Turning the tide for coastal tourism

Director of the National Coastal Tourism Academy Samantha Richardson outlines the outcome of this week’s first dedicated Coastal Tourism Forum in light of the academy’s latest research.

It was fantastic to see more than 100 delegates at our first Coastal Tourism Forum in London this week – an absolute endorsement of the importance of this sector in the domestic tourism industry.

We’ve spent three years analysing the challenges and opportunities facing coastal destinations so it was inspiring to see so many businesses, destination managers and industry leaders hearing the results of our research and enthusiastically debating the industry’s future.

While coastal tourism has recently regained its place as the largest domestic overnight tourism segment, and accounts for 210,000 jobs, regeneration and the pace of change on the coast is slow.

Seasonality is a major issue that has changed very little since 2008; few destinations after all, can claim business to be brisk year round. On top of this, the coast has a wide range of social issues which create skills shortages, leading to problems of unemployment, and putting pressure on funding to support tourism.

The forum gave us the opportunity to share our work to help overcome these challenges and drive sustainable economic growth. We shared a snapshot of the huge amount of opportunities from our new research into activity breaks on the coast, the potential for increased business travellers and the importance of attracting the over-55 age group.

One third of the population will be in this bracket by 2024, and our work reveals 50% of this group is interested in visiting the coast in the off-peak season.

Our survey of people under the age 35 highlighted significant gaps in their understanding of what there is to see and do on the coast. Their lack of awareness is a major barrier to growth.

One in five of us takes a health and wellness break each year and this is growing rapidly. Our research has shown that 59% of those would like to take that break on the coast, but only eight% currently do.

So what can the National Coastal Tourism Academy do? What next for the coast? Now we have an in-depth understanding of the opportunities and how to overcome the barriers to growth, we need to take action.

There isn’t currently a strategy and action plan for development of the visitor economy on the coast – one created by industry and recognised by government, one with realistic and achievable goals.

We believe now is the time to develop one. We shared this with delegates at the forum and staged workshops to feed into a ‘Vision and Action Plan’.

Delegates called for help facilitating and encouraging greater collaboration, clear leadership and better understanding of how the coast can work together.

They voiced the need to raise awareness of the coast, to present a positive image and change public perceptions of the coastal product.

They also called for a lead body to liaise with the media on coastal issues and asked for more support to help businesses and destinations develop the product to tackle seasonality and present distinctive products.

Best practice and research should be widely shared, and further investment should be encouraged to support growth, particularly for entrepreneurs and start-ups. Perceptions of careers in hospitality also need to be addressed to alleviate skills shortages and staff retention.

After the forum we presented these points at a reception for MPs with a coastal constituency, many of whom are only too aware of the importance of tourism in coastal destinations.

But we need to take action and continue this momentum for change. We’ll be feeding the results from the forum into a vision document to be circulated to all coastal stakeholders as well as publically available on our website

Following this week’s forum one thing is clear: those involved in coastal tourism are passionate about its future. The forum was just the start. A roadmap is emerging that is supported by industry and there is a sense of renewed energy to make change happen.