Month: March 2020
In the light of current national developments, you will not be surprised to hear that our joint, annual tourism conference scheduled for 20 April has now been postponed.
Although this was already being considered today’s announcement of the closure of the Houses of Parliament to public events made the conference and associated reception untenable. The conference will be rescheduled for a later date, potential in the early Autumn. It will almost certainly focus on the industry’s recovery requirements post the current unprecedented events.
I would like to thank our conference partners for their continued support for the event. As soon as we have sufficient clarity to make informed decisions, a new date will be selected and announced.
Given rapidly accelerating events, it is now time to move on from prudent behind the scenes, scenario planning to more detailed planning and potentially initial actions, where they are deemed necessary.
In order to assist colleagues and potentially yourselves with the development of sound planning assumptions, forward plans and potential actions, please consider letting me know what you have done, are doing and are planning to do, especially but not exclusively, around events, marketing and venues and operational activities under your direct or indirect control.
Any additional information on current, forward booking or predictable impacts on business and business sub sectors would be helpful.
The intent is to anonymize and share this information to assist destinations develop plans based on more broadly based and better informed planning assumption and with better background knowledge of what peer destinations have or might be planning to do faced with similar circumstance to yourselves.
Please also highlight any perceived, critical gaps in local/regional or, in particular, national information or guidance, so we can raise these gaps with colleagues nationally. Please forward comments to: email@example.com
Whilst we wait for more targeted advice on specific tourism related issues in the UK, some of the best workplace advice for employers and employees comes from ACAS. You may wish to share this link or those to the national equivalents, referenced within this page to your own business community. Their CONVID-19 page is updated daily:
Plans by the City of London Corporation to double the current £2 honesty box fee and employ ranger to enforce collection at Hampstead Heath bathing ponds has now hit the national media, having apparently causing local consternation earlier in the year. “So what?”, you ask.
The relevance to both inland and coastal destination manager lies in the background to this story. An apparent doubling in a decade to 655k users is set against a rising annual cost of staff and maintenance to £747k, offset by a user revenue of only £67k, a 4% voluntary compliance rate, for what was prior to 2005 a free to use facility. In short, the popularity of bathing in natural or “wild” environment is on the rise everywhere, whilst to offer active facilitation of it, is to accept legal duties and potentially onerous responsibilities, all with significant associated costs attached. On the flip side increased popularity may be an unfilled, enhanced or entirely new business opportunity for some destinations?
Importantly, Hampstead Heath isn’t a traditional coastal bathing water and, thus, illustrating to us and the powers that be, that bathing and bathing waters aren’t just yet another troublesome, exclusively coastal issue. Moreover, it helps evidence that the demand, is now impacting on rivers and inland bodies of water, as interestingly, it has always done in continental Europe, the north included. This change of emphasis can’t and shouldn’t be ignored. The law says if people bath in sufficient numbers to present a public health risk then the body of water they bath in must be manged and of adequate minimum water quality standard. The role of Designated Bathing Water Controller, falls to the local authority, even if the waters, or more usually access to them, are in private ownership.
For many coastal destinations, the resource conundrum of providing safe, clean well-maintained bathing is hardly new, albeit the growth of immersion based water sports and the growing popularity of “wild swimming” is leading to increased consumer demand, at a time of reducing resource. Few, if any, coastal public beach management bodies have yet dared seek to recoup costs directly from the users; whilst indirect methodologies for example, from parking charges to revenues from concessions, seldom cover full cost or are not without their detractors. A small number of privately owned beaches do of course charge for access to the beach and by inference the water, and because they are private sector, usually to less open public objection.
For both coastal and inland destinations the popularity of “wild swimming” has (ironically?) lead to greater demands for safer, more controlled, remoter sea bathing and for the inclusion of rivers and other inland waters within the tested bathing waters regime. By default, or by public demand, that then raises issues around the provision of more safety equipment and/or of life-guarding, where usage might reasonably warrant it. Alongside a debate about the need for a range of other land-based facilities, that the current regulations seek to ensure are provided at designated water; thankfully to lower levels at more rural, lower level use localities. (public toilets, showers, parking bins etc).
The increased use of coastal water, rivers lakes and other water bodies for recreational or wild swimming, doesn’t appear to have peaked yet and even if growth had peaked its current level of popularity seems unlikely to decrease, anytime soon. In light of this, questions for destination managers may now need to include: how do you manage increased wild swimming, if at all and, if you do, with what resource? There is also the question of, how to respond to the likely increased demand for support to existing designated bathing waters and requests to encourage and support beneficial sport, leisure and tourism activity at new and, as yet, undesignated locations.
Long experience at the coast suggest that enthusiasm to embrace new opportunities, needs to be balanced against the legal requirements to designate and then maintain to specified standards water that are deemed to be poplar “bathing” areas, based on an evidenced usage v public health risk assessment. Maintaining a bathing water, as the historic Hampstead Heath example neatly illustrates, isn’t to be undertaken lightly and isn’t without expense. We should also be mindful that failure to meet minimum legal water quality standards, over a given number of consecutive years, will automatically result in mandatory permanent closure (advise against swimming). So it can’t every be a simple case of: if you build it, or facilitate it, the job is done they will come; at least not if there is the slightest doubt that mandatory water quality standards can be routinely achieved, year in year out, during the current May to September bathing season.
As bathers increasingly can and do swim routinely in numbers outside the “bathing season” there is also niggling questions about how long the May to September usage v public health risk cut off can be sustained but thankfully, so far only were there are large numbers routinely swimming, outside those dates. Some authorities meanwhile are pressing for a shorter and therefore less financially demanding season, where they feel popular demand starts latter and/or finishes earlier. Currently the policy in England is to adopt and maintain set National season start and end dates. Whether, post Brexit, local variation to match proven local usage patterns will become permissible, remains to be seen.
British Destinations and the UK Beach Management Form, which is part of the organisation, are happy to assist inland destination members wrestle with the unfamiliar detail of what until recently has been a largely coastal resort and rural coastal area issue. We are also more than happy to assist coastal members running it new or unfamiliar bathing related issues.
See the Hampstead Heath article at:
We are also delighted to announce that GTS (UK) have confirmed that they will join us again as our conference partners, alongside Quality in Tourism. This is particularly fitting since both destination intelligence quality assurance being particularly important to destination management interests.
Details of the co-hosted events over the day, commencing with the conferee itself (10 am – 3 pm) Parliamentary Reception (4 pm – 6 pm) and optional Tourism Society, House of Lords dinner 7 pm onward will be posted soon at: https://britishdestinations.net/annual-conference-19-march-2018/
GTS (UK) are a leading independent tourism research company with over 25 years’ of experience working with both the public and private sector. Their STEAM model providing timely estimates of annual value, volume and economic impact of tourism is widely used by many UK destinations and tourism organisation.
Quality in Tourism has been assessing properties and driving standards across the UK for over 15 years and they are experts in the field, offering advice, support and assessments for tourism & hospitality businesses. They are currently delivering a suite of assessments, including the initiative Safe, Clean and Legal assessment which is designed to be more than just an entry-level level scheme. Safe, Clean and Legal could, we believe, now help fill the growing gap in the market between reliance on customer reviews alone and the more traditional grading assessments approach.
Our conference partners:
1. Given the weight of coverage it may be unnecessary to highlight the growing impacts of COVID-19 on international and domestic tourism? The latest news being yesterday’s final collapse of Flybe, attributed in large part to the additional strain put on the company by the recent related downturn in flight bookings. Other National carriers, low cost airlines and travel companies are also weathering the self-same same headwind that now seem set to continue for some time in both UK source markets and, in all likelihood, increasingly from within the UK itself. It speculation but there is likely to be more bad news from within the aviation and travel operator sectors before normality resumes.
Government’s advisors are now suggesting that a major UK outbreak is now far more likely than not. The policy to tackle it is in essence to delay and push it back as long as possible in to a period of better weather, where the virus may be less “harmful” and NHS services are under less strain from the routinely winter pressures and therefore better able and better placed to tackle COVID-19.
In addition to reports from members on the impact on international leisure visitor numbers, we have been informed about issues for the international language schools’ market and specifically the immediate impact on the normally strong, spring European schools visit element. The ban on school trips in France earlier this week merely serves to highlight and add to an already difficult position for this important sector. Business tourism and events are also showing strain, particularly where international speakers, delegates or exhibitors are involved in activities that are planned to take place in the short to medium term.
Two growing trends are perhaps of note in the reports we have received this week; longer term, forward bookings involving international guests are now being cancelled on purely commercial grounds and much further out than was initially seen. (perhaps a balance between taking a hit on predicted revenue now v potential hit and real costs of mounting a nonviable activity later?). There are also growing signs that any immediate weakness in international tourism is now also rapidly becoming a similar or greater weakness in forward booking, cancellation enquires and the like within the domestic market. Today’s very sensible precautionary Government announcement are likely to serve to accelerate that process within the domestic market and add to the problems for both inbound international and outbound domestic markets.
Delaying onset and working to extend the length (to reduce, by spreading out the peak impact) of any UK outbreak makes perfect sense on health and other grounds. It does however represent a major planning and management headache for destination management interests, not to mention the potential major social and economic problems for businesses and for destinations as a whole.
In short, we now need to be prepared to manage the real impacts on tourism from the potential threat of CONVID-19 during an indeterminate period and be prepared to manage the additional more serious impacts of a potential extended UK outbreak, that may or may not start at any point between now and the early summer or conceivably beyond that? Lest we forget from past experience, once any potential pandemic has run its course there could be a slow, protracted period of recovery, rather than an immediate return to business as usual; especially if we are not prepared or able (resourced) to encourage a rapid bounce back.
On balance the prognosis for UK tourism isn’t good and it could be far worse if we don’t undertake some prudent local contingency planning and start marshalling post event recovery assets. We will continue work with colleagues nationally, firstly to ensure that the need for recovery resource and support for domestic, as well as international tourism, is well recognised and secondly to ensure that when the time is right, adequate national level resources are available and deployed to best effect to drive a rapid recovery.
2. Over the last few days and weeks there has been a number of interesting non COVID-19 related tourism articles, including reports about the impact of short-term lets on housing stock, alleged wide scale abuse of the London 90 day letting rules and a Which? report outlining the non-competitive practices of some online booking platforms. The latter report majors on the point that OTAs are not necessarily the source of the lowest available price which can often be realised by calling the hotels direct. How ironic would it be if increasingly customers browsed online to find the products they wanted, before then going direct to buy it for less direct from the provider themselves; a complete reversal of the damaging high street trend of look, see, feel and smell in store and then buy online for less. The report acts as a good aid memoire to the issues involved, the (undue?) power that the platforms exercise and the level and high costs to both businesses and consumers of the dependency that has been created. Articles on all these issue can be found on out “Sharing Economy and OTA” page at: https://wordpress.com/view/britishdestinations.net
3. John Lewis the stalwart of British retailing today reported a 23 % drop in profits across the group, announced the closure of 3 Waitrose stores and a 2% “partners” staff bonus the lowest since 1953 when it was zero (down from 3% in recent years). The reduction in profit in their high street, mostly major City and large town, city centre department stores or major out of town sites is an alarming 65% (including some exceptional costs).
The new Chairman intends to carry out a major review to report in September. She has promised to launch a major transformation of the business, which encompasses the need to look at ‘right sizing’ stores, ‘through a combination of new formats and new locations; repurposing and space reductions of existing stores; and closures, where necessary.’
For those struggling to understand what has gone wrong with their own High Street the John Lewis announcement is a timely reminder to us all that there is something much more profound going on than say just our ability to drive footfall to our destinations, the quality and the range of the product offer, or our promotional reach or financial clout. John Lewis department stores operates in prime City locations, with strong footfall, they major on the quality of product and service and are not shy when it comes to marketing and promotion and yet they too are feeling the strain on traditional retail. Profound problems may need profoundly different solutions? See more at: