12 months on from the beginning of the Covid-19 pandemic, Cumbria Tourism MD Gill Haigh evaluates at the impact of the Coronavirus on the county’s tourism industry, and how the county’s official Destination Management Organisation (DMO) is using the lessons learnt to come back stronger than ever.

“Looking back to March 2020, it’s hard to imagine that at the time we had almost no idea of how much life was about to change. Spring is a vital time for our industry – after the quieter winter months the Easter holidays are really when hospitality reawakens. Many businesses were putting the final touches in place to welcome back visitors following exciting new renovations and updates when news of lockdown broke, and all our plans went out of the window.

“It has been an extraordinarily difficult year but I’m immensely proud of how our industry has worked together to survive, innovate and diversify ready to come back stronger than ever in 2021. Despite being unable to meet in person I feel as though I know our members better than ever, one silver lining has been the opportunity to reach out personally to so many business owners across Cumbria as we campaign on their behalf and help them connect with others in similar situations. Our free members’ webinar programme has also allowed businesses from across the county to listen to and engage with a wide range of industry experts and national hospitality figures to help give them the information they require.

“The pandemic has also highlighted the importance of Cumbria Tourism to the county’s wider economy, in no small part due to the vital contribution of all our members, staff and board. I am very proud that our consistent lobbying activity has delivered clear results to the benefit of many businesses, as well as supporting those falling through the cracks. Last month’s budget announcement included several specific policy points which we had campaigned for, including the furlough extension, Business Rates relief and the retention of the 5% VAT rate, all of which are vital to provide businesses with the safety net they need to bounce back as quickly as possible. Cumbria Tourism has also been instrumental in the recent announcement for a DMO review, an independent analysis of how destinations should be supported as we build back better.

“The pandemic has highlighted the important role that DMOs play. As well as marketing the region we are also a direct conduit between visitors, businesses, and Government, allowing us to react quickly and efficiently as situations demand. We also achieve more when we work together – during the last year we have further strengthened our links with partners across the North West, allowing us to speak with a strong, unified voice.

“As we look ahead to the next stages of the Government’s road map, we are here to support businesses to welcome visitors safely and responsibly. We undertook in-depth visitor research last summer to better understand the background and needs of returning and first-time visitors and we are now in a fantastic position to encourage new and returning tourists not only to support local businesses, but also to explore every corner of Cumbria. Alongside partners we have developed a comprehensive strategy to support visitor experiences and visitor management throughout the county – not only creating a better experience for visitors but also benefitting our communities and their economies.

“One year after lockdown began is a good opportunity to look back and take stock but there is still work to do. Our #theperfectplacetobe Destination Recovery Marketing campaign strategy looks beyond the spring and summer right through to 2022 and we will continue to adapt and refine as the realities of a post-Covid world become clearer. What is certain, however, is that no matter what happens in the future, Cumbria Tourism will continue to be at the heart of the sector, championing and supporting businesses, working alongside partners to promote, celebrate and manage our unique county to visitors the world over.”

To learn more about the work of Cumbria Tourism and the benefits of membership, visit www.cumbriatourism.org or contact a member of the team by emailing membership@cumbriatourism.org or calling 01539 822 222.

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