Do tourism businesses add value to their communities?
A blog from always possible CEO, Richard Freeman.
The problem with the visitor economy
It is with huge sadness that the news has come through of Paradox Place in Brighton, and its closure this spring. This impressive ‘house of illusions’ is where the always possible team chose to host our party for clients and collaborators last year – and since it opened, it was a real attempt to offer an unusual and quirky 90 minute family experience for a reasonable price. Something cities like Brighton, where day-trippers are the dominant visitor force, can struggle to maintain outside of beach-fronts or big commercial centres.
I know that Phil Harris and his team at Pier Pressure will continue to thrive with their other escape room products.
But it got me thinking about impact and tourism.
The experience economy in the UK has been battered, like Judy and the crocodile by an abusive Mr Punch, with three huge sticks since the turn of this century. Brexit, Covid 19 and the Ukraine-Trussenomics-inflation merry-go-round has seen staff, travellers and common sense utilities pricing disappear at times. No guerrilla marketing or irresistible discounts are making enough of a difference.
16,000 UK hospitality and tourism businesses have gone bust since the start of the pandemic.
So what an insult then (!), when you get dogged consultants like mine scrutinising how sustainable a festival is, or how well plugged-in to social mobility a hotel is, or how seriously a chain of restaurants are treating their staff.
Well, I won’t apologise for it. And I don’t need to.
This sector, as ever, can teach many others.
This is a resilient industry with big ambitions.
More for less
According to the brilliant tourism consultancy, Blue Sail, there are more UK-to-UK trips planned in 2023 than before the pandemic. We are getting comfortable with exploring our own country a bit more. 63% of us are maintaining or increasing our number of domestic holidays this year.
We also know that more people are coming to visit the UK – especially with £ going quite a long way for most other currencies. Big royal events and a re-boom in festivals, Eurovision, football and other sports is helping.
But with money on our mind, and people opting for a week in Margate rather than the Maldives, is it a race to the bottom when it comes to 21st century added value – sustainability, waste reduction, wellbeing, inclusion, digital transformation…? Are tourists and experience providers jointly caring enough about holidays that improve the world?
Yes. Let’s be optimistic.
But you might not always see it.
Choosing to be brave
My team get to explore, and spend time with, exciting businesses and cultural organisations that mix outstanding experiences for visitors with smart, strategic approaches to shaping the future of their sector. And it happens at every level.
You’re never too small to have a big impact.
Beach Green Hotel in Lancing, West Sussex are one of our favourites. A family-run pub with huge ambitions to become a completely waste-free, carbon positive restaurant and training academy to hospitality apprentices. We’ve been helping them to imagine what this looks like, who they need to work with and how to measure success. Finding the capital is always hard, but it’s a lot easier when you have a clear vision.
We adore Woodfire Camping – a growing outdoors retreat in the South Downs that are clear about their sustainability purpose: “not because we’re experts or evangelical, but because we know that if we don’t there won’t be the same campsite, let alone Earth, in the future”. They’ve baked-in to the design and build of everything they do a net zero culture that is taken for granted by their guests.
Growing brands use their difference to drive opportunity.
Check out my interviews with Tamara Roberts from Ridgeview Wine Estate, Gavin Poole from Here East, restaurateur Theo Clench and the urban placemaker and designer Wayne Hemingway MBE on the strategic decisions being made about the experience economy in less obvious places.
Big institutions are also on a journey.
We’re working with the Royal Opera House on how to be social mobility leaders, creating inclusive and wide-reaching work experience and apprenticeship programmes.
And we’re helping Brighton Dome & Brighton Festival to measure the impact of volunteering, and what part this has to play in positive mental health
Finding a moment to breathe
The simple action is to find a moment to look up and be part of a wider conversation.
Last week, I chaired a meeting of like-minded tourism businesses who want to collaborate on place-based story-telling, regeneration & sustainability methods and joined-up marketing. From steam railways to wetland centres, major producing theatres to castles and vineyards – there are strong common benefits in thinking like you’re part of an eco system.
The community impact is everything.
My team are working with Experience West Sussex Partnership (UK) Sussex to produce the 2023 West Sussex Tourism Symposium – which will be critical conversations and actions for anyone in the sector operating in the south east. Get your ticket.
Pick one impact challenge and get an external perspective
Impact and tourism go hand-in-hand.
The visitor economy is a £billion industry to the UK, and needs to be taken seriously in conversations about planning, digital transformation, skills and green growth.
Your short-term challenges might be about staffing and sales – but leaning in to a long-term vision of what your business will change, how it will grow and what makes it stand out is critical now more than ever.
Book a free, confidential chat with one of our strategy experts