Reasons to be Brave
After a decade in tourism and twenty years in Government, you would think that there would not be a lot that could still surprise me. However, the announcement by the Chancellor last week of a reduced rate of VAT for tourism and a Meal Deal came as quite the shock. For many years, persuading the Treasury of the benefits of a VAT reduction for the country’s third largest employer felt like having a debate with a hard of hearing brick wall. It has taken a global pandemic for our industry to get the recognition and support it deserves and although one could debate whether it will be enough to save one of the UK’s economic success stories, it is extremely welcome nonetheless.
It comes at a time when our industry is slowly beginning to re-open. I have been in awe of the Herculean efforts of our sector to get back to business whilst keeping their customers and staff safe. Even the most dedicated insomniac would be hard pressed to keep awake through the 140+ pages of detailed guidance which our sector must now navigate in order to function. Doing so, whilst maintaining the friendly and lively atmosphere which makes our sector the beating heart of communities is a tribute to their innovation and passion.
So the stage is set – with fiscal measures and face-masks. So all we need now is some punters! Research has shown that human behaviour is as predictable in tourism as in all walks of life. The world basically divides itself into 3 : Early Adopters, the Super Cautious, and those in the middle – let’s call them the “Wait and Sees”. The Early Adopters were banging on our doors on the 4 July (banging on the flap of the envelope, as it were). They are about 20% of the population and have already visited every park, garden, beach, open space, bridleway and, finally, pub on their doorstep. At the other end of the spectrum, the Super Cautious, whether they are medically vulnerable or simply Loving Lockdown, will not darken the door of a visitor attraction, restaurant or pub for about a year. A year! Again, they make up about 20% of the population - a stark statistic when you think of the consequential drop in numbers and what that means for our industry.
Which leads us to the “Wait and Sees” – or the silent majority of 60%. They may not have been to a pub or restaurant yet (it’s only week two after all) but they are thinking about it. They want reassurance – that the experience will be safe, won’t feel “weird” and that their fellow humans will behave. This group should be the target for every tourism business and every Destination Management Organisation. Developing reassuring messaging, using websites to demonstrate Covid-secure practices and still delivering a welcoming message is critical. This is the group for whom the concept of “hyper-local” was made. It is why our #SupportYourLocal campaign is at the heart of our consumer messaging alongside a #caringcustomer pledge which asks people to Respect their fellow diners, Protect public health and, of course, Enjoy great food and drink.
And if that isn’t enough to entice our middle ground, then a Meal Deal from Rishi may yet do the trick! One thing is clear – once the “Wait and Sees” experience the (dreaded phrase) “new normal”, they will, I’m sure, be pleasantly surprised. No more queuing at the bar? Smiling, welcoming staff? English High Streets turning into Italian-style piazzas? There’s a lot to love about this new way of operating.
Our businesses have been brave, bold and innovative in adapting to this new way of working. The Chancellor’s announcements were bold too. It’s time for our visitors to do the same.