Carolyn Custerson ERBID chief executive

My focus is on the English Riviera’s recovery from COVID-19 and looking forwards. The roll-out of the vaccine programme gives us every reason to feel more positive and I believe we will start to see signs of long-term recovery from 2021. 

The impact of COVID-19 on our tourism industry has been mammoth. In just nine months we have lost £200 million in visitor spend as a result of mass cancellations and holiday postponements that literally sent shock waves across the resort. It has been an unbelievably tough year, tougher than any of us have ever seen in our lifetimes. 

Every Tourism and Hospitality business has been seriously impacted through loss of turnover, with these losses also seriously impacting the businesses that form part of a big supply chain including many of our local food and drink producers. The tourism industry is worth £550 million to Torbay and provides 12,000 jobs. 

Focusing on a successful re-opening after the first lockdown on July 4 was our first key milestone.  

Overnight businesses had to adapt quickly. Reduced capacity meant normal turnover could not be achieved, in fact most businesses were trading at around 25 per cent to 50 per cent. Staffing levels had to be cut and significant job losses have resulted even with the Furlough scheme.  

Serious levels of investment were made by business owners to become COVID ‘safe’ with 350 local businesses being awarded the ‘Good to Go’ National Accreditation but despite this and the Responsible Riviera campaign, some key businesses still could not open, including our theatres and nightclubs. 

Overall, we had a busy, but very short summer season. Money was taken, but not enough to support our businesses through the winter. With all the ‘stop/starts’ reference to it being like ‘Three Winters’ has been reported. 

Government support has been critical and a huge effort was made locally to ensure that entitled support was paid as quickly as possible. But sadly, we are still expecting some business casualties. 

Many businesses have had to borrow significant sums of money to survive. The ERBID Company lobbied Government hard with regional partners to maximise support. 

Maximising online and digital communications played a massive part in the resort’s re-opening and was led by the ERBID Company. More businesses are now selling tickets and services online and interestingly 69 per cent of visitors to the South West this summer were first time visitors. This presents us all with an exciting opportunity with an expected boom in Staycations (holidaying at home) forecast. 

Despite all the continued worry concerning COVID-19, Summer 2021 looks promising with forward bookings for many businesses already ahead of last year. Being a coastal location, we are in a strong position to fight back and we all know that when the government restrictions are lifted, there is significant summer demand from the UK domestic market to visit the English Riviera. Full recovery for our conference, group and international student markets may however take a little longer. 

 I do believe that ‘Now is the Time’ for us to focus on our long-term recovery. Despite the current additional winter pressures and the ongoing Tier restrictions, the roll out of the vaccine programme and everyone continuing to work together as the English Riviera Business Improvement District are all reasons to stay positive. Now is a great time to think about what we can do differently. 

We are a truly great coastal destination and have a globally recognised brand that will survive COVID-19. The ERBID Company will be continuing to invest in national advertising in 2021 and a new marketing campaign is planned early in the year in Bristol and Birmingham. 

Thee ERBID Company will also be launching their plans for 2022 to 2027 at the end of January with the circulation of the new ERBID2 Draft Business Plan. An ERBID renewal ballot is to be held in June to decide whether tourism businesses want to secure a further £4 million for promoting the resort as part of our long-term recovery. 

Original story by Jim Parker on Torbay Weekly