How do you restart a sector worth £1.4blln to the Gloucestershire economy?
Before Britain became embroiled in the pandemic Gloucestershire’s visitor and leisure economy was worth £1.4 billion to the county, according to figure to the end of 2019.
Possibly more so than any other sector the brakes steamed white hot as lockdown brought it to a standstill overnight. For Cheltenham, the festival town with a penchant for socialising, the sector generated £162 million in 2019. Then nothing.
The known impact has been devastating for individuals and binned business plans on mass, but ironically the down time has allowed it also to achieve the Holy Grail of late for the county’s visitor economy – an overarching body to lead its charge.
The visitgloucestershire Partnership (VGP) sounds like it has been around for season after season, but it is the culmination of a concerted effort and partnership including the county’s other district specific Visit organisations, the county council and the mighty GFirst LEP.
Well aware the sector will not be able to emerge from its lockdown cage gazelle-like, VGP has already been at the heart of conversations to make sure hay will nevertheless be made while the sun shines – and staff, businesses and communities have support as it evolves.
“We have been ploughing significant energy into this,” said Steve Gardner-Collins, in charge of the new organisation.
The old saying, ‘if you want something done, give it to a busy person’ was never truer.
When Mr Gardner-Collins is not forging new alliances across once unbridgeable divides he has the small matter of helping look after more than 200 staff and nine hotels of The Hatton Collection as its sales director.
He is acutely aware of the personal impact on employees, such are the close working (and living) arrangements of the hospitality industry.
“We are a people-first industry,” said Mr Gardner-Collins (picture below).
Over the last few weeks visitgloucestershire has become 267 members strong – and growing all the time - with a new website and “ongoing conversations” driving the energy.
It has also begun working relationships with Herefordshire, Worcestershire and the Malverns visitor organisations.
“It is coming together nicely. We have so many conversations going on, but we continue to focus and work to de-fragment the county. I am pleased the talk has turned into action,” said the father of two, who as well as taking on the task of home-schooling also manages to sit on the Gloucestershire Suicide Prevention Partnership, chair the Gfirst LEP Visitor Economy & Tourism Business Group and chair the Cotswolds Hotelier Group.
He might be a man who thrives on being busy and productive, but he tactfully points out there are also 12 passionate Gloucestershire Ambassadors supporting with the various divisions of Visit Gloucestershire.
And they are under no illusions they will have their work cut out.
“As for food and drink, supply chains have been devastated. The damage has been huge. One of the challenges is how we start to prepare to go back to normal.
“You know that some staff might need to remain furloughed while others return to work. You have to continue to look after all of those people, but you also need to manage their expectations.
“And there will be recruitment issues. When you re-open, what capacity can you expect to be able to operate at? One of the biggest impacts potentially will be unemployment.
“For some businesses it will be the first time they have made people redundant. And for some it may be the first time the have been unemployed.
“Some people will have been with a business for a long time, but the first thing you have to do as a business is to service the customer. You won’t always be able to bring back people based just on loyalty.”
The rewards of getting it right will be the return of a sector with not only incredible potential, but perhaps more united than ever under its new banner, fighting for one another, aware of its place in the region, and ready to cater for our apparent appetite for UK-based holidays.
“We are in regular contact with the likes of booking.com and they are already talking about leading into August. There is a sense that August could be a good month,” said Mr Gardner-Collins.
To find out more about The visit Gloucestershire Partnership go to visit-gloucestershire.uk.
To read Part One of the launch series of articles on Gloucestershire's strategy to exit lockdown visit: Vital report will help determine prognosis for Gloucestershire’s economy.