The latest data from the county’s official Destination Management Organisation (DMO) reveals how important Cumbria Tourism’s #ThePerfectPlaceToBe campaign will be to help ensure a strong autumn and winter season, alongside its recruitment campaign seeking to lessen workforce issues harming the sector.
Despite domestic visitor numbers often hitting the headlines over the summer, there is much business still to make up as a result of lockdown and restrictions for the first part of the year and ongoing capacity issues due to subdued staffing levels. So far, for the year overall, 44% of tourism businesses in Cumbria report booking levels down, with a fifth significantly so.
Autumn and winter are ordinarily key times for international visits and group travel, which between them would usually make up to around 30% for many businesses. However, with many international travel restrictions remaining and a knock-on effect for group travel, it is even more vital that the staycation trend extends into the shoulder months to help top up much depleted cash flows and support businesses through the winter months.
Positively, businesses are reporting a continuing increase in new visitors (74% of those surveyed), as well as young couples (48%), and also longer stays (60%). There have also been increases in family groups. The DMO’s destination marketing campaign will focus on these groups, as well as traditional visitors, to inspire everyone with reasons to return and experience every corner of the county and its attractions in all seasons.
Commenting, Managing Director Gill Haigh said: “It’s been wonderful to see so many visitors enjoy a much-deserved break in the county, relaxing and rejuvenating after a very difficult year. It’s particularly pleasing to have seen so many new visitors, young people, couples, families and more choosing longer stays. We now need to build on this momentum and encourage them to return and enjoy all that beautiful Cumbria has to offer through the autumn and winter, and our campaign aims to do just that.”
Full details on the next stage of the #ThePerfectPlaceToBe campaign will be unveiled at the Westmorland Show (8th and 9th September), where the Cumbria Tourism team will be showcasing the county as a visitor destination, meeting business representatives and highlighting how locals can enjoy their county through the MyCumbria discount card scheme.
Recruitment the number one issue affecting businesses
The latest survey data also highlights the ongoing impact of the industry’s large-scale recruitment crisis, with recruitment issues identified as businesses’ primary concern (85% mention recruitment as a problem, with 66% of those surveyed naming it as a significant one). Post-Brexit immigration policy changes, coupled with the side effects of furlough and the ‘pingdemic’ have led to many employers struggling to attract staff, forcing reduced capacities, service and ultimately income.
On average, 14% of available roles are vacant (up to 50% for some businesses), with 86% reporting a lack of applicants for roles – a significant problem for almost three quarters of those surveyed. Over half cite the loss of European staff post-Brexit, with the issue compounded by others choosing not to return from furlough.
Cumbria Tourism is continuing its #ThePerfectPlaceToWork recruitment campaign, showcasing the diverse and rewarding employment opportunities available to those of all ages, backgrounds and experience. The organisation is also working closely with the industry on several campaigns designed to simplify transport logistics and other barriers unique to the county’s rural visitor economy, with a recruitment fair in Barrow (in partnership with the Federation of Small Businesses, Inspira, LocaliQ and Jobcentre Plus) on the 29th September scheduled to help encourage residents to consider career opportunities within the Lake District National Park.
At a policy level the DMO is maintaining a constant lobbying presence as it calls for Government recognition of the crisis’ impact and support to mitigate business impact, including a recent meeting between industry representatives and Liberal Democrat leader Ed Davey MP. Cumbria Tourism also continues to update key institutions including the Bank of England on the sector’s challenges and priorities.
“It’s frustrating, after so much closure, to see businesses once again forced to limit opening hours and capacities due to a lack of staff” continues Gill Haigh. “In many ways there’s never been a better time to consider a career within the sector. Our survey shows that 81% of businesses have recently increased salaries, almost half are offering improved shift patterns and a third are providing staff accommodation and other benefits – all coming at a cost but necessary to compete in a very demanding labour market.”
“We and the industry are working hard to retain and recruit staff and offer brilliant careers in one of the best locations on earth. However, it’s clear that businesses can’t do this alone – we need effective and joined up Government support to make sure that come the 2022 season businesses are in a position to trade normally and to be able to offer their customers a world class service.”