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Letter: Fresh thinking needed to attract visitors
5:34pm Thursday 31st January 2013 in Opinion
Any Cumbrian with a job which relies to an extent on the tourism trade - and there are thousands of such jobs in the county - will have been dismayed by your recent report on the gloomy outlook for the holiday industry in 2013 (Gazette, January 3, ‘Stormy year for Lake District B&Bs and hotels as rain batters area’).
The weather certainly didn't do Cumbria any favours at all last year, and many tourism businesses also felt they were played a duff hand by the Olympics, when many families opted to spend their summer break watching the games on television.
So it's hardly surprising that a climate of pessimism is pervading the start of the year in some quarters of the tourism industry. However, I think there may be a crumb of comfort to be gained from a closer analysis of just how Cumbria's visitor patterns have been changing of late.
Yes, last summer was pretty dire for the reasons already outlined. But while our holiday park, Skelwith Fold in Ambleside, did record reduced summer business compared with the previous year, this was more than adequately redressed by an extremely busy autumn.
And already this year, we have been very heartened by the volume of bookings for spring.
These ‘shoulder seasons’ have traditionally been the times when the tourism industry simply treads water. But, increasingly, we are seeing demand even-out across the year - a trend which I'm sure all visitor-related businesses will welcome, not least because of the staffing difficulties which are dictated by a famine/feast/famine pattern of holiday taking.
My feelings are also echoed by many of the other 100-plus holiday parks in Cumbria, which are in membership of the British Holiday and Home Parks Association (of which I am Branch Director).
Of course, life is never that straightforward and we must also accept the fact that many people are replacing the traditional one- or two-week holiday with short breaks. But even this isn't necessarily a negative as there is every opportunity to woo visitors back for a second or third break over the year.
Adjusting to these new patterns, however, requires tourism providers to recognise that holiday expectations have also changed in recent years. If people are coming to Cumbria for just a few days, they want to make their experience as fulfilling as possible - which often involves more than a gentle drive around our enchanting scenery.
We know that modern guests want to engage more closely with the countryside, be it tackling an upland or low level walk, or taking part in a specialist pursuit such as is provided by Go Ape and the large number of other outdoor activity organisations in the Lake District.
Let's face it, nobody ever seriously believed in an Olympic legacy for Cumbria which would bring huge economic rewards. But the London Games has helped propel an interest in taking on new challenges, which Cumbria can supply in abundance. And if we can no longer count on sunny summers, that too will add impetus to the trend to more spring and autumn breaks.
My firm belief is that visitor-related businesses in the Lake District can survive - and protect the direct and secondary employment they sustain - by adjusting their approach.
Fresh thinking will, I believe, help keep our tourism industry buoyant for many years to come.
Henry Wild, Director, Skelwith Fold Caravan Park, Ambleside
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