Visitor Economy Proving Resilient

As we find ourselves in the height of the summer holiday season, and with increasing doom & gloom gripping the UK’s High Streets, it is interesting to note the boost in the visitor economy, which seems to be at odds with many of the headlines across retail/manufacturing and other areas of the service sector. For example, latest tourism figures for Cumbria and the Lake District show that, in 2018 there was the 10th successive year of increase in visitor numbers (to a total of 40 million visitors to the county of Cumbria in the year) with visitor spend in excess of £3 bn supporting 65,000 jobs in the county. The same picture is replicated across other areas nationally where PAI members cover popular tourist locations such as London, Scotland, Devon & Cornwall, Yorkshire Dales, Northumberland and Exmoor/Dartmoor national parks.
The increase in visitor numbers is not just limited to rural areas of the UK – there are significant increases in visitor numbers to London, Edinburgh, Manchester, Newcastle, Liverpool, Bristol and Northern Ireland. Whilst the dreaded ‘b-word’ of Brexit uncertainty has lead to lack of investment in areas such as manufacturing, the weakness of the pound and rise of ‘staycations’ has lead to an increase in demand for hotels and visitor attractions, and of course, this has a knock-on effect for support businesses in hospitality, retail and catering. The national chains are still on the look-out for new sites and Whitbread have the Premier Inn ‘hub’ concept looking to fill city centre locations. Best Western have also recently announced their aspiration to increase their network of hotels in the UK from 500 to just under 1000, and they are looking at a number of large voids left on high streets in the wake of closures by the likes of House of Fraser – indeed, they came second in the race for the former House of Fraser on Princes Street in Edinburgh, which was sold to Diageo, to construct a new Johnnie Walker Whisky experience, another string in the bow of Edinburgh’s tourist economy.
The government has finally realised the importance of tourism and the visitor economy to UK plc and in the last month have announced a Tourism Sector Deal as part of their Industrial Strategy to promote the UK and establish “Tourism Zones” to capitalise on 130,000 hotel bedrooms committed to be built by 2025 It now seems to be accepted that hospitality is one of the largest employers, particularly in rural areas, as evidenced by the 65,000 jobs supported by tourism in Cumbria which only has a resident population of 500,000. Something to contemplate whilst we are all enjoying our summer holidays and waiting for 31 October to see whether there will be a ‘Brexit bounce’ depending on what happens……..if sterling doesn’t improve, maybe we will be reaching for an English bottle of wine, rather than imported!