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Agenda item


To gain an insight into how Blackpool Council is developing a tourism recovery plan for the resort in the aftermath of the COVID-19 lockdown. The report is intended to illustrate the steps that the Council is taking to facilitate this recovery process together with key partners in the visitor economy.


Mr Philip Welsh, Head of Communication and Tourism advised that at the time of writing the report a number of points had been unclear. He reported that since publication of the agenda, requirements regarding social distancing had been reduced from two metres to one metre plus which would improve the viability of reopening some premises. The announcements made by the Government had also confirmed that attractions, hotels and bed and breakfasts in Blackpool could start to reopen on 4 July 2020.


Whilst many attractions were reopening, the main exceptions were the Sandcastle as swimming pools and waterparks remained closed and performance venues such as The Grand, the Winter Gardens and Viva Blackpool. It was noted that the Zoo had already reopened and had been sold out each day albeit at a limited capacity. The Tourist Information Centre, Pleasure Beach and Merlin attractions were all scheduled to open on 4 July 2020.


Visit England had put an industry standard in place ‘We’re good to go’ which would provide an accreditation to a range of businesses and aimed to provide reassurance to members of the public that it was safe to visit. Marketing and communications were also being used to provide reassurance to members of the public that visitor experiences were safe and there had been a positive response to the announcement that the Illuminations season had been extended until early January 2021.


Members referred to the reduction in social distancing from two metres to one metre plus and raised concerns that the reduction could impact upon how covid secure attractions were. Mr Welsh advised that he had spoken to the attractions and most were taking a cautious approach. A number had already installed signage based on the two metre requirements and would be continuing to work on that basis. Ensuring attractions were safe was a common goal of all involved in the tourist industry.


The impact of the pandemic on the coach industry was referenced and questions asked relating to the importance of the market to Blackpool. In response, Mr Welsh advised that the implications were still being worked through. The coach industry was not viable with social distancing requirements reducing the number of people travelling on a coach below the break-even threshold. It was noted that some hotels in particular relied upon coach bookings and that the Council would work with the industry. Mr Alan Cavill, Director of Regeneration and Communication added that the potential of Blackpool Transport Services would also being considered to determine if it could replace some of the capacity lost in the coach industry.


The Committee noted the anxiety within the industry regarding the level of information and guidance provided in relation to a wide range of issues and queried whether the Council had a role in simplifying the advice to businesses in Blackpool. A further question was asked regarding the Council’s role in inspecting businesses in order to ensure they were meeting requirements. In response, Mr Welsh advised that the process for acquiring the industry standard was simple. He advised that when detailed guidance was received from Government, the Council would ensure it was fit for purpose locally and adjusted accordingly. He added that Visit England had a number of advisers monitoring complaints regarding the ‘We’re good to go’ standard and that they would be forwarded to Blackpool as a destination for review.


Mr Cavill added that there had been high levels of guidance issued by the Government in relation to a wide range of issues. It was intended that all the guidance would be brought together into one place and that all guidance relating to the safe reopening of tourism would ultimately be easily accessed in the same place.


A specific issue relating to the safety of public toilet blocks accessed by turnstiles was raised. It was agreed that a full response would be provided in writing following the meeting, however, the operator of the specific toilet block referred to had immediately altered the toilet block to prevent people being able to climb over the turnstile.


Members indicated their wish that scrutiny be utilised to assist in the identification of creative ideas to further promote the tourist industry and Mr Welsh agreed to consider how this could be best achieved.


Concern was raised regarding the potential reputational damage to the town of incidents such as that at Bournemouth Beach and referred to issues in Blackpool of beach overcrowding and high levels of litter. Mr Welsh noted that a number of issues had combined to result in high levels of visitors to the beach at once including hot weather and having few other places to go. He highlighted that beach patrol services had been reintroduced and that they had access to an alert system to request help from other services. Public toilets had been reopened and car parking enforcement had been reintroduced. There had been a number of litter picks undertaken by volunteers and Members commended their efforts.


The Committee noted the local lockdown that had been introduced in Leicester and raised concerns that the re-opening of Blackpool could cause similar to happen in the town. Mr Welsh advised that Public Health had worked closely with the tourism sector throughout and that no-one wanted a further local lockdown in Blackpool. The emphasis in the town was on the safe reopening of attractions and amenities and enforcement officers would continue to operate and were working well with the Police who had been very supportive. Mr Cavill added that inflection rates were monitored closely every day and that figures were continuing to fall.


It was noted that a key demographic of visitors to Blackpool was the over 65s and that there were concerns regarding the current willingness of this age group to travel. It was suggested that a specific marketing campaign would be required to target this group and encourage their return to the town. Mr Welsh agreed that specific marketing was required. He advised that the extension of the illuminations season had had a positive impact on the extension of the whole tourist season and that the Pleasure Beach had confirmed that it would continue to open on weekends until 13 December 2020.


The Committee referred to the Lancashire Recovery Plan and queried the Council’s input into the Plan. It was noted that the development of the Plan had been led by Marketing Lancashire. Mr Cavill advised that the Council had been involved and that it was a good attempt at providing a single document to reflect the needs of all areas across Lancashire to the Government, in a similar way to which the combined authorities of Liverpool and Manchester had already submitted documents. It would be the start of a further dialogue with Government and it was confirmed that the views and needs of Blackpool were being well represented through involvement in Government consultation groups.


Members queried the level of support being provided to the theatres in the town.


(At this point Councillor Galley declared a prejudicial interest, the nature of his interest that he was a non-Executive Director at Blackpool Entertainment Company Limited, the operator of the Winter Gardens. Councillor Galley left the meeting for the duration of the response to the question).


In response, Mr Cavill advised that there was no proposed reopening date for such establishments. He noted that a number of scenarios were being modelled by the companies and the impact of the pandemic on their financial position. It was expected that there would be a very slow return to entertainment venues and support was being provided where possible. Mr Welsh added that representatives from The Grand and Winter Gardens attended the Tourism Recovery Group and had raised an additional issue regarding the availability of shows even when they were allowed to reopen as the whole industry was currently on hold.


(Councillor Galley returned to the meeting).


Reference was made to the extension of the season in 2020 and the Committee questioned whether there were any plans to also start the season earlier in 2021. Mr Welsh advised that it could be considered, however, would be dependent on the viability of business being open and the number of potential visitors. He added that marketing for the 2021 season would be started earlier than normal to raise the profile of the town. Mr Cavill added that a range of options were being considered and worked through to achieve the best outcome for the town.

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