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Surge in holiday cancellations prompts urgent pleas to support fragile tourism industry

Gill Haigh, Cumbria Tourism MD (Image by Phil Rigby)

Cumbria Tourism says a barrage of cancelled holiday bookings from ‘very high risk’ COVID-alert areas – combined with alarming results from its latest business tracker survey –

makes a compelling case for additional targeted support from the Government to see the county’s tourism businesses through the winter months.

Cumbria’s official Destination Management Organisation is urgently now calling for additional support. It wants to see high-level talks to agree an appropriate package of support for Cumbria to include, as a minimum: extending the furlough scheme from November, along with extended rate relief for 2021/22 and continuation of the VAT reduction for hospitality businesses beyond next March.

With South Yorkshire and Greater Manchester now set to join Lancashire and the Liverpool City Region in tier 3, tourism and hospitality businesses across Cumbria are seeing tens of thousands of pounds worth of lost bookings ahead of the vital October half-term holidays. There are also fears that tighter local restrictions are potentially on the cards for other core domestic tourism markets, including West Yorkshire and the North East.

Cumbria Tourism says the knock-on effect of people from tier 3 areas being asked not to travel is having a potentially devastating effect on COVID-safe tourism operators, who have collectively already seen more than £1.7billion losses this year.  That’s alongside additional travel restrictions for tier 2 residents and the existing Rule of Six and 10pm curfews for pubs and restaurants.

It comes as the results of Cumbria Tourism’s latest business tracker survey reveal that Cumbria’s tourism industry is on a knife-edge:

  • Even before the introduction of the three-tier alert system, Cumbria tourism businesses had lost – on average – almost half of their usual income (46%).
  • 70% of businesses now say they plan to reduce staff hours, up from a quarter just six weeks earlier.
  • Almost a third of businesses now plan redundancies, up from 23% of businesses at the start of September, and 13% in mid-July.
  • Almost half (46%) of tourism businesses are NOT confident about surviving the next six months, until the end of March 2021.
  • 70% of tourism businesses say they still need financial assistance in the form of grants.

“We now have the worst of both worlds,” says Gill Haigh, Managing Director of Cumbria Tourism. “Although we welcomed the Chancellor’s winter support package just four weeks ago, the situation has deteriorated rapidly and urgent action is needed to support viable successful businesses who are now seeing a steady stream of cancellations – with forward bookings falling away rapidly.

“Cumbria tourism industry is heavily reliant on visitors from the North West, North East and Yorkshire, so to lose potential visitors from these areas has a massive financial impact. Even in other parts of the country, where travel restrictions are less strict, consumer confidence is plummeting and there is massive uncertainty about whether people should book their well-deserved trips away.

“Some of the feedback we are receiving from businesses is simply heart-breaking. These are hardworking, resilient people who have made monumental efforts to adapt, re-open and trade in COVID-safe way. But businesses and livelihoods are at real risk this winter, and there is a clear need for additional wage support and cash grants to protect Cumbrian jobs, communities and the wider supply chain to help the sector bounce back next year.

“Cumbria Tourism is now urgently seeking a joint meeting with Cumbria’s six MPs to call for action. As well as liaising directly with government officials, VisitEngland and the Department for Digital, Culture, Media and Sport, we are also joining forces with other Northern destinations to make a collective plea for support.”

Speaking during a debate in Parliament, Tim Farron MP said: “The hospitality and tourism industry in Cumbria – comfortably our biggest employer – was very much looking forward to the half-term next week as a chance to put back some of the enormous damage that they have received as a result of this virus and to pick up their business.

“Of course, they’re seeing cancellation, after cancellation, after cancellation because their neighbouring economies in Lancashire, Greater Manchester, Merseyside and now of course other parts of the North of England as well being put into Tier 3 and therefore people not being able to travel.

“Rather than quibbling over £5m, people in Cumbria are getting nothing, no compensation for their business collapsing at the moment.

“Will the minister commit to making sure there is support for the hospitality and tourism industry in Tier 1 places like Cumbria when our market has dried up because our neighbours are in Tier 3?”

In response, the health minister Edward Agar said: “He makes his point typically well and I recognise the impact on the hospitality industry and other businesses, not just in the directly affected area but more broadly.

“As I say, he makes his point well and I’m sure the Chancellor will have heard what he says.”

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