31st May 2020
RE: DIALOGUE ON SAFE RE-OPENING OF MICRO TOURISM SECTOR
We are writing as a group of small-scale tourism businesses, the newly-formed Micro Tourism Wales, to request an open dialogue on plans to safely re-open the sector, which considers the role of micro tourism in offering a way forward.
“Micro tourism” is the newly-coined term for small-scale, community- and eco-sensitive tourism. We are a group of rural businesses who offer short stays in individual units spaced far apart (e.g., yurts, treehouses, shepherd’s huts). We believe micro tourism can play a key role in boosting the economy in parts of Wales that other industries can’t get to, and enable continuation of traditional farming opportunities in current uncertain times. We aim to strengthen economic resilience and culture in rural communities, while enhancing appreciation of Wales’ lifestyle, language and landscapes.
We understand the current need to protect the Welsh healthcare system and most vulnerable people while at the same time safeguarding the Welsh economy and its small businesses and jobs, and avoiding longer-term health effects of recession and job losses in the country.
The importance of micro tourism
Tourism contributes 14% Wales’ GDP and supports over 170,000 jobs directly, and many hundreds of thousands of jobs indirectly. In some areas such as the South West, mid-Wales and Snowdonia, the industry is even more economically significant; for example, spending in Gwynedd suffered a 59% reduction in the third week of April vs. the same week in 2019. Plaid Cymru MP for Dwyfor Meirionnydd, Liz Saville Roberts, recently warned of the disproportionate economic impact facing local areas heavily reliant on tourism: “The sharp rise in those claiming welfare support underscores the fact that .. employees, cleaners, gardeners, maintenance workers, seasonal workers as well as local shops and garages have been severely knocked back by this crisis... All these people .. face a considerably reduced summer season … and fear what the effect will be on their annual incomes.”
July and August are critical months for the hospitality sector; if tourism businesses are not permitted to operate over the summer months, many business owners and staff will have no income to support them through the winter months. Moreover, the risk to the sector of re-opening later than other parts of the UK is substantial. Major concerns are:
Losing out to competitor destinations: If Wales lags the rest of the UK in re-opening tourism, guest stays this year will be lost to other destinations. More importantly, 80% of annual guests to Wales have been before; opening later than other destinations will jolt visitors into new habits, forcing them to try new destinations they wouldn’t otherwise consider. Losing guests for one season is therefore very likely to translate into a permanent loss of “Wales-loyal” guests to other destinations, further impacting an already challenging path to recovery for the sector. The key contribution of tourism to the Welsh economy has been hard-won: mismanagement of this vital asset will undo decades of hard work.
Survival of Wales’ micro tourism operators: After over 2 months of lockdown, tourism operators are already struggling with managing ongoing fixed costs and potential liabilities related to refunding guests. Unless these businesses have the opportunity to generate at least a few months’ revenue this year, assets will continue to deteriorate and cash flow challenges may prevent operators from being able to invest in the inventory, insurance, marketing costs, maintenance etc. required to open in 2021. If Wales opens after other parts of the UK, small businesses will likely see an increase in requests for guest refunds so that they can holiday elsewhere, putting extreme pressure on these businesses who have to date been able to agree date changes till later in the season, and potentially forcing smaller operators into bankruptcy. Tourism grants already issued are not sufficient to cover these costs and risks over an extended lockdown period.
Survival of Wales’ small retail businesses: Small-medium retailers in many areas of Wales depend on the summer tourism trade to support their annual business model. For example, Machynlleth shop owners and restaurants/cafes report a 60% increase in turnover during traditional tourist months. Without this boost, it will not be viable for them to re-open with full staffing this summer. Without a successful summer the future looks bleak: if Government support for the retail sector is withdrawn without the tourism sector being re-opened, it seems inevitable that the high streets in small Welsh towns will collapse.
Control of illegal tourism: Despite Welsh Government guidelines, we are seeing visitors entering the country and free camping in the rural areas, including illegal off-road motorbikes. A staged re-opening of tourism would provide stronger ability to control these illegal activities and the risks they pose to local residents.
Net outflow of wealth from the region: With a marked increase in
shopping online during this period, the net outflow of money from many rural areas of Wales has hugely increased, as most online businesses used by residents are internationally / English-owned. Money is flowing out of the local economy, and without the export of tourism to balance the books, the regions are becoming poorer, daily. Tourism brings £800,000,000 annually into the Powys economy alone, the majority of which is accrued over Easter and summer.
The micro tourism businesses which are part of this initiative are small operators with a limited number of guest units, remotely located, well-spaced and often with private bathroom facilities. We offer short-term stays, usually a maximum of 3 days. We offer experience tourism: “stay-put” holidays where the location and the accommodation are the reasons to visit. Guests generally stay on site, deep in the heart of nature, alone with their family or partner (see websites below).
We would expect micro tourism businesses to be able to swiftly adapt to meet COVID-19 risk assessment, cleaning and safety guidelines which we understand are being developed for UK holiday accommodation. As small businesses with strong links to local suppliers we are well placed to co-ordinate delivery of food and gift packages from local businesses. We feel micro tourism businesses are well placed to open safely in July, as our English counterparts are planning, and urgently require more clarity in order to plan and maintain the confidence of our existing and potential customers.
We would like to request a meeting (in person, if possible, or via video conference) to discuss how we may ensure that parts of the Welsh tourism sector which comply with agreed guidelines are permitted to open in time for the critically important summer season; and to jointly develop a roadmap to opening the sector which provides clarity to all concerned. We would also like to extend an invitation to visit our sites to see first-hand the social distancing provided by the locations and infrastructure.
We look forward to hearing from you at your earliest convenience.
Margaret Rose Mark Bond Sarah Heyworth
Co-founders Micro Tourism Wales
Example micro tourism websites: