Tourism study confirms Covid-19 ‘tectonic shift’ across the North

After almost a year of severe disruption for the tourism, hospitality and leisure sector, a contingent of tourism boards across the North East and wider north of England have come together to discuss the findings of the NatWest North of England Tourism Barometer study.

  • Half of hospitality and leisure businesses across north of England were trading at a loss of over 60% for 10 weeks out of 16-week survey
  • Businesses expect revenue to recover in January 2022, compared to previous outlook of July 2021 at start of study, as a third of businesses report forward bookings for first quarter of 2021 are significantly down
  • A fifth of businesses surveyed unsure that they will be trading next summer
  • Roundtable event saw North East tourism board leaders and NatWest representatives discuss the ‘tectonic shift’ confirmed by the study and need for collaboration to ensure sector recovers

Over the last sixteen weeks the NatWest North of England Tourism Business Barometer has taken the temperature of the North’s tourism business environment including changes in employment, trends in revenue and overall business confidence. The study commenced in mid-July when the UK was emerging out of lockdown and covered a period up to and including the introduction of the government’s three tier alert level in late October.

Led by Marketing Manchester, nine tourism boards – otherwise known as Destination Management Organisations (DMOs), including NewcastleGateshead Initiative, Visit County Durham, Cumbria Tourism, Make It York, Marketing Cheshire, Marketing Lancashire, Marketing Liverpool and Visit Leeds – were involved and recruited businesses from within their tourism economies that consistently participated in a regular survey.

At a roundtable event held on Friday 20 November, leaders from across the north came together with businesses that participated in the survey and senior economists from NatWest. Together they analysed the journey that the north of England’s tourism, hospitality and leisure sector undertook throughout the study period, how it can learn from the study, and move forward through the challenging winter and into recovery next year.

Richard Topliss, Chairman of the NatWest Regional Board, North, said: “Tourism and the wider hospitality and leisure sector has faced and continues to endure unprecedented challenges as a result of the COVID pandemic. The tourism barometer has charted the ups and downs of businesses in the sector over the last four months and the final survey points to low confidence for the immediate future, and hence, the need for central and local government support, alongside business leaders and providers of finance, to work together to help the sector rebuild for the future when it becomes clear that widespread vaccination will permit a new normal to emerge for tourism.”

Ross Grieve, managing director of Seaham Hall, one of the businesses which took part in the barometer, said: “We contributed to the survey as we saw it as being essential that the situation for the north as a whole was illustrated and communicated to those who can be instrumental in aiding recovery. By speaking as one voice we can achieve greater impact.”

One of several key findings across the north of England that the study revealed is that businesses have, and continue, to carry significant losses to revenue, with 31% of businesses reporting a revenue loss of over 60% even at the peak of resumed business activity in late August. This was when the visitor economy had largely reopened after the first lockdown and initiatives such as Eat Out to Help Out were having a positive impact. Overall, around half of businesses were trading at a loss of over 60% for ten out of the sixteen weeks of the study.

Businesses across the north of England have had to make significant reductions to permanent and temporary staff, and from the end of September and throughout October half of businesses reported that they were downsizing their permanent staff over the next month.

Other key findings show that: a third of businesses reported forward bookings for January to March 2021 being significantly down on where they would usually be; that business confidence in revenue recovery has shifted from July 2021 at the beginning of the study to January 2022 at the end of the study; and that overall concerns about business survival shows that 21% of businesses are unsure if they will still be trading next summer.

Ian Thomas, Director of Leisure Tourism and Research at NewcastleGateshead Initiative, added: “The tourism and hospitality sector has been one of the worst impacted by the pandemic with many businesses, including theatres, lives music venues and nightclubs, not able to open their doors since March. These findings confirm the lack of business confidence and the need for collaboration and further support to help the industry through winter.”

Michelle Gorman, managing director at Visit County Durham welcomed the findings: “Although sobering, it is vital that as destination management organisations we fully understand the impact that Covid-19 has had, and may continue to have, on the north’s visitor economy, and work collectively to ensure businesses are supported as they work towards recovery.”