Sir David Amess was on the call list to speak in the general debate on support for the tourism industry after the Covid-19 lockdown on Thursday 10 September. However, unfortunately, there was not enough time for the House to hear his speech. Below is the speech Sir David intended to give as he calls for more long-lasting financial support for businesses, employees, the self-employed, limited company directors and all those involved in the tourism industry.
"Companies across the country have had to change the way they conduct their business, and have had to make sacrifices because of the pandemic we currently find ourselves in. Whilst I appreciate the vast majority of industries have been negatively impacted by Coronavirus, I think we can all agree that the tourism industry has been hit particularly hard. Visits to the UK from overseas tourists in the first quarter of this year decreased by 16% compared to the same period in 2019. However, the financial hardships for those involved in the tourism industry aren’t nearly over. Compared to 2019, VisitBritain predicts for 2020 there will be a 79% fall in spending from overseas tourists and a 49% fall from domestic tourists. Therefore, those employees and businesses in the tourism industry need our support now, and in the future, to once again be able to positively contribute to the UK economy.
I am grateful for the Government’s support packages that have specifically targeted the tourism industry, such as VAT for hospitality, accommodation and attractions being temporarily reduced from 20% to 5%, the Kick-starting Tourism Package and the Eat Out to Help Out scheme. I am pleased to say that the restaurants, cafes and other businesses taking part in the Chancellor’s scheme in Southend saw an increase in table bookings and business. During August, 86,000 meals were discounted at 79 restaurants in Southend West which helped support local communities and protect jobs. The Boatyard and The Hatch are just two of these restaurants and cafes that participated in the scheme, along with many others in Old Leigh. However, restaurants and the hospitality industry are just one part of the tourism industry, there are many more businesses that are currently suffering and will continue to do so if there is not enough Governmental intervention.
A major aspect of the tourism industry is that it is seasonal. Southend is a coastal area that sees the local economy thriving in the summer. Despite the recent warm weather, we are unfortunately heading out of summer and towards winter when coastal areas like Southend will suffer. Many of the deck chair rental companies, beachfront cafes, restaurants and pubs, ice-cream vendors and independent seafront shops will have missed out on the usual peak for 2020 – Easter, May half-term, the two Bank Holidays and the summer months.
The tourism industry has been hit worse by the Coronavirus pandemic as over 80% of tourism businesses temporarily closed or ceased trading compared to just 24% of all businesses in the UK. Similarly, 80% of employees in the tourism industry have been furloughed compared to 32% of the total UK workforce. In order to support the industry and encourage it to flourish to pre-Covid-19 levels, we need to reduce costs and incentivise growth.
Three ways to reduce business costs to ease financial pressure and encourage companies not to make staff redundant are: extending Business Rates Relief for all tourism businesses, introducing a tourism specific support scheme for employees and the self-employed and extending the VAT reduction on hospitality and tourism.
Further to reducing business costs, it is also crucial that the Government encourages investment in the industry so it can survive the winter and the future seasons. This should be done through the continuation, or the introduction, of campaigns such as the Eat Out to Help Out scheme, the Enjoy Summer Safely campaign and VisitEngland’s Escape the Everyday campaign. Encouraging people to safely travel domestically would fuel the tourism industry and boost local economies. Ultimately, demand for goods and services in the tourism industry has dropped considerably and it needs to be encouraged again in a safe way before much of the tourism industry collapses.
However, tourism isn’t just a domestic issue. In 2019, the UK had over 40 million visits spending around £28bn. The majority of these visitors come to the UK via airplane and the UK aviation industry is facing a potential loss of over £20 billion in 2020. On 17 August we received the news that easyJet had completed its consultation and confirmed that London Southend would be one of the three bases closed by easyJet in response to the pandemic. I and my Hon Friend, the Member for Rochford and Southend East, held a virtual meeting with the CEO of easyJet where it was explained to us the decision to close these bases was entirely due to a lack of demand. In fact, we were told that it would likely not be until 2023, or even 2024, that easyJet’s market demand would return to 2019 levels. As a result of the lack of international travel and tourism, the UK’s tourism industry will continue to suffer until confidence in the safety of the industry is restored.
Limited company directors who operate within the travel industry, as well as businesses and the self-employed, also need financial support. A constituent of mine is a travel advisor and limited company director at Travel Destiny, and has been ineligible for support from the Self-Employed Income Support Scheme, Business Grants or Discretionary Grants. What financial support is available to limited company directors like my constituent? Will independent travel advisors be left to fend for themselves in the future? This will be an ongoing issue for years as Oxford Economics has forecasted that inbound tourist volumes will not recover to their pre-Covid-19 level until at least 2023/24.
Southend, amongst other things, is famous for its coast and fish. Local fisherman in Leigh have adapted to the decreasing demand for their produce, as a result of the lack of tourists, by promoting local fish for local people. They have successfully landed at their local ports and are selling to local communities directly through social media and advertising in local media.
However, not all of the local businesses in my constituency have been able to adequately adapt to the travel restrictions and fewer tourists. Art and culture are an important part of Southend and unfortunately events like Leigh Art Trail and Leigh Folk Festival, the UK’s largest free folk festival, had to be cancelled this year. It is events like these that usually attract tourists in the summer months to Southend who stay in local hotels, who eat in local restaurants and who shop in local, independent shops.
I have not had enough time to mention in detail the many tourist attractions Southend has to offer, such as The Palace Theatre, Southend United FC, sailing clubs, Two-Tree Island, golf courses, bowls clubs, parks and museums. However, the aforementioned are just a few reasons why Southend should become a city. We attract tourists domestically and internationally, and we deserve to be recognised for our economic and cultural brilliance – in the form of city status.
The Tourism industry is crucial to our economy and culture – it is worth £127bn a year which equals about 9% of GDP. Not only is it an important domestic issue, but our tourism industry is recognisable on the global stage as it is the sixth largest in the world, employing 3.3 million people. The Government needs to fully recognise the importance of the tourism industry and understand that lack of financial support isn’t just an issue in the present, it is an issue for the future. Our tourism industry flourishes most greatly in the summer and we need to introduce financial support now to protect local businesses and jobs before companies inevitably lay their workforce off and battle with redundancies".