Samantha Richardson, academy director at the National Coastal Tourism Academy, says the tide is turning for coastal regeneration.
The House of Lords Select Committee Inquiry on Regenerating Seaside Towns and Communities is asking important questions about the role of the visitor economy on the coast, challenges faced by coastal communities and how to successfully and sustainably regenerate coastal communities.
Our coastal communities have been at the heart of our tourism industry since the 1800s, experiencing every stage of the destination lifecycle.
Today it is our most popular domestic holiday product for overnight trips, and for many UK residents, it holds precious memories of quality time with family and friends.
Yet, for international visitors to the UK, the coast is completely new product, relatively unknown and often missed off international itineraries – just 11% of international visitors go to the coast while in the UK.
The National Coastal Tourism Academy, established in 2013, has an in-depth understanding of coastal tourism and opportunities for growth.
In 2016, we worked with the industry to create a vision for the visitor economy on the coast – at its heart is making coastal communities great places to live, work, invest and visit, and retaining local distinctiveness of place.
The objectives of that vision seek to understand and tackle the common challenges faced on the coast and promote greater collaboration between coastal destinations.
Seasonality remains a significant challenge – it affects local employment and therefore housing, investment and quality of life.
Tackling seasonality will take time, and while we now have research that has identified which markets are interested in off-peak coastal offers, change must be locally led and each coastal destination needs support to identify which markets are best suited to their ambitions.
Led by the NCTA, the ‘England’s Coast’ Discover England Fund project is working with destinations that are interested in increasing international visitor numbers in the off-peak period.
The project portrays a different side to the coast – the diverse, stunning landscapes and rich heritage of our sea-faring nation.
It is the first time that so many coastal destinations have come together to deliver one project, and at a local level the engagement and enthusiasm from businesses has been remarkable.
Working with businesses and other local stakeholders, the project is helping tourism providers to understand the needs of international visitors so that they can adjust the product and work to change the perception of the year-round coastal offer.
We have a world class coastline and international visitors are often amazed at the diversity of landscapes and rich coastal heritage.
The international visitor expects a certain level of quality and hospitality, so the project also has a focus on improving the visitor experience and the international welcome is a key aspect, even more so as we approach Brexit.
For me, a significant outcome already realised from this project, is the collaboration across the coast, businesses working together to improve their product, destinations sharing best practice and speaking with one voice.
Yes, there are still many challenges particularly in terms of deprivation, housing and a dichotomy of accommodation quality and retail experiences – but I strongly believe with the right support, change is possible. In fact, it’s already happening.
So, how can government support the coast?
Continue to recognise the importance of these communities and invest in change.
Recognise the importance of the visitor economy for initiating change and appreciate that it has to be locally led, but with support and expertise at a national level to enable coastal communities to unlock their potential.
Finally, appreciate that change will take time and that the funding programmes must reflect this.
Travelling across our coast, I regularly meet passionate, engaged individuals and groups seeking to improve their coastal communities – the tide is turning and the coast is ready for an adventure…