Enjoying summer safely to give our tourism industry a much-needed boost
After months of being told to stay at home, East Sussex, like the rest of the UK, is slowly but surely emerging from lockdown and it is hoped the Chancellor’s cuts to VAT will provide a welcome and much-needed boost to the tourism and hospitality industry – allowing residents and holidaymakers to enjoy the summer safely.
On July 8, Chancellor Rishi Sunak announced VAT for all businesses in the hospitality, accommodation and attractions industries would be cut from 20 per cent to five per cent for a period six months. He also urged the public to ‘Eat Out to Help Out’ with a new voucher scheme to encourage people to support local restaurants throughout August.
With the schools out for summer and people looking for a break closer to home, hospitality and tourism businesses across our county are now hoping to recoup some of the major losses they will have suffered as a result of their closure during the coronavirus lockdown.
Eastbourne and Hastings are always popular staycation resorts and businesses and attractions in the town are now opening safely. Although Eastbourne’s big summer events, such as Airbourne, have been cancelled, a big wheel has opened on Eastbourne seafront until August 2.
Eastbourne Borough Council tourism boss Councillor Margaret Bannister said: “The arrival of the Eastbourne Eye also coincides with the return of visitors to our town giving Eastbourne’s tourism economy a boost.”
Mark Cotman, chair of Eastbourne Hospitality Association, said the support was a relief.
He said: “The EHA represents more than 120 hospitality and trade businesses across the local area, providing guidance and support, which has been particularly important during the COVID-19 crisis along with our COVID READY scheme which involves a multi sector approach to give confidence to locals and visitors alike.
“The scheme is designed to give a reassurance that businesses that have signed up are following a minimum set of standards which allows us all to welcome guests back safely.
“A visit to Eastbourne and our members, associated businesses and stakeholders offers guests wide open spaces for breath-taking walks, including to Beachy Head and its iconic lighthouse and we benefit from being in a unique setting where coast meets country, as well as having fantastic beaches and open air spaces where you can get away from it all in a safe, controlled manner.”
Eastbourne MP Caroline Ansell said: “This measure will be an absolute lifeline for our pubs, restaurants, cafes, hotels attractions and B&Bs in Eastbourne and Willingdon and I am absolutely thrilled it has been announced.
“It will be the difference, I believe, between life and death for many businesses in our town who can now have increasing confidence people will go out and spend and that this government has got their backs.”
In Hastings the arcades and fairground rides have now reopened along the seafront and many businesses are hoping for a much-needed cash boost from local residents and holidaymakers.
Hastings House B&B is a small business run by Beverley Jarvie and her husband in Warrior Square.
Mrs Jarvie said: “In the last week it has really picked up and we are getting lots more bookings through. We are often fully booked at the weekend.
“We have seven rooms and we have made the social distancing easier by having strict allocation slots at breakfast.
“There is no buffet anyway and we obviously anti-bac the tables and chairs between guests as we always did. However, I put hand sanitiser in all the rooms and ask everyone to wash their hands or use that before they come down for breakfast. It is working very well.”
Parents, most of whom have been homeschooling for the past four months, are likely to be looking for a day out and attractions are also benefitting from the VAT cuts. Adventure parks, farms and zoos are gradually starting to open up with new safety measures in place. Knockhatch, Drusillas, Eastbourne Miniature Steam Railway and Blackberry Farm are all now open for families but pre-booking is often essential to ensure the safety of visitors.
However, with social distancing still very much on the agenda, many have fallen in love with our beautiful countryside over lockdown and prefer to opt for open spaces. The South Downs is therefore expected to be popular with residents and holidaymakers.
Kat Beer, sustainable tourism lead for the South Downs National Park Authority, said: “This is a welcome boost to tourism and hospitality venues across the South Downs.
“The sector has been among the hardest hit by the COVID-19 pandemic and this announcement comes at just the right time as businesses re-open and look to rebuild their revenue streams and customer base. The South Downs National Park has many amazing places to stay and visit, with tourism remaining a vital component of the rural economy and jobs.
“There’s a long road to recovery, but an increasingly strong staycation market and an adaptable and innovative tourism sector bode well for the months ahead.”
Yamp Camp owner, James Butcher, owns four campsites in Firle, Ditchling, Chailey and Scanes Hill. He has installed bubble loos to ensure each pitch has its own toilets and campers are able to social distance effectively. As a result he says every weekend has been like an August Bank Holiday since he reopened on July 4.
Mr Butcher said: “It has obviously been very difficult and we have lost half the season, of course, but so far there is high demand for pitches and it is very encouraging given the circumstances.”
Lewes MP Maria Caulfield said the measures announced by the Chancellor could benefit up to 590 businesses in her constituency.
She said: “We should not underestimate how difficult recent months have been for many businesses in the Lewes constituency. Now that the virus is coming under control, we must turn our attention to creating and protecting jobs.”
Nus Ghani, Wealden MP, is joined her colleague Ms Caulfield in urging residents to support the Eat Out to Help Out, which will entitle everyone to a discount of up to 50 per cent on their meal, on Mondays, Tuesdays and Wednesdays throughout August. Businesses can claim the money back from the government, which will be paid within five working days.
Ms Ghani added: “This fantastic new voucher scheme, along with the cut in VAT, is the much-needed lifeline many businesses have been calling for.”