The South Downs National Park Authority was represented among more than 360 people from the Sussex tourism sector who virtually joined forces to discuss the myriad of challenges facing the sector during the coronavirus crisis.
These include restoring consumer confidence, finding innovative revenue streams, adapting to social distancing measures and the use of technology in tourism.
With many venues and sites only re-opening when it is safe to do so, the focus has been on ensuring the sector continues to get the support it needs and is able to ‘survive, revive and thrive’.
The strong collaboration comes as a new report underlines the value of the visitor economy in the South Downs.
It also comes as English Tourism Week this year focuses on the theme of supporting the recovery of English tourism and raising awareness of the importance of the sector to the UK economy.
The independent study into trends, commissioned by the national park authority and showing the latest-available data, shows direct expenditure by visitors went up by over seven per cent – from just over £304.39m in 2017 to £327.25m in 2018.
The overall economic value was £436.81m in 2018 – up by over seven per cent from £406.12m in 2017.
The sector employed 5,775 people in 2018 – a rise of six per cent from 5,426 in 2017.
The data also shows that the number of visitors rose to 19.08m in 2018 – up from 18.88m in 2017.
Kat Beer, who leads sustainable tourism for the South Downs National Park, said: “There’s no doubt that the tourism, heritage and hospitality sector has been hit extremely hard and there are still uncertain times ahead.
“During this unprecedented time, I think it’s really important the sector pulls together and that’s why we are collaborating with partners across the region and across a variety of niches within the visitor economy.
“The South Downs is still a relatively young national park and still developing its sustainable tourism offer, but these new statistics are very encouraging.
“Our focus has not been looking for a big rise in visitor numbers, rather an increase in expenditure and employment, and this data clearly shows some very positive growth.
“As we mark English Tourism Week, it underlines the value of the South Downs tourism sector to the economy.”
The webinar project is being curated by Experience West Sussex, Sussex Chamber of Commerce, Coast2Capital Growth Hub and the South Downs National Park Authority.
Two Sussex MPs, Andrew Griffith, of Arundel and South Downs, and Sally-Ann Hart, of Hastings and Rye, attended the first webinar.
The final webinar, held on Monday, June 2, focused on the theme of building resilience in times of uncertainty.
Experts and tourism operators explored consumer confidence, innovative revenue streams and the use of technology in tourism.
Kat added: “The safety of our visitors and those living and working in the national park remains our priority and the Government guidelines remain to stay at home as much as possible.
“That means it may be some time before ‘tourism’ as we know it returns.
“However, we’re looking at the long-term recovery picture and part of that could mean people spending more time locally, visiting attractions nearby and an increase in staycations.
“When it is safe to do so, this could present a real opportunity to help the recovery of visitor attractions and hospitality businesses in the South Downs.
“We will be working closely with partners across the sector to help facilitate this recovery.”
Visitor attractions are looking into adapting their operations with new social distancing arrangements.
If people are planning a visit they should check with the business before they travel to ensure they are open.
For the latest advice on enjoying the National Park safely visit www.southdowns.gov.uk/national-park-authority/our-work/coronavirus-covid-19-update/
The park authority said please observe the ‘three Rs’ when visiting the South Downs by exercising restraint, responsibility and respect.
The Government’s advice is that: “People may drive to outdoor open spaces irrespective of distance, so long as they respect social distancing guidance while they are there, because this does not involve contact with people outside your household.
“These measures may come with some risk; it is important that everyone continues to act responsibly, as the large majority have done to date.
“The infection rate will increase if people begin to break these rules and, for example, mix in groups in parks, which will trigger the need for further restrictions.”
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