SPEECH ON SUPPORT FOR TOURISM INDUSTRY AFTER LOCKDOWN

Please note: This speech was not delivered.

 

Thank you, Mr Speaker, as always, for the opportunity to contribute today.

This is an important discussion, and I thank the Hon Member for North Devon for securing this debate.

As I said when I contributed to a debate on Covid-19 in May, the tourism industry has been struggling, and that continues to be the case.

It was one of the first industries to be impacted, having missed most of the peak season through lockdown, the effects of which will be persistent, and we cannot allow this position to weaken further.

Before the outbreak, tourism made a significant contribution to our nation: supporting 3.1 million jobs and adding billions to the economy, whilst also protecting and displaying our collective heritage.

That contribution needs to not only be restored to pre-Covid levels but enhanced, and for the Clacton constituency that is imperative.

Local tourism sites including: the 19th century Martello Towers, our famous piers, the beautiful Walton Backwaters, and our exceptional Sunshine Coast do so much to attract visitors to our wonderful part of the world.

Consequently, tourism is vital for our local economy, with 8,751 jobs in Tendring linked directly to the industry, 6,491 of which are full time, and that equates to 17.4% of all employment in the area.

And economically, tourism in Tendring has an impact worth £392m, and that is simply irreplaceable in the short to medium term.

So, without a strong local tourism industry, we would return to the slow coastal decline that we have seen before, rather than the growth and prosperity that we all want to see instead.

Of course, the Government’s support has been hugely valuable in helping local tourism businesses and their employees, but that support has only kept many in a period of stasis, whilst lockdown robbed them of their most productive season.

As things stand, Mr Speaker, we cannot escape the reality of the situation for the industry: The World Tourism Organisation (UNWTO) foresees a decline in international tourism of 60% to 80% compared to last year, amounting to losses of between €840 billion to €1.1 trillion in export revenues worldwide.

And expectations for the UK in August were that there will be a decline of 78% to 65% depending on the level of social distancing required in venues.

Further evidence, if we needed it, that many tourism related businesses are now in real trouble, despite the Government’s support.

And that means that we need the Government to go further.

We have already seen Ministers go above and beyond the basic level of support with the £1.5bn Cultural Recovery Fund that will do so much to support museums, galleries, theatres, independent cinemas, heritage sites and music venues with emergency grants.

Yes, that fund will certainly push some benefits into the tourism industry as well, given the obvious overlap with arts and culture, but the transportation, accommodation, food and beverage, and other entertainment sectors that also make up the tourism industry will not be able to draw on this support.

And while tourism related business may have benefitted from general Government support elsewhere, so too did those arts and cultural organisations who were then marked out for further assistance via the Cultural Recovery Fund.

It is time for the Government to realise that tourism is in the same situation that arts and culture were a few months ago.

I said previously of the arts and cultural organisations, especially theatres, that “Rome was burning” and the Government acted.

Well our tourism industry is in danger of burning just as brightly, and it is time now for the Government to act again.

So, what should we focus on?

Well the obvious answer is that we need to get people to our domestic tourism destinations, and the signs are positive on that front.

Many people still want to get away for holiday, as we have seen over summer, with a clear surge in visitors to domestic destinations.

Data from Centre for Cities shows that some coastal destinations have seen the strongest recoveries in footfall and spending compared to pre-virus norms.

Holiday platforms are also reporting record staycation bookings.

This is good news, and while I hope that the staycation trend will continue and spread to more places within the UK, we cannot expect this level of demand to persist: winter is coming, as are the cheap flights to Europe and beyond.

New travel options, the weather, and the rise in cases will all now act to limit demand within domestic tourism destinations, so we need to now safely create that demand ourselves, even during the low season.

Whether that be achieved through some form of a voucher scheme to get reduced entry for tourism sites and businesses, or a more localised version of the Eat Out to Help Out scheme to use the lure of cheaper food to bring people to these areas, I maintain that we can effectively reduce the cost of visiting our tourism hotspots to attract visitors throughout the year, without financially impacting on the businesses themselves, or indeed prompting an increase in cases.

Creating that demand in tourism destinations is key for their recovery after Covid-19 and I would ask the Government to look at ways in which it can intervene to do just that.

This would be a bespoke intervention certainly, but one that could deliver real rewards and growth for the industry and the communities that depend so highly on the economic outputs of tourism.

In the same vein, I would also ask the Government to seriously consider introducing a Tourism Recovery Fund that would operate and provide grants in the same way that the Cultural Recovery Fund does.

While slower than I would have liked in terms of delivery, the Cultural Recovery Fund does come with a great deal of oversight, which ensures that the funding makes it to where it needs to be.

A Tourism Recovery Fund could guarantee the same level of oversight and ensure that the other sectors within the industry get the support they need, and which they were unable to access via the Cultural Recovery Fund.

Undoubtedly, a creative intervention is needed here, but we have seen creative thinking throughout this crisis from Ministers with the Furlough, Kickstarter, and Eat Out to Help Out schemes, and I would ask them to do so again.

The tourism industry delivers jobs, local prosperity, a sizeable economic contribution, and, of course, many happy memories for those who visit our tourism destinations.

Those benefits just cannot be replicated, and we cannot level up our coastal communities without a burgeoning tourism industry.

Tourism is the lifeblood of our coastal towns like those in the Clacton constituency.

It is Clacton’s past, present and its future, and it is time for the Government to act to provide more recovery support for the tourism industry following lockdown, and I call on Ministers to take this opportunity to do just that.

From there, we need to, and we can, think creatively to deliver lasting and targeted year-round demand within our tourism destinations.

Thank you.