Support programme unveiled to help LCR tourism industry recover from pandemic

Steve Rotheram

A support plan has been unveiled to help Liverpool City Region’s tourism industry recover from the impact of the pandemic.

Metro Mayor, Steve Rotheram, announced the two-year scheme for the industry, worth £5bn a year to the region, which will be overseen by Growth Platform – Liverpool City Region Growth Company.

Tourism supports more than 55,000 jobs throughout the region which had been the fifth most visited in the UK by international visitors before the pandemic led to lockdowns and massive disruption.

Steve Rotheram said: “Our city region is a national and international destination of choice, renowned for culture, music, sport, hospitality and much, much more.

“The visitors who come to soak up our unique offer are starting to return and breathe fresh life into our economy and the short-term predictions are encouraging.

“We’ve helped more than 4,500 local businesses with over £45m worth of funding to keep them afloat during the pandemic, but the effect on the visitor economy has been seismic and the shock waves may last for some time.”

He added: “I want us to economically recover from COVID quickly so we can get back to where we were pre-pandemic as the fastest growing city region in the country.”

In 2019 the Liverpool City Region attracted 5.4m leisure and business staying visitors as well as 61m day visitors.

In 2020, the visitor economy’s 7,840 businesses took a 58% hit to income and the conference and events sector was left “decimated”.

Office of National Statistics figures show that sectors of the visitor economy lost between 39% and 89% of their output during the year.

International tourists are not expected to return to pre-pandemic levels before 2025 and the business events sector may not fully recover before 2028.

The new strategy proposes a range of interventions, including for the important events and conference sector, which would bring much needed income via a steady stream of delegates, often in winter and during the week.

The City Region strategy looks to capitalise on pent-up demand, restore confidence and develop new markets.

It aims to bridge a damaging skills gap and staff shortages, proposes a rethink of the way tourist bodies are funded and identifies an urgent need for continued public support until the industry is strong enough to support itself.

The strategy sets out five priority areas, aligned with national Government priorities, around key markets, rebuilding confidence and resilience.

Destination marketing is to be carried out over the next three years using £3.2m of public and private sector investment to generate demand for leisure and business tourists. This builds on the earlier £1.5m fund to lure back domestic visitors announced by the Metro Mayor.

A further £3.1m plan over two years using Strategic Investment Funding and private sector funding is designed to help rebuild the conference and events sector, which was hit hard.

With uncertainty around travel restrictions, compounded by a move to more remote working and online meetings, it could take five years for events income levels to return to previous levels.

To restore the sector to full health, new funding models to support major venues in bidding for conferences and events are being explored.

Also, the way small tourism businesses are supported needs a radical new approach if the sector is to bounce back, the report says.

And it is proposed to change the way destination management organisations, formerly tourist boards, are structured. This would seek core funding from central government to support the City Region’s destination marketing organisations (DMOs).

The report highlights a number of large scale projects which could help draw post-COVID tourists and give the region an advantage in the fiercely competitive, tourism market.

These include the £12m dockside Eureka children’s museum, the £30m Shakespeare North theatre in Prescot and Everton FC’s new £500m riverside stadium at Bramley-Moore Dock.

Liverpool City Region Combined Authority culture, tourism and visitor economy portfolio holder, Cllr Mike Wharton, said: “The COVID pandemic has had a dramatic impact on our world renowned visitor economy but we have shown great resilience and with the help of more than £45m of Combined Authority funding we are already bouncing back.

“This strategy will enable the entire city region to compete with other parts of the UK and abroad.”