There is hope for our tourism industry, but we need to change direction

Ted Vibert

By Ted Vibert

IT is disappointing that our Economic Development Minister, Deputy Kirsten Morel, has done so little to encourage ways in which we can revitalise our once great tourism industry as it struggles to survive all the changes that have taken place in the UK tourism market that we once appealed to.

There has been little recognition by our government of the fact that Jersey once had 30,000 registered hotel and guest house beds fully occupied by paying tourists for five months of the year and reasonably occupied for another three months. This has now dropped to just over 5,000, and if that is not an industry in trouble and in need of an urgent heart transplant I don’t know what else our ministers need before launching a huge rescue operation and putting together an urgent emergency plan to halt its total collapse.

Over the last 20 years, communities around the world have understood the value of tourism pumping money into their economy.

If Jersey was a UK or European town with just a single industry, as is often the case in the UK, where a coal mine, a steel manufacturing plant or a car manufacturer provides most of the employment for those living there (Port Talbot and its steel industry is a perfect example), the government would be making serious efforts to help the businesses and save the town.

In those areas, the real profits that a single industry creates often belong to the investors in those businesses, and it is mainly only the wages of those who work in that single industry that are spent in that town and which sustain the town’s economy. So any downturn in that one industry creates a catastrophic impact on those who live and work there.

Tourism creates a totally different economic dynamic in a community, thanks to the known and accepted “multiplier effect” of the industry, which distributes the money tourists spend throughout all aspects and areas of the community.

If you think of a family of four arriving in Jersey for a week’s holiday, they will have spent a certain level of their holiday money getting here and their travel agent has paid their full board at their hotel. They have £2,000 left of their holiday money to spend.

They start spending that as soon as they arrive with the taxi drive to their hotel; then afternoon tea at the hotel and drinks at the bar. Then throughout the days, they will go on coach tours, have lunches out, drinks in bars, visits to Elizabeth Castle, the Zoo and the Underground Hospital and then shopping in town. While Jersey is not the shopping paradise it once was, for certain items the fact that we have 5% GST instead of the 20% VAT of the UK means there are still bargains to be had, especially in jewellery and watches. On leaving, at the Airport, they will probably still buy their 200 duty-free cigarettes and bottle of liquor to take home.

Many, many companies and people will, therefore, have received some of their £2,000. And the whole working population of the Island used to embrace the industry, often working long hours to provide our visitors with a happy and often memorable experience. It was the glue that held the Island’s working community together and we were all proud of it, especially when it had been “a good summer”.

Then, come October, things quietened down and people would heave a collective sigh of relief – rather like that feeling you get when relatives and family who come and stay with you for their annual fortnight’s holiday, and the house seems overrun and your whole life revolves around looking after them, return home.

It was then that all those working in the industry had a break, took time off and prepared themselves for the next influx in the first week of April, the arrival of hordes of honeymooners.

There is no point in trying to revive those days, as our UK market for tourists has changed dramatically. Back in the 60s, access to the Mediterranean resorts of Spain, Italy and Greece was extremely expensive. But not any more – and there are more places such as Tunisia, Bulgaria, Egypt and the Greek islands where investors have poured billions into providing magnificent hotels and modern tourist villages in great locations on the edge of a warm blue sea that hardly moves.

Added to this has been the growth of low-cost airlines like Ryanair, who have become the largest carriers of tourists to these areas at very low prices, making holidays in these locations way below the cost of a fortnight in Jersey. And these resorts have what Britons crave more than anything after a grey and dismal winter – sunshine from dawn to dusk.

So how do we compete? We need to start by recognising the change that has taken place and if we keep promoting Jersey as we did in the old days, we are banging on a drum but no one is listening.

We then need to ask a simple question: why would anyone want to choose Jersey for their holidays when they can opt for places that can give them so much more of what they are looking for?

We need to discover what there is available in Jersey that will attract visitors from France, for a start – they live just down the road. There are a number of Jersey people now living in France who have a good understanding of French people – we should harness that knowledge and work with Condor and put together a feasible marketing plan.

But our most important move would be to generate reasons for people to visit Jersey by creating events in which large numbers can take part, such as world championships – for example, the world championship choir competition. With each choir having about 40 singers and ten choirs taking part, this would be 400 people visiting for at least three days.

Other examples would be the world brass-band championship, the world school orchestra championship, the world volleyball championship, the world ballroom dancing championship, the world five-a-side schools football championship and so on. Jersey could become the event centre of Europe and many more “championships” that bring large groups to compete could be added to the list.

Experience has shown that not only people taking part would be coming as part of the group but supporters such as husbands, wives and friends.

Let’s see what Visit Jersey make of the idea.

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