“We are now two years to go until the start of the 2022 Commonwealth Games, which we hope is going to be a time of enormous celebration and indeed renewal for culture and tourism in the region”

began David Roberts, Professor of English and National Teaching Fellow at Birmingham City University as he introduced the West Midlands Growth Company’s (WMGC) first tourism and culture roundtable on 28 July.

Entitled ‘Reopening is not Recovery’, the tourism and culture roundtable is one in a series of events from WMGC. The roundtable brought together some of the West Midlands’ tourism bosses to discuss how their businesses have reacted to the reopening phase, difficulties that face the industry and upcoming milestones, upon which the sector can capitalise to support its recovery.

You can view the whole event here

It is no secret that the pandemic has hit the West Midlands’ £12.6 billion visitor economy hard, with initial reports predicting that by the end of May the region would lose £2.4 billion, according to the West Midlands Regional Observatory.

The £1.57 billion support package

To combat this, the UK Government has put together a £1.57 billion support package to allow thousands of tourism organisations to access emergency grants and loans. The package will help some firms to stay afloat while their doors are closed, restart projects and support employment.
However, the support package remains unviable for some organisations. Explaining why the support package will not help her organisation, Doreen Foster, Director of Warwick Arts Centre, said:

“We are quite invisible to them because we are part of a university.”

Foster continued to explain how some organisations do not meet certain criteria that is needed to take advantage of the Government’s support package.

Rethinking the earned income model

With the Government’s support package not helping her business, Foster explained how she is looking to diversify Warwick Arts Centre’s earned income model, an economic model that is very common throughout the tourism, arts and culture industries. She said:

“We all need to rethink the way in which we work and for Warwick Arts Centre that means we can actually go back to basics, because for a long time we have been that receiving venue – on that treadmill – and not really placing much focus on our communities and neighbourhoods.”

Foster was optimistic when looking ahead to 2021 with Coventry home to the UK City of Culture. She said:

“When we get back into the building, we’ll be preparing for the year ahead. It is a year when everyone’s eyes are going to be on the city. And as one of the largest players (in the city), I’m hoping that some of the 2.5 million extra visitors are going to be coming to the Arts Centre.”

She continued:

“We look forward to welcoming people to an absolutely brilliant new Arts Centre with a new gallery, three new cinemas and an amazing new foyer space.”

The City of Culture opportunity

While many businesses are still adapting to a new way of life, the region continues to plough on with organising the West Midlands’ busy international events calendar. The region will be home to the UK City of Culture in 2021 and the Commonwealth Games in 2022, which will attract new visitors, investment and jobs to the region.

These events are unique to the West Midlands and will boost the region’s culture and tourism industry in the coming years. Martin Sutherland, CEO, Coventry City of Culture Trust and Chair of the WMCA Cultural Leadership Board, said:

“In the short term we are anticipating that in a year – May to May –there will be an £80 million direct economic impact largely linked to tourism.”

Sutherland continued to explain how this economic impact will be achieved:

“We need to support initiatives that get our retail and hospitality sector ready to take advantage of the commercial opportunities for City of Culture.”

He added:

“We’re working with the Combined Authority, the City Council, and other organisations to develop more grants programmes, training programmes, upscaling, upskilling and, of course, our City Host Welcome programme is intended to give visitors the best possible experience – so that their relationship with Coventry extends past 2021.”

Reopening is not recovery

While some businesses have already reopened others still remain closed. The coronavirus has caused knock-on effects to consumer confidence resulting in less custom for businesses. Due to this, some organisations could incur more financial losses by reopening than they would remaining closed.

Nick Blofeld, Divisional Director at Merlin Entertainment Group, Warwick Castle and Vice-Chair of the West Midlands Regional Board for Tourism gave some insight on how Warwick Castle tackled this issue. He said:

“We started off just doing it (opening) at weekends – looking at everything really carefully – and I suppose the key word is ‘be incremental’ – it’s tiny little steps at a time.”

“We normally have three big restaurants open – none of them are open – we’re doing takeaway only. We would normally have potentially eight food and beverage offerings – we have two at the moment.”

He added:

“We’re just doing things really simply and gradually building it (reopening) up – seeing what the demand is like, seeing what the queues are like – and then gradually bringing people back.”

The power of staycations

Although low consumer confidence has affected some businesses in the short term, eventually confidence levels will increase with 41% of people keen to book a staycation, according to a survey run by Caterer.com.

The demand for staycations will bring in much-needed cash for tourism businesses around the West Midlands as consumers look for places to eat, drink and visit.

Janet Uttley, Head of Business Transformation Project at VisitEngland, said:

“Confidence in the ability to go on an overnight domestic trip is improving. Currently just over a third of adults would be ‘very’ or ‘fairly confident’ that an overnight domestic trip booked to take place in August would go ahead.”

Taken from the most recent COVID-19 Consumer Sentiment Tracker, a weekly tracking survey that records the attitudes from a sample of 1,500 adults (aged 16+), Uttley highlighted several processes that can be put in place to reassure potential guests. She concluded that “enhanced cleaning regimes”, “social distancing measures” and the “offering of free cancellations” were the most important factors for consumers.

To help with consumer confidence, VisitEngland has created an industry accreditation kitemark called ‘We’re Good to Go’, which shows that businesses are adhering to Government and public health guidance. To apply for the kitemark click here.

Marketing in a pandemic

Marketing for all businesses is key to getting people through the door. However, during a pandemic, traditional marketing needs to adapt to be as effective as possible. Sally Ievers, Postgraduate Programme Manager, University College Birmingham started her presentation with a famous quote:

“In times of crisis people reach for meaning”

She added:

“People still need to identify a purpose in life to feel positive about – this is where marketing strategies can have strong links.”

Ievers gave several tips on how to market a business during the pandemic. One tip was to “know your audience”. She said:

“It has become clear that younger tourists have a much lower level of anxiety about the dangers of COVID than older tourists. So, should you be looking at your least sensitive (target) markets?”

A note of optimism

David Roberts concluded the session by asking each panellist “what is your number one reason to be hopeful?” 

Martin Sutherland:

“Coventry is the UK City of Culture in 2021 and 2022.”

Doreen Foster:

“I’ve seen greater collaboration and I think that’s an amazing thing, I hope it continues, and I think it will continue!”

Nick Blofeld:

“We’re open, recovering and beating the recovery curve.”

Jane Uttley:

“68% of Brits have not used their annual leave, so there’s all that annual leave to be used in the domestic space.”

Sally Ievers:

“Greater collaboration between all our stakeholders. We can do it, we’re good
at creativity, innovation and thinking outside the box – we’ll get there!”

Get involved

Are you interested to know more about the region’s recovery, or keen to attend future WMGC events? To stay updated on the latest events, please check our web and social media channels or contact jessica.murphy@wmgrowth.com.  

You can dowload the speaker slides here:

Play your part in writing the region's story...

Find out more