[T]he arrival of superfast broadband is helping Borrowdale businesses gain a competitive edge in one of Cumbria’s key tourist destinations.
More than 200 businesses and households in Borrowdale are now able to connect to faster fibre broadband, thanks to the Connecting Cumbria project.
Engineers from Openreach, BT’s local network business,- have switched on two new green fibre broadband roadside cabinets in the Borrowdale valley – one in Grange and another in Rosthwaite.
One local business already enjoying the benefits of having fibre is Manesty Holiday Cottages, run by Alan and Cheryl Leyland and their daughter Alice. Alan, who signed up to a fibre service in July, said having higher speeds would help them to secure more bookings and meet customer expectations.
He said: “We’re now planning to move our booking system into The Cloud, something we couldn’t do without superfast. These days anyone booking a holiday expects everything to happen instantly, if they have to wait to book something then they will just go somewhere else. You only guarantee you’ll get the bookings by effectively being online all the time.
“People don’t plan ahead – they’ll be driving up the M6 thinking ‘where shall we stay when we get there?’ You have to be in a position to take advantage of that and being in The Cloud will allow us to do that as anyone can access and monitor the bookings remotely from anywhere at any time. It will help us to bring in more of those bookings that before we would just have missed.
“We have to be able to compete with those businesses that have outsourced their booking systems to agencies – who can have a team of people monitoring things 24/7.”
Alan added that having fibre broadband would also enable the business to better cater for customer needs. “We’re planning to install smart TVs in all our cottages so guests can have access to catch-up TV and stream movies. People have become accustomed to having these services at home and now expect to have the same level of service when they come away on holiday.
“If we are going to be able to compete with everyone else then we need to be up with the best. Guest aspirations just keep marching ahead of us and we’ve got to keep up. Superfast broadband has been great for us – I only wish we could have had it sooner.”
Ross Harper, general manager of the Borrowdale Gates Hotel, said the business was already reaping the benefits after signing up to a superfast service six weeks ago. He said: “The biggest impact for us really is the ability for 50 guests to be able to use the internet at the same time and our own office capabilities have improved as well.
“Before we even had trouble using our Outlook email because with standard broadband it took so long for our servers to respond to each other. It felt like we were living in the technology dark ages.
“During our busy periods when the hotel was full we were getting a lot of complaints from customers saying they couldn’t load web pages and couldn’t get on the wifi. Not only do people expect to have wifi and connectivity when they come away but good speeds as well. They want to Skype, they want to stream movies – everything they’re used to doing at home.”
Ross added the hotel was planning to streamline its office systems as a result of having fibre. “Now we have superfast we are considering moving all our office communications from analogue to digital as the analogue systems are being phased out soon. Doing everything over the internet like our telephony will cut down on our costs.”
Statistics show small and medium size business form the backbone of the Cumbrian economy with 84 per cent of firms employing fewer than 10 employees and operating from villages, hamlets and isolated properties. Tourism is the mainstay of the Lake District economy. In common with many rural areas it has taken over from farming as the main source to income. In 2015 Cumbria welcomed over 43 million visitors, who spent £2.62 billion, with tourism accounting for around 20 per cent of the county’s total employment, according to Cumbria Tourism.
Stewart Young, leader of Cumbria County Council, said: “Tourism – perhaps more than any other sector in Cumbria – is hugely dependent on digital technology for web-based marketing, on-line booking and customer contact and many tourism businesses regard higher speed connections as crucial to the future of their business. So it is great to see Connecting Cumbria doing everything it can to reach these homes and businesses however small or remote they may be.
“So far around 30 per cent of homes and businesses served by the Connecting Cumbria programme have connected to the fibre broadband network, but connections don’t happen automatically. To find out if residents and businesses can access the high-speed fibre network, they should contact their service provider.”
Mike Blackburn, BT North West regional director, added: “It is fantastic to see the transformational effect that fibre broadband is having on businesses in Cumbria especially those involved in tourism. It is helping them to meet the increasing digital needs of customers and the industry itself.”