Discussions with tourism representatives, supported by Visit Jersey, have included the possibility of a grant-based support scheme, as well as additional help through the existing payroll scheme which is being gradually phased out over the next six months.
Visit Jersey’s retiring chief executive Keith Beecham, who leaves the Island this week after five years in post, said that the tourism environment, following the reopening of the Island’s borders, remained ‘very, very tough’.
‘Effectively we are going through three winters – we had last winter, summer has now been replaced with another winter and we’re going to enter winter later on. It is a three-winter scenario,’ he said.
Mr Beecham expressed his thanks to the government for its support as tourism faced the consequences of the coronavirus pandemic and its impact on travel but he stressed the need for additional help as business faces the forthcoming winter without the financial stability which normally comes from the revenue of the traditional summer tourist season.
‘Government is having these conversations and certainly talking with the industry. We do need some form of continued support through the winter months, whether that’s through the payroll scheme or whether it’s moving to some grant-based scheme – those are things yet to be agreed. That’s the debate that’s being had and I would encourage government to continue looking at that,’ he said.
When Mr Beecham became Visit Jersey’s first chief executive, following its formation in 2015, the organisation announced that its ambition was to generate one million visitors with an annual spend of £500m by 2030. Figures for last year indicated total visitors of 771,000.
But, after a solid start to the first two months of 2020, lockdown and the longer-term impact of the Covid-19 crisis has left many sectors of the tourism industry, particularly those working in event management, in serious financial difficulties.
‘It’s been very difficult. Part of what has helped sustain the industry has been the staycation, so it’s a big thank you to the people of Jersey who have visited our restaurants, gone to our attractions and stayed in our hotels. They have helped, though we aren’t anywhere near where we need to be but it has helped our businesses both emotionally and financially to see that we can get through this,’ Mr Beecham said.
In response to the crisis, Visit Jersey established a recovery steering group – also comprising representatives of different sectors of the industry and government – to help co-ordinate efforts.
Those efforts have included a formal submission by the industry to government about ongoing support through the winter months to enable it to bounce-back for what it is hoped will be a more typical summer season next year.
‘We are trying to impress on government why the hospitality sector requires that continued support through to spring of next year. We are now waiting to hear if it’s there and, if so, what it might be.
‘I would say that [Economic Development Minister] Lyndon Farnham has been very understanding of the industry’s needs, and working really tirelessly to ensure that it can continue to go forward and relaunch itself next year,’ Mr Beecham said.
Mr Beecham was optimistic about the prospects once a more normal business environment returns, though he warned that business travel, which last year made up 100,000 of the 771,000 visitor figure, could be vulnerable to trends developing from virtual meetings and a corresponding decrease in physical meetings.