Blackpool’s tourism businesses have made a desperate plea to the Prime Minister to step in and save the resort from irreparable damage.
In an open letter to Boris Johnson, representatives of more than 1,000 businesses revealed that less than a week after being pushed into Tier 3 restrictions, Blackpool has experienced “a perfect storm” resulting in mass cancellations of hotel and attraction bookings in the two most critical weeks of the entire tourism season.
They warn that unless there is an urgent intervention by Government, dozens of businesses are at risk of closure with the subsequent loss of hundreds of jobs.
Last night, the illuminated heart on the iconic Blackpool Tower sent out an SOS message to highlight the plight of the hard-hit tourism industry.
The letter, which was delivered to Downing Street yesterday (Thursday), states that the timing of the Tier 3 announcement could not have been worse, falling on the eve of the October half-term holidays, a period that can account for up to 20% of total annual income for some businesses.
It goes on to say that the announcement, which gave just eight hours’ notice of restrictions coming into effect, created chaos and mass confusion amongst people who were unsure as to where they could travel, and what they could and could not do, leading to a collapse in consumer confidence.
Within hours, most were looking at cancellations on an “unimaginable” scale.
As a direct consequence, hotels and guest houses that should have been full during this October half-term period lie virtually empty.
The large attractions that employ substantial numbers of local people are operating with dramatically-reduced numbers of visitors and with expenditure far outweighing income, and the supply chains that rely on a thriving tourist economy have seen their income all but disappear.
The letter states that the consequences for a place where the tourism economy is the economic lifeblood, worth £1.6bn and supporting in excess of 25,000 jobs, are potentially devastating.
Without further and immediate intervention, they warn that there is a real prospect that large numbers of businesses, many of them independently-owned hotels and guest houses, will not survive beyond the year-end.
The businesses say that the Tier 3 financial settlement for Lancashire (including Blackpool) is nowhere near sufficient to support those that have been forced to close, in addition to those who are expected to continue to trade against a backdrop of cancellations and nil consumer confidence.
They argue that a comprehensive package of aid for businesses large and small in Blackpool is urgently needed.
Kate Shane, Head of Cluster for Merlin Entertainments said: “As a tourism industry we find ourselves in uncharted waters. Losing the Easter and May bank holidays was a terrible start to the tourism season, but to lose the most important two weeks of the year in October half-term is catastrophic.
“Throughout this pandemic we have fully supported the Government efforts. We invested significant amounts in training, PPE and enhanced measures to ensure we were COVID safe for all of our guests and employees before we re-opened in July.
“We feel we have done everything asked of us and more. All we ask in return is that the Government does right by us and puts in place bespoke measures that will help all of Blackpool’s tourism businesses get to the other side of this crisis.
“If they don’t, it jeopardises the years of investment that has been made in resort regeneration as we seek to create a brighter future for the UK’s favourite resort.”
Claire Smith, President of the holiday association, Stay Blackpool, which represents around 200 independent hotels and guest houses, said: “Announcing Tier 3 restrictions on a Friday afternoon at the start of a half term holiday week shows a complete lack of understanding of how a tourism economy works.
“It created total chaos with visitors not knowing where they could go or what they could do when they got here. The end result was cancellations on a scale that none of us in the hotel industry have ever experienced before.
“The accommodation sector is a vital element of Blackpool’s tourism economy and unless something is done immediately, parts of it will never recover.”
Jane Cole, Managing Director of Blackpool Transport and President of the Confederation of Passenger Transport, said: “The importance of Blackpool’s tourism economy goes far beyond our own boundaries. It supports supply chains throughout the UK and not least in the travel industry where the coach industry is facing its own challenges during this pandemic.
“There needs to be an immediate recognition that if Blackpool’s tourism economy stumbles, then a great many businesses that rely on its success will fall over too.”
Paul Smith, Project Director for Blackpool Pride Of Place said: “We are working on a very clear agenda for the regeneration of Blackpool, one that will see it revitalised in the years ahead.
“To see that falter because of a lack of support for the resort during a time of crisis will be heart-breaking. Once we come out of this pandemic and move into a recovery process it is vital that we have foundations on which to build.
“The only way we can be assured of that is for the appropriate measures to be put in place now to ensure the survival of those businesses currently operating within the visitor economy.”
Martin Long, chair of the Blackpool Business Leadership Group, a network of more than 250 businesses, said: “In reality, what is happening to Blackpool’s tourism industry right now could have serious implications for years to come unless something is done.
“Tens of thousands of people are directly employed within the tourism sector, but there are many, many more who work in the supply chain and are almost wholly dependent on there being a thriving visitor economy.”
Cllr Lynn Williams, Leader of Blackpool Council, said: “The speed at which our tourism economy has unravelled on the back of last week’s lockdown restrictions is alarming.
“What has become totally apparent is that the measures that have been put in place are nowhere near enough to support a tourism economy like Blackpool’s.
“We have hundreds of businesses here that were not included in any of the Government’s temporary closure orders but due to the imposition of regulations and advice relating to travel are more likely facing permanent closure.”