NEW Forest firms battling for survival must win the “hearts and minds” of local people as they look to attract visitors back to the area when they reopen after the coronavirus lockdown, a tourism leader has warned.
The strategy has been underlined by Anthony Climpson, chief executive of tourism group Go New Forest (GNF), in a recovery plan for the local economy.
Many firms must open soon otherwise they will not survive, it says, but local residents will have reservations about visitors.
It is thought up to a fifth of all the jobs in the New Forest are tourism related, and the Covid-19 pandemic has badly hit the industry at a time when it would usually be thriving.
Mr Climpson said: “While it is understandable some residents might be nervous about welcoming visitors back when we reopen, it is critical we are able to do so with their full support when government guidelines say we can start operating again.”
Not all local firms were eligible for £37m of government grants to help support the district’s firms. Because tourism employment is seasonal, many were unable to take advantage of the furlough scheme.
Mr Climpson added: “Tourism businesses will be central in driving the successful recovery of the whole of our economy. Collaboration and alignment will be paramount to ensure local tourism survives so it continues to fuel the economy and sustain lots of local non-tourism jobs in its supply chain.”
The plan has got the backing of the New Forest Business Partnership. Its chairman, Matthew Lawson, said it was “working closely” with GNF to support tourism firms, some of which were already offering takeaway, delivery and collection services.
“Now, with the government’s ambition to open some hospitality businesses including foodservice providers, pubs and accommodation from 4th July, this is giving real hope and encouragement to business owners,” Mr Lawson added.
“They need all the support they can get from local residents so they can keep going, bounce back and revitalise the visitor economy, which benefits us all in the New Forest.”
The first stage of the GNF recovery programme will target New Forest, Southampton and Bournemouth residents. It will then appeal to consumers outside the New Forest and encourage businesses to accept “advance revenue” in order to keep them afloat.
“Before we start targeting the large audiences which live at least 30 minutes’ journey time away, it will be critical to win the hearts and minds of our local residents in supporting the reopening of local tourism,” the plan states.
“Major aspects will be to demonstrate our businesses are Covid-19 safe, emphasise the large local supply chain we support and the local jobs we provide, and create a destination-wide social distancing plan.”
GNF will help produce a Covid-19 business charter and promote businesses which abide by health and safety measures to help boost public confidence. It will work with the national park, district council and Forestry England to promote social distancing policy.
It has suggested maximising the NPA’s October Half Term Walking Festival and GNF’s November Food & Drink Festival Fortnight by linking them to individual business offerings “operating safely within the C-19 Charter” in the autumn.
The winter, including Christmas and new year, will be “extremely critical periods to build on learning”, the plan adds, since firms will likely aim to “recover previous lost income”.
Those firms which best demonstrate they are abiding by government restrictions and safety measures as various rules are lifted are likely to recover best, it suggests.
Mr Climpson added: “This will give them a fighting chance to stay afloat during the quiet winter months. If not, many simply won’t survive and everyone will lose out.”
Brockenhurst hotels plan for 4th July reopening
BOTH Forest Park Country and Balmer Lawn hotels, in Brockenhurst, have said they plan to reopen on 4th July, under government plans to kickstart the hospitality industry.
Kevin Wood, director of Forest Park Country Hotel, said its staff used the lockdown to ensure they were up to date on safety and wellbeing guidelines, spruce up its garden and improve the interior.
The hotel’s website stated any guests who arrived with coronavirus symptoms would not be accepted and politely asked to reschedule. Tables would be kept two metres apart, with staff wearing masks.
It added: “We are confident the measures we have adopted and made our best practice will ensure an enjoyable and comfortable stay with us at Forest Park.
“We expect these measures to be temporary and look forward to removing them one by one or entirely when times permit, and it is safe to do so.”