By Sam Portillo | News Editor
A new report commissioned by the Welsh Government has revealed that 93 percent of tourism businesses in the country are expected to survive the next six months, up from 67 percent in late April.
The latest Tourism Business Barometer provides the first insight into the industry since hotels, restaurants and visitor attractions were allowed to reopen in July. Despite fears that the hospitality sector, including tourism, would be particularly badly hit by coronavirus closures, the report paints a picture of mixed success.
The UK Government’s furlough scheme saved many businesses in Wales by lifting the burden of paying employees’ wages. Only 1 percent of businesses have made redundancies to date, because there is little pressure to do so: those who have reopened need their staff for the busy summer season, and those which remain closed are propped up by the furlough scheme. It is likely that most job losses will occur in the autumn months, when business dries up and the furlough scheme comes to an end.
The scheme was only ever intended as a mechanism to keep businesses afloat. With the scheme set to end in October, tourism operators must seize the opportunity to reopen and turn a profit, while the peak season lasts.
From 27 July to 6 August, when the research was conducted, just over 3 in 4 tourism operators in Wales were open. The remaining 1 in 4 cited difficulties complying with COVID-19 safety measures. A disproportionate number of “visitor attractions” – some 47 percent – remain closed, largely due to challenges implementing social distancing on site, often in indoor, crowded and poorly ventilated conditions.
For the same reason, only 51 percent of businesses are operating at full capacity. Restaurants, for example, have had to remove or cordon off tables to create more space between groups of customers. Theme parks, like Oakwood in Pembrokeshire, leave empty seats on rides, cleaning the train with disinfectant between runs. On the ground, meanwhile, notoriously long queues stretch out even farther, with two metres separating each bubble.
Almost half of open businesses have fewer customers than they would typically expect at this time of year, not for a lack of demand, however, but because of self-imposed capacity limits. For those who are open at full capacity, only 24 percent report fewer customers – and 13 percent report more.
In reopening and running a business, there are obvious challenges for the tourism industry. Alas: it goes against all business instinct to limit customer intake. Revenues have fallen almost across the board. But it is the operators who have not yet reopened – mostly visitor attractions and small establishments – which face the bleakest future. Without a furlough scheme to carry them through autumn, they must hope for a dramatic improvement in the state of the epidemic which could let them reopen without impracticalities like one-way systems and capacity limits. If there is one thing we have learned over the course of this pandemic, however, it is that you cannot wish a virus away.