Covid: Hope for tourism in Wales after 'devastating' pandemic

By John Arkless
BBC News

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image copyrightGetty Images
image captionTourists returned to Llandudno in the summer, despite the pandemic

There is hope for the tourism industry in Wales for the coming year, despite the "devastating" impact of the Covid-19 pandemic, business owners have said.

Welsh Government data showed occupancy levels in all sectors of the tourism industry fell dramatically in 2020.

However, in August and September, when restrictions were loosest, occupancy rates in most sectors were similar or better than in the previous two years.

The Welsh Government said it had set aside £180m to support tourism.

According to the data, about 66% of hotel rooms were occupied in 2018 and 2019, but this number fell to an average of 39% between March and September of 2020 as a result of lockdown restrictions.

Businesses without shared facilities were allowed to reopen again on 11 July, leading to a resurgence in figures over the summer months.

In August and September, the occupancy rates in hotels were 71% and 67% respectively, short of the previous two years' averages of 78% and 75%, but much closer to a typical season.

And self-catered accommodation and bed and breakfasts recorded higher occupancy rates over those two months in 2020 than in the previous two years.

Summer trading 'buoyant'

Lynette Esposito, who owns the Elm Tree Hotel in Llandudno, Conwy, said 2020 had been "absolutely awful" and the impact of the pandemic had been "shocking" and "devastating" for her business.

She added that, not only did the hotel miss out on business due to closures, but it also incurred extra running costs in order to abide by the regulations.

She said: "I think that with the restrictions and guidelines that we need to follow, it definitely did have an impact on establishments where your service would automatically bring people together in one room. It did increase costs.

"We couldn't do our usual open buffet. Being a hotel you definitely had to take more precautions in making sure everyone was safe, bearing in mind there are a lot more common areas - we have a lift, a bar area and a lounge."

image copyrightTripAdvisor
image captionThe Elm Tree Hotel was not able to open at full capacity, but Lynette Esposito said business was better than previous years in August and September

But despite closing four of the 14 rooms in the Elm Tree Hotel to help with social distancing, Ms Esposito said business after reopening was better than normal.

She said: "We traded two full months which were very buoyant and very strong... [August and September] were actually better than the year before."

She said this increase in demand during late summer last year boded well for the coming year, providing restrictions allowed holidays within the UK over the summer.

"I think when we're allowed to open we will see significant increase in demand.

"I think we will have a really good season. People are hungry for some action again and I think consumers will benefit from that."

'I think we will have a good future'

The Welsh Government surveyed businesses from six different sectors of the tourism industry.

Of those, self-catered accommodation and guesthouses both recorded higher occupancy rates in August and September than in both 2018 and 2019.

The occupancy rates in static caravan homes had only reached just over half of the level of previous years in August, but with 92% occupancy in September, this sector also recorded occupancy rates higher than the same month in 2018 and 2019.

image captionJeff Revill, whose campsite straddles England and Wales, hopes the weather will allow good business for his campsite

Touring caravan and camping parks recorded slightly lower figures, while hostels saw significant decreases in occupancy rates.

Camping is another sector which has been badly hit by the pandemic, particularly for sites which use shared facilities, such as Broadstone Park Camping and Fishery, which straddles the border between Monmouthshire and Gloucestershire.

The site hosts campers in tents, caravans and also has glamping pods, but the majority of visitors use a shared toilet and shower block on the English side of the site, which caused a headache for owner Jeff Revill when the two countries had different lockdown rules.

He said he is "optimistic" for the 2021 season despite a difficult year in 2020.

"It had a detrimental impact on us," he said.

"When we were open it was good, we were quite busy even when there were still some restrictions in place. I suppose for us it was our own imposed restrictions which stopped us doing even more business.

"We didn't fill the campsite to its full capacity. It was a good August but we could've done more."

image copyrightGoogle
image captionBroadstone Park hosts caravans, campers and glampers, but most have to use shared facilities while staying on site

UK holiday firms have said staycations are expected to boom in 2021 after lockdown ends.

Mr Revill added: "I've got faith and confidence that when we can open business will be good, but I suppose weather has an important role on our business as a whole.

"Things being normal, weather-wise, I would think we'll have quite a good future with people staying in this country and I think it will bring out some people who might not have done this sort of thing before."

A Welsh Government spokesman said: "We are committed to doing all we can to protect businesses during this very challenging time. Our package of support is the most generous in the UK and more than £1.7bn of Welsh Government financial assistance has reached businesses across all sectors since March.

"Money is already reaching tourism, hospitality and leisure businesses from the £180m sector specific fund which opened on Wednesday 13 January."

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