As a flagship UK coastal resort, a key focus for the council has been supporting the safe reopening of the tourism economy this summer, while continuing our critical work with partners to grow and evolve this crucial sector of our economy in the longer-term.
Coronavirus has brought specific challenges for tourism. Coastal resorts, with their seasonal tourism economies and higher than average levels of community deprivation, are particularly vulnerable to the economic shock of COVID-19, the risk of spikes, second waves and local lockdowns.
Thankfully our local background rate has remained low. The season started much later and businesses had the additional expense of putting in place COVID-safe measures, with reduced customer and staff capacity in many cases.
We have handed out more than £30m in Government grants to local businesses in addition to launching a dedicated local grant scheme to help small food service and hospitality businesses in our local tourism sector with their costs of adapting to COVID-safe operations.
To support the sector as it re-opened, the council also ran our bespoke ‘Space To’ destination marketing campaign, to promote the borough and encourage responsible visitor behaviours. We’ve also created the conditions in our public spaces to aid safe social distancing and enable us to support applications from food businesses for pavement table licences.
Looking ahead, it’s how we recover that’s going to count in the longer-term. The tourism sector forms an important part of our recovery plan for the borough, and the council is playing a lead role with partners in driving that forwards. We are clear there are opportunities for resorts and businesses that are willing and able to adapt and innovate, both in the short and longer-terms.
While our usual September festivals programme is not possible this year, we’re currently working with the local Tourism BID and other partners to develop a series of exciting yet COVID-safe activities and experiences to help extend the season, attract visitors into the winter period and support businesses to stay open later.
Our biggest challenge now is encouraging businesses to remain positive and continue to work on a programme of extending the season when there are so many unknowns that lie ahead.
Sheila Oxtoby is chief executive officer of Great Yarmouth BC