Help Jersey enjoy a renaissance

TO describe the past 12 months as having been ‘challenging’ for the hospitality industry is to downplay the devastating effect that the coronavirus pandemic has had on the sector.

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But, in the words of Visit Jersey chief executive Amanda Burns, ‘like a phoenix from the ashes’, industry members are rising again and preparing to launch what they hope will be a much more fruitful season.

‘Last year was truly desperate for everyone involved with tourism but the combination of the Island’s vaccine programme, Boris Johnson’s recent roadmap for easing lockdown in the UK and the arrival of the brighter spring weather has filled us with hope,’ she said. ‘It almost feels like 2021 offers the opportunity for a renaissance and both Visit Jersey and the Island’s hospitality businesses have a tremendous opportunity to go for it and to welcome both visitors – once border restrictions are lifted – and Islanders to their properties.’

And helping to kick-start the new tourism year is Visit Jersey’s Big Weekend, which is due to take place on 24 and 25 April.

‘This is the second year that we have planned our Big Weekend but, unfortunately, last year’s did not go ahead quite as planned, as the Island went into lockdown just days before the it was due to take place,’ explained product executive Jennie Smith. ‘Because of that, we are even more excited that attractions, restaurateurs and experience providers have shown such enthusiasm for this year’s Big Weekend.’

Based on a similar concept which launched in Kent in 2006 and has since been adopted by Hertfordshire and Essex, the Jersey Big Weekend, which is sponsored by JT, is designed to help Islanders become ambassadors for the Island. It offers residents the opportunity to enjoy new experiences and understand the breadth and depth of the local tourism industry.

‘There are some fabulous businesses here but how many of us know about them? We know that approximately 14% of visitors to the Island come to see family and friends, so the more familiar Islanders are with the experiences available, the more they can share these with their relatives,’ said Mrs Smith.

‘This year, the Jersey Big Weekend has also evolved to recognise the amazing support that Islanders have demonstrated towards the industry over the past 12 months. I have spoken to many participating businesses who see the Big Weekend as an opportunity to say thank-you for that support, something on which they will continue to rely until our borders are less restricted.’

With 45 businesses taking part and over 680 pairs of tickets to be won, Mrs Smith added that there was a tremendous range of experiences available.

‘This year, we have everything from active experiences such as abseiling and jet-skiing for those who are keen to embrace the Island’s open spaces, to more wellness-based activities such as forest bathing.

‘There are also cultural opportunities and unique experiences, with Jersey Heritage opening up the Sir Francis Cook Gallery and offering a one-to-one guided tour of the artefacts and paintings not currently on display. And we also have an array of luxury experiences for people to enjoy, including one package from Luxury Jersey Hotels, which includes a spa treatment, dinner and an overnight stay.’

In a further sign of the renaissance highlighted by Ms Burns, new businesses to the sector are also getting involved.

‘We are delighted to be welcoming some brand-new businesses to the Big Weekend, including Tea Field Cottages, a lovely self-catering cottage overlooking one of the tea plantations. They opened just before Christmas and have offered a two-night stay at the property. We also have experiences from a number of walking guides whose in-depth passion for the Island offers a unique perspective on walks around Mont Orgueil and the lanes of Trinity.’

Alongside the new businesses entering the industry, many well-established providers have adapted to the challenges of the recent pandemic by innovating their services and embracing technology to advance their offer.

As Graeme Millar, chief executive of sponsors JT, said: ‘Covid-19 is proving to be an unexpected catalyst for innovation and the integration of new technologies to help businesses reinvent themselves.

‘This is a golden opportunity for the Island’s tourism industry to use technology to reach new audiences and showcase what they have to offer. Businesses of all sizes are embracing SMART tourism, placing technology at the heart of their businesses so that visitors can use their phones to do simple tasks such as pay for taxis, order meals, check queue times, book tickets and read information on the destination or attraction they plan to visit.

‘For over a century, JT has been at the very heart of Island life, adapting to change and leading in innovation for our community, which is why we want to encourage everyone to rediscover the amazing things to see and do right here, on our doorstep – and to then spread the word about them and provide vital support to our hospitality sector.’

As well as helping Islanders to become ambassadors for tourism, Ms Burns – who moved to the Island in July to take up her role at Visit Jersey – feels that the weekend supports the current demand for staycations.

‘I think one of the positives to have emerged from the pandemic is the way in which Islanders have fallen in love with Jersey again and have rediscovered or, in some cases, discovered, just how much is on offer here. I’ve spoken to people who, through taking part in initiatives such as 30 Bays in 30 Days, have been to beaches for the first time since their childhood. In bringing back these memories, they are also tapping back to happier times and, from the depression and fear of the past year, this has helped to bring elements of light and positivity.’

And it is not just Islanders, who Ms Burns is expecting to make the most of Jersey as a staycation destination this summer.

‘Following the UK roadmap announcement, I have heard news of enhanced levels of interest and bookings from many providers,’ she said. ‘We know there is pent-up demand for holidays and I think now that the Prime Minister has released the target dates for easing restrictions, consumers have more confidence to book trips for June onwards.

‘Everyone at Visit Jersey is gearing up to capitalise on this demand and to promote the Island as a “staycation” destination for those in the UK.’

And it is not just the Island’s proximity to the UK, and its status as the sunniest place in the British Isles, which Ms Burns says make it ideal for those considering a holiday close to home.

‘One of the key criteria for consumers this year is confidence – the confidence that they are coming to a safe destination. Jersey has a very good reputation for the way it has handled the Covid pandemic from the coverage that came from the UK and our Visit Safe charter helps to offer that reassurance.’

‘The charter was designed to mitigate some of the health risks around Covid and support our industry to do the right thing,’ added Mrs Smith. ‘It is a practical checklist for businesses, giving them the policies and processes required to make their properties safe for both their staff and visitors. It also gives that reassurance to visitors, and that is something that also applies to the Big Weekend.

‘It is important to highlight that the Big Weekend is not an event with a mass gathering of people. It is one weekend, celebrating tourism and hospitality, with events taking place across the Island and enjoyed by couples or small groups.’

Among those enjoying the experiences will be families nominated by Brighter Futures.

‘One of the comments that came from our initial planning meeting with the Jersey Attractions Group was that it would be nice if the Big Weekend could support a local charity and, as a result, we will be donating some tickets to Brighter Futures so that families experiencing a crisis can enjoy a day out,’ added Mrs Smith. ‘Not only does this add a lovely community element to the event but it also shows that, even while facing its own crisis, the industry is still thinking about others.’

With the ballot for tickets opening this week, Islanders can now apply for the experiences that appeal to them by visiting jerseybigweekend.co.uk.

‘Through the website, people can research each attraction and then apply for the tickets that interest them. There is no limit to the number of tickets for which each person can apply but if you are successful in one draw, you will be ineligible to win any other tickets,’ Mrs Smith explained.

Applications for tickets can be made online from 10 March to 5 April inclusive, and the winners will be notified on 6 April, with the Big Weekend itself taking place from 24 to 25 April.

Summing up the event, Ms Burns added: ‘This is a great opportunity to begin Jersey’s renaissance and look at everything the Island has to offer. As someone new to the Island, I have been amazed at how vast that offer is, with a fascinating history, heritage and geography.

‘There is so much to talk about and I hope that Islanders will have a great time discovering some of this over the weekend, and using these experiences to inspire and motivate others to make the most of Jersey.’

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