Doom and gloom for Cumbrian tourism businesses as wet summer takes its toll
Published at 15:25, Friday, 20 July 2012
Tourism businesses are fearing one of the worst summers in recent years, down to miserable weather, falling visitor numbers, sluggish bookings and profits being hit by the rise of online reservation websites.
One Lake District business owner with more than 50 self-catering holiday cottages on his books, described the 2012 season as “the most difficult since the late 1970s,” while another said he “can’t give rooms away” because so few visitors are heading to Cumbria.
A recurring complaint this season in the smaller B&B and hotel sector is the rise and dominance of online travel giants like bookings.com and hotels.com.
While offering exposure in front of millions of potential guests, these sites levy hefty commissions on bookings and create price wars which involve cutting room rates and gate prices – reducing bottom lines.
Discounting websites like Groupon are also creating a culture of haggling by customers which further reduces profitability for smaller operators with overheads to cover.
Cumbria Tourism represents more than 3,000 businesses, many of which aim to achieve heads on beds through its website www.golakes.co.uk and are charged commission on any bookings made.
For the first time ever, the site is close to breaking the five million visits a year barrier. But national giants like bookings.com claim to average 30 million visits a year, while hotels.com says it gets 2.3 million a month.
Ian Stephens, of Cumbria Tourism, said: “This is a difficult year for all businesses and visitor-dependent businesses are feeling the pinch.
“Energy, fuel and food costs have increased and the costs of reaching customers through marketing and commissions paid to various agencies have also risen.
“Though business generally may be down, the good news is that most businesses are trading effectively by carefully managing costs and investing in pro-active marketing.”
Tony Blaney, chairman of the 500-member trade group, the Lakes Hospitality Association, said: “I fear the traditional Lake District B&B is under threat (from OTAs) and we will start to lose some small providers soon if we don’t find an answer.”
The June to September quarter are important “hay months” for smaller many businesses when many harvest what they can to survive winter when trade dips.
Factors like the record wet weather, economic anxiety, flooded-out rural events and high profile “stay at home” sporting fixtures like Euro 2012, have combined to stall one of the county’s most important economic engines.
However, hopes are now riding on a sustained period of good weather for the school holidays. Cumbria Tourism is also launching a marketing push for the county next month to lure UK and international visitors during the Olympic Games and beyond.
Jude Walker runs award-winning five and four-star self-catering cottages called Hall Hills, near Dalston. She said enquiries were down but the number booking in advance was up.
Mrs Walker said: “The recession is a rolling stone but accompanied by the poor weather and continual economic negativity in the media, it’s no surprise that people are not planning holidays in the UK.
“Let’s hope the sun will shine and things improve.”
Jonathan Denby, who owns four hotels in the Lake District, said visitor numbers would drop this summer because of the Japanese market heading for the Olympics.
Mr Denby said: “A lot of people are struggling. One of the problems is that the banks are being very difficult about extending overdrafts.
“By the winter I expect there will be casualties.”
Linda Furniss, of Keswick Tourism Association, said the market was busy with lookers, not bookers. Hits to the town’s tourism website are up 8,000 a month on previous years but bookings are not following the trend.
“The high cost of petrol and exorbitant parking charges are major factors in a reduction of tourists,” said Mrs Furniss. “A lull in the rain would do us good.”
Published by http://www.cumberlandnews.co.uk
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