leisure travel and the ability to travel while working flexibly.
So destinations have to help visitors understand what a 3 or 4 night stay could look like where previously it was just 1 or 2 nights. This can result in more cross boundary working as visitors look to fill their days. Initiatives like Sussex Modern is a great example of cultural organisations working across a wider area to attract more visitors and get them to stay longer.
Politicians might think the recovery can be left to business – and they are part of the solution – but they need partnership and leadership from local and national government.
The response from agencies such as VisitScotland has been terrific – great guidance and insights; a clear view on the important strategic challenges; co-ordination across public and private sectors; and investment initiatives to kick start recovery.
The potential payback from renewed public investment is very positive:
- Mid-week and off-peak visitors translate into more tourism jobs (generated quickly) with even more jobs in the supply chain.
- Those jobs reduce the burden on public funds and contribute to more taxes.
- New skills mean the country is better placed to grow international tourism when it resumes.
- Investment in sustainable infrastructure is good for local communities and the visitor economy which in turn reduces the burden on public finance.
2021 and 2022 could be the year Tourism helps the country flourish. Whether it achieves that is dependent on the choices and investment local and national government are making now.