Metro Mayor Steve Rotheram unveils plan to help city region tourism industry recover from seismic shock of Covid
A short-term recovery plan to rebuild the Liverpool City Region visitor economy after it was devastated by the pandemic has been unveiled by Metro Mayor Steve Rotheram.
The two-year Visitor Economy Recovery Strategy, to be delivered by Growth Platform – Liverpool City Region Growth Company, proposes a raft of urgent interventions as well as longer term measures to help the £5billion-a-year industry return to full health.
The plan is revealed as a detailed report lays bare the devastating effect of the global pandemic on the sector, which had previously supported over 55,000 jobs and generated £5bn each year.
Reflecting its status nationally, Liverpool had been the 5th most visited city in the UK by international visitors.
Metro Mayor Steve Rotheram said:
“Our city region is a national and international destination of choice, renowned for culture, music, sport, hospitality and much, much more.
“The visitors who come to soak up our unique offer are starting to return and breathe fresh life into our economy and the short-term predictions are encouraging.
“We’ve helped more than 4,500 local businesses with over £45m worth of funding to keep them afloat during the pandemic but the effect on the visitor economy has been seismic and the shock waves may last for some time.
“I want us to economically recover from Covid quickly so we can get back to where we were pre-pandemic as the fastest growing city region in the country.”
The strategy report to 2023 spells out the unprecedented damage caused to the £5 billion regional industry, which in 2019 attracted 5.4m leisure and business staying visitors as well as 61m day visitors.
In 2020, the LCR visitor economy’s 7,840 businesses took a 58% hit to income and the conference and events sector was left “decimated”.
According to Office of National Statistics figures, sectors of the visitor economy lost between 39% and 89% of their output during the year.
International tourists are not expected to return to pre-pandemic levels before 2025 and the business events sector may not fully recover before 2028, the report warns.
The new strategy will work to support the sector in the short term with a range of interventions, including the important events and conference sector, which in normal times brought much-needed income via a steady stream of delegates, often in winter and during the week.
In the short term, demand is strong with day trippers and domestic visitors expected to top the 66m who came in 2019.
But competition is fierce with other British cities and regions keen to cash in on the “staycation” market and, even with the rise, these visitors do not provide the level of spending seen from international and far-domestic markets.
Scotland has launched a £25m recovery scheme, Wales is pumping £60m into the sector over five years and Ireland has doubled its international marketing budget to €94m.
The City Region strategy looks to capitalise on pent-up demand, restore confidence and develop new markets.
It also seeks to bridge a damaging skills gap and staff shortages, proposes a rethink of the way tourist bodies are funded and identifies an urgent need for continued public support until the industry is strong enough to support itself.
The strategy sets out five priority areas, aligned with national Government priorities, around key markets, rebuilding confidence and resilience.
Destination marketing is to be carried out over the next three years using a £3.2m of public and private sector investment to generate demand for leisure and business tourists.
This builds on the earlier £1.5m fund to lure back domestic visitors announced by the Metro Mayor.
A further £3.1m plan over two years using Strategic Investment Funding and private sector funding is designed to help rebuild the conference and events sector, which was hit hard.
With uncertainty around travel restrictions, compounded by a move to more remote working and online meetings, it could take five years for events income levels to return to previous levels.
To restore the sector to full health, new funding models to support major venues in bidding for conferences and events are being explored.
Also, the way small tourism businesses are supported needs a radical new approach if the sector is to bounce back, the report says.
Work needs to be done to change perceptions of the industry towards it being a foundation sector, which provides many jobs, including twice the opportunities for 16-24-year-olds than the overall economy.
A Skills Action Plan has identified the key skills required to help the industry survive.
Sector-based work academy programmes, providing training for jobseekers to enter the industry, have already been delivered in partnership with the DWP.
This leads to skills training via the Kickstart and Be More programmes as well as employer-led training schemes via City and Guilds.
The last piece of the recovery strategy jigsaw would be to change the way destination management organisations (formerly tourist boards) are structured.
This would seek core funding from Central Government to support the City Region’s destination marketing organisations (DMOs).
The report points to a number of large-scale projects, which could help draw post-Covid tourists and give the Liverpool City Region an advantage in the fiercely competitive, tourism market.
These include the £12m dockside Eureka children’s museum, the £30m Shakespeare North theatre in Prescot and Everton FC’s iconic £500m riverside stadium at Bramley Moore Dock.
Liverpool City Region Combined Authority Culture, Tourism and Visitor Economy Portfolio Holder Cllr Mike Wharton said:
“The Covid pandemic has had a dramatic impact on our world-renowned visitor economy but we have shown great resilience and with the help of more than £45m of Combined Authority funding we are already bouncing back.
“This strategy will enable the entire city region to compete with other parts of the UK and abroad.”