Visitors leave it late to boost Cumbria’s tourism industry

Cumbria’s tourism industry bounced back strongly in 2013 but must continue to adapt to changing customer habits, according to a summit of the region’s tourism leaders.

Hoteliers and industry bosses reported how the sector enjoyed an improved year for bookings compared to 2012, helped by better weather and fewer distractions from national events like the Olympics and Queen’s Diamond Jubilee.

However, attendees at the Cumbria Tourism Roundtable, hosted by business advisors Moore and Smalley, said leisure businesses have to embrace the trend for last minute bookings if they are to continue to thrive.

The annual event, held at Murley Moss Business Village, Kendal, was attended by representatives from Cumbria Tourism, The Lakes Hospitality Association and some of the region’s leading attractions and leisure accommodation businesses.

Ian Stephens, chief executive of Cumbria Tourism, said: “While there’s still December to come, our official stats from 2013 show that business has improved consistently throughout the year. 2012 was a very low point in a 20 year period. Some businesses have done better than others and the north of Cumbria was not as successful as the south, but on the whole there is positivity that we can build on.”  

Andy Poole, chief executive of The World of Beatrix Potter Attraction, said: “This year has seen a welcome resurgence of both national and international visitors to the Lake District, and whilst many of these have been day trippers and late bookers, they have added significantly to the local economy and sustained the workforce, allowing The World of Beatrix Potter to increase its staffing levels by 7 per cent. We aim to continue investing in both the business and workforce in 2014.”

Geoff Todd, owner of the Angel Inn, Bowness on Windermere, said: “When 2013 started, the outlook was not good but as it went on business picked up considerably and the weather certainly helped. However, we saw evidence of reduced spending with customers tending to go for an ‘either, or’ approach, for example, taking dinner but not having lunch.”

Peter Jackson, owner of self-catering cottages business Heart of the Lakes, said: “The biggest thing I noticed is the trend for later bookings. Even as recently as a few years ago, I could look at the advanced bookings in February and know how the year was going to be. That just doesn’t happen anymore and it creates uncertainty. Fortunately, we finished up with good bookings for the summer and autumn months, but it’s definitely something businesses need to adapt to.”

Tony Blaney, owner of The Fairfield Garden Guesthouse in Windermere, and chair of The Lakes Hospitality Association, added:  “I have also experienced more people making late or last minute bookings. People plan around the weather far more than they used to and bookings will react to a good forecast. Hoteliers need to ensure they are geared up technologically to deal with an influx of late bookings and can also mitigate the impact by encouraging people to book early too.”

Other issues discussed at the event included the impact that online bookings agencies were having on the leisure and tourism sector, the availability of bank funding, administrative and legal burdens, and sustainability issues.

Colin Johnson, head of Moore and Smalley’s leisure and tourism team, said: “For the last four years our Cumbria Tourism Roundtable has provided a good barometer of the county’s tourism industry by getting a firsthand account of the issues that impact on visitor numbers. Again we are seeing changes in customer habits and business owners need to stay attuned to these trends, ensuring they continue to invest in product quality and marketing to pull in customers.”

Attendees of Moore and Smalley’s Cumbria Tourism Roundtable were Ian Stephens, chief executive, Cumbria Tourism; Peter Jackson, Heart of the Lakes; Tony Blaney, The Fairfield Garden Guest House; Geoff Todd, The Angel Inn; Haydn Spedding, Colliers International; Mark Fuller, The Sun Inn, Kirkby Lonsdale; Andy Poole, chief executive The World of Beatrix Potter; Alastair Rushton, Ellerthwaite Lodge; Colin Johnson, partner, Moore and Smalley; Ian Clark, partner, Moore and Smalley.