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  • Oliver Hodgson

Cumbria Tourism presses for urgent clarity to support the hospitality sector

More than a week-on from encouraging signals made by the prime minister, Cumbria Tourism is increasing its lobbying for the government to provide vital financial support for the county’s hospitality and tourism businesses to help them survive the coming winter.

A recent survey among the organisation’s 2,500 member businesses has found that whilst 78% are confident they will be able to survive the next three months, this falls to just under 50% when looking ahead over the next six months and plummets to just one-third of businesses feeling confident of surviving the next two years.

Whilst most businesses are expecting to be able to open in some form from early July onwards, necessary social distancing restrictions and other Covid-19 considerations will mean the vast majority of businesses will have to reduce the number of visitors they can welcome and meet increased costs.

For the summer months, at least the current government support package offers some comfort but it is the uncertainty of what happens beyond October which is clearly a massive worry to businesses and of course the impact that might have on their ability to retain their staff long term.

Cumbria Tourism welcomed the announcement last week by Prime Minister Boris Johnson that the Government were looking at packages to help the tourism industry over the winter period, but as yet the detail of what the support will look like has not been made available.

Cumbria Tourism says its survey results reflect just how key it is to provide that business clarity reassurance now and is calling on the Government to do so quickly.

Managing Director of Cumbria Tourism, Gill Haigh, says, “At the moment, around a third of businesses expect to fully reopen in early July, while others will partially reopen. While they are eager to welcome visitors back though, the average opening capacities of around 60%, based on the current two-metre social distancing ruling, will mean that for many businesses it will be difficult for them to make a profit. This is why it is absolutely crucial that financial support for the sector is forthcoming. Our survey also found that increased costs are a major worry for three quarters of businesses, with a fifth expecting to make redundancies or reduce staff wages.”

Lake District Hotel Association Chair, Cumbria Tourism member and General Manager of the Castle Green Hotel in Kendal Ben Mayou, says, “Our member hotels and attractions are working hard to reopen and capture at least some of the summer season. The introduction of flexible furlough is on face value a positive step but with the requirement for employers to contribute to this over the coming months we are already starting to see redundancies.

“It is essential that the government comes forward without delay to share their plans to support tourism businesses over the winter period and avoid further job losses. Owners need information and guidance as a matter of urgency to formulate battle plans to have any chance of surviving into 2021”

Gill Haigh continues, “It's also important to recognise the impact that losing businesses from the hospitality sector will have on other businesses which benefit from tourism. It’s not just tourism operators who will lose-out if businesses fail, but this will affect the whole community and other businesses on a wider scale due to secondary spend dropping. This is clearly unsustainable, and we need to know more about the government’s plans as soon as possible which is why we’re applying more pressure than ever, on behalf of our members.”

An example of such a business is Theatre by the Lake in Keswick, who recently announced significant redundancies and the cancellation of their winter programme to ensure the producing house is able to reopen in 2021.  The venue has to generate 80% of its revenue from earned income, receiving just 20% from public subsidy and as such has been severely affected by the closure and lost income.

Liz Stevenson, Artistic Director and James Cobbold, Executive Director said, “We have added our voice to our industry’s calls on Government to consider specific support for theatres.  We must see further investment quickly and, like the hospitality industry, further clarity from the Government”.

Theatre by the Lake is a producing house of national importance, is one of the largest employers in Keswick and contributes significantly to the cultural offer of the region in attracting visitors, as well as serving its community of residents.   

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