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Tourism fights to reverse decline as industry hits 'tipping point'

By Western Morning News  |  Posted: February 11, 2013

Negative growth is partly due to the fact that places like    Newquay,  Torquay, above, and Falmouth have lost bed stock, says Malcolm Bell of Visit Cornwall

Negative growth is partly due to the fact that places like Newquay, Torquay, above, and Falmouth have lost bed stock, says Malcolm Bell of Visit Cornwall

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The Westcountry's vital tourism industry is at "tipping point", it has been warned, after new figures showed the sector had declined by 3.5% in the last decade.

More than 90,000 people are directly employed in tourism businesses in Devon and Cornwall in an industry worth an estimated £4 billion-a-year.

But statistics for the Atlantic regions of Europe showed Cornwall propping up the table having lost 5% of trade in 2002-11, while Devon lost 2%.

That worrying downward trend continued in 2012 with visitors numbers down an estimated 6.5% in Cornwall and 10% in Devon.

On Friday night Cornwall's Eden Project hosted the South West Tourism for Excellence Awards, when the star performers of the regional tourism industry were rewarded for their efforts.

Despite the upbeat awards evening – at which Devon and Cornwall attractions, restaurants and accommodation providers stole the limelight, there are concerns about the season ahead.

"We are at a tipping point at the moment," Laura Holt, chairman of the Devon Tourism Partnership, said.

"It's at rock bottom with regard to the weather, the recession and other factors affecting the UK holiday market.

"The weather is one thing we can't do anything about but we can add value around our offering to make Devon an attractive proposition."

Malcolm Bell, head of Visit Cornwall, added: "We are in danger of becoming like Marks & Spencer was a few years ago in that we have very loyal customers but we are not gaining market share very much."

While Cornwall and Devon remain the leading destinations for holidaymakers in the UK, the regional industry has been hit by a number of long-term factors including the emergence of the "city break" and cheap, short haul flights abroad.

Last year, the industry suffered what has been described as "Holy Trinity" of the London Olympics, continuing economic gloom and one of the wettest year's on record.

The figures from the Atlantic Forum, a European body looking to produce an action plan to boost west coast regions, showed Cornwall at the bottom of the table for growth, while other competitors such as West Wales had enjoyed double-digit growth.

Mr Bell said: "It shows that our growth, and that of Devon, has been negative and that is partly due to the fact that places like Torquay, Newquay and to a lesser extent Falmouth have lost bed stock over that period.

"In essence we have been flatlining, or slightly declining, since 2002 when Cornwall was having 5.2 million visitors a year. In 2011 it was 4.5 million and last year it was 4.2 million."

Fewer visitors, he said, and a squeeze on people's incomes had resulted in a poor year, particularly for attractions.

But Mr Bell said "top end restaurants", one of the success stories of recent years, had been "struggling" to hold their numbers.

With feedback that visitors were looking to cut spending on food and drink and with local incomes also under pressure because of the prolonged economic downturn, Mr Bell said the sector faced a "double whammy".

Other long-term worries include the fact that just 9% of the visitors to Cornwall in 2012 had never been to the county, compared to 22% a decade ago.

"People have set 2012 as a benchmark for what business can be like," Mr Bell added. "They are putting strategies in place to cope with additional visitors but no-one is suggesting it is suddenly going to bounce back because we are in very uncertain economic times.

Mrs Holt said last year's fall in visitor numbers had affected destinations across the UK. Visit Scotland has reported a 12% fall in its figures despite its £21 million marketing fund last year.

"The real growth market is in the top end," she said. "Four-star self catering and high end properties are doing really well but it is the smaller B&Bs who are reliant on repeat visitors who are struggling.

"Those businesses which are adapting to change in the way their customers are interacting with them are thriving."

Mrs Holt stressed businesses had to embrace the web and social media such as Facebook and Twitter to meet customers expectations.

"It is not just about creating a website and waiting for the bookings to come in. We are in an age of dialogue with consumers where people need a reason to make their purchase."

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18 comments

  • Whitty79  |  February 12 2013, 10:40PM

    Last year it cost us £1300 for a tiny 1-bed flat for two weeks at the beginning of June. Add in £70 parking, plus fuel costs before you start counting food, drink & entertainment. Is it any wonder people think twice?

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  • Bleach  |  February 12 2013, 8:29AM

    - "but what doesn't help is the cost of parking" Excuse. Every town and city in the country charges for parking, Torbay's parking fees are not excessive. Again, even if you make it free the accommodation is of low quality, it's not attractive. "the 'foodie' places that are not for anyone on a budget" You shouldn't be attracting the budget market, they have nothing to spend and they don't bring money into the region. They're no use to you. Target the wealthier market with a disposable income, the one that will pay decent prices for decent accommodation.

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  • EdnaFruitcake  |  February 11 2013, 10:14PM

    There is a percentage of dog owners who are very irresponsible, we can't control them so we ban all dogs. There is a percentage of the population who take drugs and deal openly in public, we can't control them so we remove all the benches from in front of the town hall. There is a percentage of the population who have been convicted of sex offences and are housed in the newton road area, we can't control them so we close a public footpath. Welcome to liberal society.

    Rate   -3
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  • StIvesregular  |  February 11 2013, 8:42PM

    i've been coming to St Ives for the last 15 years, first as a couple and then with a growing family and now our dog. We love it, mainly for the amazingly relaxing atmosphere and the ability just to be together. But now St Ives is trying to tell us we are not welcome....the reason...we have a dog and we expect to be able to walk her on the beach in an evening, but some people...mainly business owners...don't want us there. They want to keep the place free of dogs. So it seems after all these years and all our memories we will be forced to look elsewhere. It seems incredibly arrogant to imagine they can turn away dog owners in one fell swoop and expect to still make the same kind of money from tourists. I hope for the sake of the smaller more independent and dog-friendly businesses, they see sense and reverse this decision before families like mine find somewhere else only too willing to take them and their tourism pounds.

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  • spindleshanks  |  February 11 2013, 6:44PM

    By all accounts the Premier Inn on the corner of Belgrave Road and just a stone's throw from The Grosvenor has one of the highest occupancy rates in the country. Perhaps the customers there might be voting with their feet?

    Rate   4
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  • yveyk  |  February 11 2013, 6:27PM

    I spent 2 year on the tourist board as representative of the Federation of SMall businesses, this was a while back now. As a representative of small businesses I thought my remit was to increase tourism but encouraging local business to stay open in winter time and for leisure companies to offer year round activities. This was to be an ongoing project. There are still activities taking place outside the normal holiday seasons, but what doesn't help is the cost of parking, the 'foodie' places that are not for anyone on a budget. If you want a weekend away, you don't want to have to book your meal at a celebrity chef's place 6 months in advance, you want to turn up and eat. You want places to be reasonably priced so you will come back for several weekends away in Cornwall. I have a touring caravan I store in N Cornwall, use it at least 1 weekend per month and for several weeks holiday between March and October. We have value for money, frequent local businesses and try to keep some money in the Cornish economy. We also live in Cornwall and I work in Devon. This is the £s you want not the occasional ones. We are not lunchbox tourists.

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  • EdnaFruitcake  |  February 11 2013, 6:23PM

    How can you be so negative bleach. We have a lovely new hotel right in the centre of our town, handy for shopping and all the facilities that castle circus has to offer, reasonable rates too I hear. The Leonard Stocks hotel proves that Torquay has identified a niche market.

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  • Bleach  |  February 11 2013, 6:06PM

    There you go again, making it someone else's fault. OK, make petrol free. Great. Where do people stay when they get down here? The Sefton. Classy. The Livermead? No ... wait, wait ... The Grosvenor. They won't come because there's nowhere worth staying. Go on, name me one hotel that isn't stuck in the dark ages.

    Rate   5
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  • spindleshanks  |  February 11 2013, 4:11PM

    Think as fuel prices rise and household disposable incomes are being squeezed, Devon will become the new Cornwall, Somerset the new Devon and South Wales the new South West. Put simply, folks won't drive so far to go on holiday. That said, a reduction in bed and visitor numbers doesn't necessarily mean tourism in the South West is in decline financially. It might just be changing in nature - i.e. fewer but higher spenders staying in quality self catering properties as opposed to small hotels and guest houses. I think it is quite amusing to see Torbay Council busting a gut (and wishing to spend £800,000 in the process), to accommodate 173 floating caravans in the inner harbour, whilst completely overlooking the growing number of motorhomes and caravans driving around occupied by relatively well-off early retirees and families wanting to spend their money. Some decent all year campsites in Torbay wouldn't go amiss as these vehicles (unlike boats) are being used all year round now. In fact many pensioners are living in them during the winter months as they are cheaper to heat than a bungalow or house, have better facilities onboard and a social scene too. A caravan club site we just visited in South Buckinghamshire was full. In short, we need to attract those tourists dependent on wheels not sunny weather and look at why the few campsites we do have catering for motorhomes and caravans in Torbay appear to close during the winter months?

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  • Bleach  |  February 11 2013, 3:58PM

    "EdnaFruitcake is right. What is killing local tourism is the virtually tax free aviation fuel,making foreign holidays and city breaks far too attractive and affordable" At least 90% of the problem is that when things start to go wrong nobody will look inwards for the cause of the problem, they always seek to blame everything but themselves. The problem that Torquay has right now is a lack of quality tourist accomodation. Take a look around at the hotels; the Livermead, prime location, fabulous location. Any hotel manager worth his salt would die for a location like that but look at it. It's tatty, its food is bloody awful and it's locked in the 70s. It has absolutely no idea how a modern hotel should be run. Look at any hotel in Torbay, with the exception of maybe one or two, they're all the same. Again, Babbacombe downs, extraordinary location and the hotels along there are dreadful, catering for the low budget pensioner and coach trade. They should be getting 200,300, 400 a night for those views. They have absolutely no idea at all. And have you looked at the state of the hotels and boarding houses around the tourist centre in Torquay? When was the last time they even had a coat of paint. They're a damned disgrace. And sort the damn shopping out. Who the hell would want to shop in Torquay, there's no shops worth a damn. And what happens, we advertise Torquay with The Hotel. What kind of brain dead moron does that? It is absolutely not cheaper to go abroad for a holiday than it is to holiday in the UK. Not even close.

    Rate   2
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