Covid-19 update 8 Oct 20

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Although, held under Chatham House rules, I can confirm that the recent British Destinations, destination managers’ group meeting concluded that prospects for the tourism industry and the visitor economy remained bleak for the coming the winter months, with among other measures the implementation of the rule of six radically changing planning assumptions, especially those relating to a hoped for festive season lift within the hospitality industries.

Since our meeting on 24 September, we have continued to see a rise in covid-19 cases, particularly in the North of England and parts of Wales and Scotland with the imposition of a number of new additional local restricted areas.  In Wales 15 of the 22 Counties (local authority areas) are currently under additional and generally more stringent restrictions than their English equivalents. In England there are currently 6 restricted areas comprising between them of 42 full local authority areas and, following recent relaxations, parts of 3 others. Yesterday Scotland announced the closure of hospitality businesses for 16 days in the central belt and today, there are strong indications from Government in England that they are considering a range of similar short sharp measures for use in those areas where covid-19 infections continue to increase at pace. (announce later today, implement over the weekend?)

In England the impacts of existing local restrictions on business and in particular hospitality have been aired in the National media over the last week or so.  However, in those discussions one critical differentiating factor has not been adequately addressed.  In both the North East and Liverpool City Regions areas there is an additional restriction that limits visits to indoor hospitality to one household (as there is across all restricted areas in Wales).  While the additional restrictions in other Northern English areas are depressing trade, the seemingly small addition of a one household limitation in the North East and Liverpool City Region is all but killing it by supressing trade, in many cases, to a point below the level of day to day viability.

The one household rules for supporting hospitality businesses is a further complication for self-catering accommodation. Serviced accommodation, although technically still able to accommodate some mixed groups within the rules, are seeing cancellations and further falls in booking through a combination of understandable concern about voluntarily holidaying in areas of greater risk and the realities of wider family or friends groupings seeing little point in holidaying in circumstances where you can’t eat, drink or socialise anywhere indoors together. At this time of years generally older couples and mixed groupings of friends are far more prevalent than generally younger, single household family units. Meanwhile bars and restaurants are seeing a dramatic fall in custom from both visitors and, critically for shoulder and coming low season months, from local residents, much of the latter trade being driven by the desire for social interaction and by default therefore usually involving members of at least two households.

Venturing out for a meal at my local pub (Southport, Sefton, Liverpool City Region) I witnessed a group of three middle aged men being told that they could have a drink indoors but they would need to sit on three adjacent, socially distanced tables. They were able to do this and still converse, because this well run and consequently previously busy pub was all but empty at 8.30 pm on a Tuesday.  I doubt the three will be rushing back, on the off chance that there will three adjacent table available for them any time soon, if indeed the pub can remain open with more staff than customers. Similarly, a whole category of day to day trade from golf holiday groups through to “ladies that lunch” have been taken out of the equation by the simple additional of a one household restriction. Yes 6 from more than one household can meet outdoors at a hospitality venue (discouraged but legal) but rapidly changing weather conditions and darkening nights are acting to seriously limit the appeal of that option. That is only going to get worse as the year progresses.

I make no presumption about the rights and wrongs of the additional one household restrictions. I do however think it is vital that when local lockdowns are being discussed Nationally, we acknowledge that there are seemingly subtle differences that can have a major impact on the ability of tourism and hospitality businesses to trade through the resulting difficulties.  The addition of the one household indoors rule in the North East and Liverpool City Region and indeed to those areas under lockdown in Wales is one such subtle difference and one that puts them at significant disadvantage to those other areas in England under local lockdown, let alone to those areas which are not under local lockdown, or at least not yet.  The implications of the addition of a one household indoor restriction in any future local lockdowns needs to be widely understood and, thus, its consequences properly considered before it is imposed.

Clearly the concern about an indoor one household ruling may be overtaken by whatever the Westminster Government decide to do or not do with hospitality over the coming few days.  Regardless, the additional economic impacts of the current one household rule as applied in the North East and Liverpool City Region needs to be fully recognised now, if only to ensure that they are not at some later date applied elsewhere without due regards to full economic implications.

In addition, I have recently added the latest business research from Great Yarmouth to our Covid-19 research page at: https://britishdestinations.net/c19-research/

The headline business sentiment about future prospects that it contains, acts to confirm the general views expressed at our meeting discussed at the head of this update, and that was before we add to the mix the addition of several more local restricted areas and now the very real potential for new hopefully short, sharp hospitality focused local lockdowns across the UK. 

Our destination manger’s meeting on 24 September concluded that any early hopes that the industry merely needs to weather the winter and return to normality from spring 2021 onwards are now well behind us. Spring 2022 as a planning target for the start of a return towards normality is beginning to look increasingly opportunistic with the 2023 season becoming a more plausible target for a return to business as usual, or as near usual as the new normality allows. Much water has to flow under the bridge before then and much still depends on what happens over the coming low season and, as a consequence, what survives to trade at a viable level during the 2021 season; the bigger and better the foundations that remain in place the easier and quicker it will be for tourism and the visitor economy to build back.

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