Latest figures from Cumbria Tourism, the county’s official Destination Management Organisation (DMO) reveal that the Coronavirus pandemic has already cost the visitor economy £2 billion. Employment within the sector has also reduced by 38,000– 60% of full-time equivalent positions – with more jobs at risk if the industry does not receive urgent financial support.
These sobering figures come from preliminary results of the Scarborough Tourism Economic Activity Monitor, commonly known as ‘STEAM’. The annual assessment has taken place for the past 20 years and is produced on behalf of a partnership led by Cumbria Tourism and supported by Cumbria’s District Councils, Cumbria Local Enterprise Partnership (LEP) and the Lake District National Park Authority.
“Businesses have now faced effectively three winter seasons in a row” says Gill Haigh, Cumbria Tourism Managing Director. “Whilst support from the Government has helped keep heads just above water this latest research highlights the fact that the coffers of many businesses are emptying quickly and need continued appropriate support.
“Of course, the first priority must be the management of the pandemic, but it is vital that the tourism sector, which has often gone above and beyond to help protect visitors, staff and communities, is not hung out to dry. We are grateful for the current support, but many are still ineligible for these schemes, and those that are still face significant costs. For example, the furlough scheme does not cover National Insurance and pension contributions. As such employers are still paying around 15% of their wage bills although unable to trade – effectively being punished for protecting their staff from redundancy.”
Cumbria Tourism is asking the Government to commit to four key proposals to safeguard the industry and the jobs it provides in the short and long-term:
- Continuation of the business rates relaxation for a further year.
- An extension of the 5% VAT rate until at least October, preferably permanently.
- A tapered extension of the furlough scheme beyond April 2021 to assist businesses to build back to full capacity.
- Support and investment in DMOs to help increase markets, extend stays, increase spend and help drive business as restrictions ease.
They are also urgently calling for a clear roadmap to recovery alongside a timeframe to provide businesses with the confidence to plan for the future. Alongside national lobbying alongside other tourism destinations and partnerships such as UKHospitality and the Tourism Alliance the DMO is also in conversation with all six of the county’s MPs to call for a strong and unified voice on behalf of one of Cumbria’s key employment sectors.
Whilst the temporary easing of restrictions in 2020 did permit tourism businesses to welcome visitors temporarily this shorter season was far from enough to offset losses, particularly with social distancing legislation dramatically reducing capacity.
“Cash resources are depleting quickly” continues Gill Haigh “and lack of liquid funds is now the key priority for businesses according to our latest tracker survey. Many have had to turn to government-backed loan schemes to stay afloat, pledging to repay thousands without knowing when, or indeed if, they will be able to reopen their doors. It’s therefore of little surprise that the same survey shows that over 40% of businesses are not confident they will survive to see Easter. Businesses need extra support and they need it fast.”