'It’s fashionable to knock Jersey’s tourism industry in some circles. But just look at what it achieved…'

- Advertisement -

By Ted Vibert

OUR Island has been a popular tourist destination for UK residents since before the First World War. Back in the early 1900s, Jersey was home to prestigious hotels such as the Royal Yacht, the Pomme d’Or, the British Hotel at the bottom of Broad Street (now a Barclays bank), the Royal in David Place, Hotel de l’Europe (now Chambers pub) in Mulcaster Street, the Ritz near Howard Davis Park and the Grand Hotel.

In those days, we promoted our fine beaches, clement temperatures and extra sunshine and, by all accounts, the people of Jersey were proud of their island and enjoyed acting as hosts to the many visitors who travelled by steamer to spend their summer holidays with us.

Our visitors then were of the fashionable kind who could afford the price of the journey and the cost of several weeks in a well-run hotel. They liked the idea of a short boat trip across the high seas and felt that they were going abroad without the need for a passport, where English was spoken, their food wasn’t flavoured with garlic, toilets flushed, bath water ran freely and they could walk around at night with little fear.

Our politicians often boasted that we attracted a ‘high class of visitor’. Not for us kiss-me-quick hats or donkeys on the beach or a bawdy show with showgirls flashing their legs on a pier thrust out into the sea.

The immediate years after the Occupation saw the Island in recovery-and-development mode. Our tourist industry was reborn on the back of the development of air travel and the progression from Spitfires to passenger aircraft. We were fortunate that Britain had a number of former Battle of Britain pilots who became entrepreneurs – launching small airlines such as Cambrian from Wales, BKS from Newcastle and Channel Airways from Southend, or were available to start flying the Dakotas of those very airlines with the need for little or no extra training.

The demand for air travel to the holiday island of Jersey grew at an alarming rate.

The Island’s population also took off, jumping from 57,000 in 1955 to 84,000 in 1991, which only added to the passenger levels as one of the attractions of living in Jersey was that one could, on any day, fly direct to most large UK cities or urban areas. By the 1970s, Jersey Airport was said to be the sixth busiest in Europe.

At the same time, the Island was fortunate to be home to a number of entrepreneurial families who saw the business opportunities that the booming tourism industry offered and developed their own hotel businesses to take advantage.

We also enjoyed a lot of advantages over many British resorts. Apart from being an island, we were able to promote ourselves as being more glamorous than anywhere in England, with marketing straplines such as ‘Jersey – island of the long summer’ and ‘Jersey – the sunshine island’. What’s more, we were a shoppers’ paradise.

To recover from the cost of the Second World War, British taxpayers were hit hard by a high-tax regime. I recall interviewing one wealthy UK-based individual who had chosen to retire to Jersey for tax reasons, as he was getting only sixpence out of every pound he earned and anything that was left when he died would be subject to death duties.

But it was not only the rich who were being blitzed in the UK at the time. Sales tax of up to 65% was levied on any item considered to be a luxury – and that included cosmetics, perfume, watches, some clothing, cameras and even binoculars. Cigarettes, tobacco, wines and spirits were also heavily taxed.

This all meant that these items were cheap in Jersey by comparison. People who enjoyed going into an Island pub or nightclub could drink the same brand they drank at home for half the price.

The British customs authorities recognised that tourists wanted to take advantage of such price differences and bring goods back to the UK, so they introduced a concession which saw visitors allowed to travel home with 200 cigarettes, a bottle of liquor, a variety of cosmetics and a small amount of perfume without having to pay duty.

All this, of course, made Jersey a great place for a holiday and our visitor numbers soared even further.

Such success should have been welcomed by the Jersey community – and for a while it was. But then complacency started to set in. In my role at the time as the London-based public relations manager for the tourism committee, one of my tasks was to keep the Island informed of any developments within the sector that could affect Jersey.

I warned them that the switch to a lower rate of VAT on luxury goods would almost remove the price difference and advantage we had in this area.

Through my role, however, I was fortunate to develop close friendships with some of the most influential British travel writers and broadcasters of the time, whom I had escorted to the Island on many occasions and who had written copious articles and filmed a plethora of TV shows praising Jersey as a holiday destination.

Yet, despite the success we shared, I knew that the tourism committee would never take too much notice of me. I was the local lad they remembered as a reporter on the JEP, so what would I know?

So I subsequently asked four of the committee members to write out what they felt would be the greatest challenges to Jersey’s successful tourism industry.

Next week I will reveal what they said back in 1965, and assess why warnings made about the sector were ignored.

- Advertisement -
- Advertisement -

Latest Stories

- Advertisement -

UK News

- Advertisement -
- Advertisement -

Read the latest free supplements

Read the Town Crier, Le Rocher and a whole host of other subjects like mortgage advice, business, cycling, travel and property.