Cumbria Tourism's new Chairman Dan Visser tells us how the industry is facing the challenges of fewer day visitors and a shift towards more late bookings...

He says: "A healthy visitor economy is vital for driving Cumbria’s wider economic prosperity to support local jobs and communities, but with rising costs, inflation and ongoing recruitment issues, it continues to be a hugely challenging time for our visitor economy. At the same time, there are opportunities too and for me, Cumbria Tourism’s (CT) role is all about helping our member businesses to grow, evolve and thrive.

Reflecting on 2022 for tourism operators so far, CT’s research suggests it’s been an uneven year across the board, with reports of both a fall in day visitors and forward bookings for longer overnight stays. The shift towards more late bookings ultimately creates more uncertainty for businesses.

A reduction in secondary spend clearly reflects fuel prices and customer anxiety about the cost of living. This is a real concern for businesses as we head towards the traditionally quieter winter months and underlines why effective destination marketing is so important to help drive consumer demand.

CT’s upcoming winter marketing campaign will target year-round domestic visitors, with a focus on extending the season and spreading the volume and value to tourism further around the county.

It’s also vital to target international audiences as they tend to spend more and support quieter times of year. We know that the post-pandemic recovery of overseas travel market has been slow, with fierce competition from other UK and overseas destinations, so we need to keep forging those relationships.

Other key priorities will be helping businesses to be more sustainable, promoting inclusivity and supporting diversification into new areas like business tourism. Maximising emerging social platforms to inspire the next generation of visitors is also tremendously important and it’s vital that we tap into innovative new ways to combine our world-class tourism offering and landscape. The balance between holiday accommodation and housing also needs addressing.

Another ongoing issue for our industry is skills, recruitment and retention. We have two World Heritage Sites and it’s vital we provide a world-class service. At the moment, too many operators are still in the position of having to block off availability because they don’t have the staffing capacity.

As an industry in Cumbria, we have spent the last 12 months maximising every opportunity to rectify the challenges, whether that’s through increasing wages, adding benefits, more training, better hours or acquiring accommodation for staff to live on site. Cumbria Tourism has also been working closely with the Department for Work and Pensions and Inspira, supporting multiple careers events and working with partners to engage directly with schools and colleges.

We will continue this work over the coming months, but the continued ask at a central government level is for the Youth Mobility Scheme to be extended to other countries to help bring more new talent into the local workforce.

I’d also emphasis that it isn’t just about attracting more people, it’s also about putting more value on permanent jobs in tourism and hospitality. I know first-hand the complexities of running a large hotel businesses; it’s a fantastic industry to enter but sometimes tourism roles aren’t valued as highly as they should be. The Cumbrian visitor economy is a multi-billion-pound driver and we need to keep emphasising that.

Looking further ahead, there will be two new unitary authorities from April and I’m looking forward to working with them to help support businesses and communities.

Nationally, the Government has given its backing to recommendations to introduce a new structured system for England’s Destination Management Organisations – or DMOs - within a national portfolio. If handled effectively, this should be a significant step forward for strengthening leadership and coordination of the visitor economy across England.

That said, there is currently no funding for DMOs. Cumbria Tourism is 97% commercially funded and we will continue to call for a level of core funding to help us deliver against national and local agendas.

Fundamentally, Cumbria Tourism is all about being stronger together and our member businesses are at the heart of that. I’m proud to be taking on the role of Chairman and am looking forward to working closely with tourism operators, including our wider network of Strategic Partners, over the coming months."