WMN opinion: Times may be tough - but tourist industry can thrive
Every business has to cope with the challenge of change. Tourism is no exception. So the figures, revealed in today's Western Morning News, that show Devon and Cornwall losing market share to other destinations in the increasingly competitive holiday industry, can be viewed as either a worry or a call to our best tourism businesses to adapt to the new demands of the market – and meet them.
Cornwall lost 5% of its tourist trade over the past decade while Devon's fell by 2%. Much of that was caused by a reduction in the accommodation available in our region. In many cases thinning out the number of second rate B&Bs or seedy caravan sites is a necessary part of raising standards. Entertaining fewer visitors, each of whom who spend more, is one way of easing pressure on our region during peak periods while retaining or even growing the income generated by tourism.
As the latest figures reveal, however, while the capacity has been going down so have – in relative terms – the profits. That is not a situation which can endure. To many people in the Westcountry who have no direct connection to the tourist industry it might seem like a mildly annoying fact of life that much of the region is on the receiving end of a huge influx of visitors every summer and – increasingly – at other times of the year too. Yet to those who study the regional economy tourism is not just important to the South West – it is essential. As other industries, from farming to fishing, mineral extraction to ship building and repair, have declined tourism has, over many decades, expanded to fill in the gap. We can argue – indeed many do – about whether we are over-reliant on the visitors but the fact is that building other wealth generating businesses – which is happening, particularly around the so-called 'knowledge economy' – will take time. And with so many jobs and so much wealth dependant on tourism any change needs to take place against a background of a holiday industry that continues to thrive.
Today's WMN, reports on the fears of senior tourism figures about the 2013 season. After last year's triple whammy of the London Olympics, a faltering economy and relentless rain, which hit visitor numbers hard, they are right to be concerned. But also in today's WMN is an eight-page celebration of the best of the tourism industry following Friday night's Tourism Excellence Awards. It is the stars of the regional industry, from chefs like Nathan Outlaw to hotels like Bedruthan Steps and attractions like Exmoor Zoo that offer the best hope for the future.
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The weather, the economy and competing attractions are always going to divert attention from the beauties of Devon and Cornwall from time to time. The key, for our region, is to continue to offer the best quality and a distinctive, uniquely Cornish or Devon experience to the visitor. Do that and, despite the setbacks of the last year or two, we can – and will – bounce back.