Coronavirus: tourism

Published 29/06/2020   |   Last Updated 27/05/2021   |   Reading Time minutes

This article was last updated on 30 June 2020

Whilst it usually promotes Wales as a tourist destination, in light of the coronavirus pandemic, the message from Visit Wales, the Welsh Government’s tourism promotion agency, has been clear - Visit Wales. Later.

The effect of the coronavirus on the industry since lockdown began has been much publicised since.

This article explores the impact of the virus on the tourism industry and the issues being faced by those working in the sector.

Tourism in Wales

“Tourism in Wales is big business” is the Welsh Government’s usual message and many concerns have been raised as to how the sector will survive following the pandemic. According to the Welsh Government’s latest available priority sector statistics (published in 2018), 144,000 people are employed in the tourism sector in Wales.

The Welsh Government’s latest available tourism performance statistics, covering the pre-pandemic period of January – December 2019, show that during this time there were 10.7 million overnight domestic trips to Wales, an increase of 6.8% compared to the same period in 2018. These trips generated expenditure of £2 billion, an increase of 8.1% compared to 2018. According to the Welsh Government the corresponding figures at a Great Britain level show smaller increases of 3.6% and 2.9% respectively.

During the same 2019 period there were also 87.3 million tourism day visits in Wales, which generated expenditure of £3.4 billion.

Coronavirus regulations

On 23 March 2020 the First Minister announced that caravan parks, campsites, tourist hotspots and popular beauty spots in Wales would be closed to visitors.

Using its powers under the Public Health (Control of Disease) Act 1984, the Welsh Government made the Health Protection (Coronavirus Restrictions) (Wales) Regulations 2020, (the 2020 regulations), which came into force on 26 March 2020.

Closure of holiday accommodation

Whilst the 2020 regulations have been amended several times since they were laid, sections 4 and 5 set out that, at the time of publishing this article, holiday accommodation, including hotels, holiday villages and touring and camping parks must remain closed. The regulations place an obligation for these premises to be vacated except in certain circumstances.

The Welsh Government has issued guidance setting out these exceptions, for instance where businesses may be asked to remain open to house key workers or the homeless.

The guidance makes clear that the regulations do not affect people who live permanently in park homes.

As holiday parks across the country closed, the National Association of Caravan Owners (NACO) received many questions from owners of caravans sited in parks which charge pitch fees. It advises that owners continue to pay such fees in order to meet their contractual obligations and to help businesses survive through this period.

Parks and beauty spots

Initially, the Welsh Government’s regulations , allowed people to undertake one form of exercise a day, alone or with members of the same household. At that time the UK Government also outlined that daily exercise should be taken close to home, avoiding any unnecessary travel.

March 2020 saw many popular tourist and beauty spots inundated with people travelling to the area for their daily exercise. For instance, Snowdonia National Park said it experienced its “busiest ever visitor day in living memory” on 21 March 2020.

In response, the Welsh Government introduced new measures through the 2020 regulations to:

prevent a repeat of scenes…when large numbers of people gathered on Welsh beaches, in parks and mountainsides.

Section 9 of the 2020 regulations requires Natural Resources Wales, local authorities, National Park Authorities and the National Trust to close public footpaths and access land where they consider that the use of a path or land poses a high risk of spreading the virus. It also requires the relevant authority to publish a list of closed paths or land on its website, along with erecting notices on the land in question.

The Welsh Government has published a list of car parks and popular footpaths closed alongside links to information on closures in different local authority areas. Each of Wales’ National Parks has also published a full list of footpaths and land that is currently closed:

The initial rules on daily exercise and leaving home have since been slightly relaxed, however people in Wales must still stay local, generally within 5 miles of home, as outlined in our blog post on the current restrictions.

Whilst in March 2020 when restrictions were initially put in place there were very similar approaches taken across each part of the UK, over time differences have emerged. For example whilst the stay local rules still apply in Wales, since the 13 May people in England have been able to travel unlimited distances. As restrictions began to ease more quickly in England some have expressed concern over the differences, with North Wales Tourism stating it would be wrong for England to be "opening up” whilst Wales remains closed.

Seasonal workers

With many workers in the tourism industry only employed during the holiday season, traditionally between Easter and October, concerns have been raised over the support available for seasonal workers.

Employees furloughed through the UK Government’s Coronavirus Job Retention Scheme (explored in more detail in our separate article on coronavirus and employment) must have been on an employer’s PAYE payroll “on or before 19 March 2020”. The cut-off date was previously 28 February, but was extended from following calls by many industries. The Tourism Alliance wrote to the Chancellor on 3 April to raise this issue. However, seasonal workers who had their contracts delayed or cancelled because of the pandemic (and so would not have been on the payroll on 19 March) will still not be able to be furloughed.

Impact on the industry

Whilst the full extent of the impact on the sector will not be known for some time, Visit Wales has conducted telephone surveys to gain an early insight into the effects the pandemic is having and how businesses are responding.

The first wave of surveys were conducted on 12 and 13 March 2020. The results at this time showed that there had been some impact, but the majority of businesses were not yet affected.

The fast-changing nature of the situation meant that when the second wave of surveys were undertaken between 26 and 31 March, businesses reported being much more significantly affected. Nearly all businesses surveyed (96%) at this time expected the future impact of the outbreak to be ‘significantly negative’.

The most recent wave of survey, conducted between 22 April and 1 May found that around a quarter (23%) of businesses surveyed wouldn’t’ expect to survive the next three months if the lockdown continued. Concerns raised by business surveyed included:

  • Not making enough money in the summer to survive next winter;
  • Facing a backlash from locals when opening up again to tourists;
  • Managing social distancing rules – which could be very hard for some types of business; and
  • Slow recovery due to customers’ and/or owners’ concerns over health risks.

Concerns over the reaction of locals as the industry begins to reopen have also been acknowledged by the Welsh Government, with the First Minister suggesting there will be concerns in communities where, should attractions reopen, an influx of tourists could lead to an increase in the spread of the virus.

Financial Support

There have been a number of schemes put in place for business owners by both the UK Government and the Welsh Government as explored in our previous article on business support.

However calls have been made from the industry that the tourism sector requires specific support as it is disproportionately affected by the virus. Giving evidence to the Senedd’s Economy, Infrastructure and Skills (EIS) Committee, on 30 April the Federation of Small Businesses (FSB) Wales called for variations to be made to existing financial support schemes in order for tourism businesses to “part-operate through the remainder of this season”. Similarly, the Confederation of British Industry (CBI) Wales suggested “a sectoral approach to the exit through the job retention scheme…that would allow certain sectors to be treated differently”.

On 11 May 2020 the Minister for Economy, Transport and North Wales told the EIS Committee that the Welsh Government had asked the UK Government for “certain sector-specific support, principally for aviation, tourism and also for the steel sector”.

Looking to the future

Whilst many businesses across the sector will be concerned about the future, in its letter to the Chancellor, the Tourism Alliance suggests the industry will be vital in aiding the economic recovery from the virus. It states that:

In 2010…at the height of the Global Economic Crisis, the Government identified tourism as one of six key industries that could provide much needed employment and growth to reshape and rebalance the UK economy.

On 11 June 2020, the Welsh Association of Visitor Attractions called on the Welsh Government to set out its plans for how the industry may reopen, suggesting that government "inaction" may lead to "economic disaster".

Currently, the 2020 regulations are reviewed every three week and on 10 June 2020 the Welsh Government said it "hopes to be able to say something positive" for the tourism industry when lockdown restrictions are reviewed in July.

On 19 June the First Minister announced the Welsh Government’s latest review of the regulations which gave some hope to the industry. The First Minister stated that the requirement to stay local may be lifted on 6 July, meaning people could travel to visit tourist attractions. He also outlined that the industry should use the period following the announcement to begin making preparations for reopening. It was also announced that at its next review of the regulations on the 9 July, the Welsh Government would consider allowing self-contained holiday accommodation to reopen.

On 29 June 2020 the Welsh Government issued guidance for tourism and hospitality businesses on a phased and safe re-opening. This suggests that outdoor visitor attractions could reopen on 6 July and self-contained holiday accommodation on 13 July if conditions “continue to be favourable”.

As the full impact on the tourism industry in Wales remains to be seen, many businesses will be eager to restart their operations. The sector may be keen for current restrictions to be lifted as soon as possible, however on 10 June 2020 during a press conference, the Minister for Economy, Transport and North Wales, made it clear that in lifting any restrictions the Welsh Government would need to be:

…confident that we will not ruin the prospects of the visitor economy for 2021 by prematurely opening up [the industry].

Article by Francesca Howorth, Senedd Research, Welsh Parliament

We’ve published a range of material on the coronavirus pandemic, including a post setting out the help and guidance available for people in Wales and a timeline of Welsh and UK governments’ response.

You can see all our coronavirus-related publications by clicking here. All are updated regularly.