The impact of the recruitment crisis was top of the agenda when some of Cumbria’s key tourism industry representatives met with Liberal Democrat Leader, Ed Davey, earlier today.

Mr Davey was on a tour of the county, facilitated by Westmorland and Lonsdale MP Tim Farron, and spent an hour on board a Windermere Lake Cruise to explore the world class landscape and see the significant private sector investment in tourism first-hand.

The Lib Dem leader was joined by Cumbria Tourism’s Managing Director Gill Haigh, along with CT’s Vice Chairman and Langdale Leisure Director Dan Visser; Lake District Hoteliers’ representative Joe Cobb; and Nigel Wilkinson, who is MD of two popular visitor attractions (Windermere Lake Cruises and the Lakeland Motor Museum) and Chair of the Visitor Economy Panel for Cumbria Local Enterprise Partnership (LEP).

The group took the opportunity to share the vast array of proactive and innovative measures the sector is taking as it tries to recover not only from the impact of the pandemic, but also the damaging impact of acute staff shortages.

During the visit, Cumbria Tourism shared its latest business survey results in which tourism operators cited recruitment challenges as their current number one concern. 85% of businesses taking part in the research said recruitment of staff is a problem, with 66% highlighting it as a ‘significant problem’. 86% of respondents also pointed to a lack of applicants.

On average, 14% of staff in Cumbria’s tourism industry did not return from furlough. 14% of available roles are also currently vacant, although this figure is as high as 50% for some businesses – this problem has been exacerbated by the ‘pingdemic’, with an average of 10% of all staff off self-isolating during the last six weeks (ranging up to 100% for some operators).

The largest number of vacancies reported is for chefs, but vacancies are across the board including front of house and professional services.

More than half of responders say that the loss of European staff post-Brexit is an issue for them, and Cumbria Tourism urged the Lib Dem Leader to reinforce its repeated calls for an extension of the Youth Mobility Scheme for the EU 27 and Commonwealth with the Government. This would allow people aged between 18 and 30 to come to the UK for two years and for chefs to be added to the list of skilled workers allowed in from Europe while the economy adjusts.

Commenting, Managing Director of Cumbria Tourism, Gill Haigh, says: “We very much welcomed the opportunity to meet with Mr Davey, to both showcase why the county is so appealing to visitors but importantly, to explain the scale and deep impact of the current recruitment crisis and stress how important it is that government recognises the negative impact of the ongoing recruitment issues.

“It’s been so frustrating to see businesses unable to fully capitalise on the staycation opportunities this summer and my hat goes off to all those staff who have worked incredibly hard to provide wonderful holiday experiences for their customers, despite all the challenges thrown at them. After two years of financial hardship for the sector, it’s imperative that we use the coming months to work with government to resolve the recruitment crisis, so that businesses can continue providing world-class experiences and prosper next year.”

Cumbria Tourism’s Vice Chairman, Dan Visser adds: “We all want to see enhanced career opportunities in the sector to support the local unemployed and Cumbria Tourism, partners and businesses are working incredibly hard with partners at Cumbria LEP, the Department for Work and Pensions, Inspira, colleges and transport operators county-wide to help achieve that.

The industry is really doing all it can too. Cumbria Tourism’s latest survey shows that 81% of tourism operators have increased salaries, 48% have improved shift patterns, a third have offered accommodation and other benefits – all of which have an impact on their costs/profits. However, there is no quick fix here and, in the meantime, the economic fallout continues. We need government intervention or else we will see more businesses fail and a negative knock-on impact for the local economy and rural communities.”

Managing Director of Windemere Lake Cruises, Nigel Wilkinson, comments: “Those of us who are fortunate to work in the Cumbrian visitor economy know what a fantastic place this is to build a career. Short, medium and long-term actions need to be effectively delivered to match available labour with the job opportunities in the sector, to attract prospective employees into the County’s visitor economy and to tackle barriers to working in Cumbria. We hope that Cumbria LEP can take a proactive leadership role in addressing these challenges, which are critical to the success of our visitor economy.”

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