You may have noticed an increase in chatter about exporting in Cornwall as a result of the recent Export for Growth programme. Administered by the Dept of International Trade in partnership with the Chamber of Commerce it is providing various grants, matched funding deals, social media workshops, as well as business advice. Yet this structure isn’t quite meeting the needs of perhaps Cornwall’s most important economic pillar – bringing in tourists, particularly from overseas.
International visitors bring their Euros, Dollars and Yuan here, spending them on our goods and services in Sterling, but there isn’t a formal plan in place to ensure the long term sustainability of this flow of money.
Tourism is perennially seen as the poor relation in economic planning for Cornwall, as there is a drive to reduce dependence on it. That is on the face of it, a sensible move, but when for the very first time, recent EU funds allowed tourism related projects to be considered, the wider benefits of these projects have been overlooked.
Take Scotland as an example, with a very similar offering to Cornwall, where according to Visit Britain overseas visitor spend since 2008 is up 77% vs 15% in the South West and visitor numbers up by 42% vs 8%. This clearly means that local businesses have got more goods and services in the hands of tourists, without having to establish new exporting channels, by focusing on filling their existing capacity. And Cornwall has that capacity too. You need only ask the majority of accommodation business if they could fill more rooms throughout the year.
Therefore by developing the demand for Cornwall, via the travel trade in other countries, we can deliver unique economic benefits to the wider economy and local supply chains. Much of this visitor spending drops through to the bottom line as we already have a huge tourist infrastructure in place, resulting in a tremendous gearing of financial returns; while Cornwall always needs new first-time visitors to become our new repeat visitors.
So what can be done to develop overseas tourism?
There needs to be targeted financial and structural support for tightly focused, costed and proven projects that can work across the Cornish economy, to lead growth in established overseas markets like Germany and Holland or places with huge potential like the US.
Cornwall as a destination should be out there communicating more confidently, encouraging and developing contacts and new partnerships. Private businesses will always be key in this endeavour doing what they can with their own resources, trying to be as nimble and creative as possible. The travel business is still traditionally run in lots of ways, so consistent effort over what can be a lengthy period of time is what builds relationships and delivers long term results.
And right now, the very positive news of four daily connections to Heathrow alongside existing direct flights from Germany to Newquay Airport will be a valuable asset for the county. We’ve seen this step, along with the steady building of relationships with travel operators, allow Cornwall to offer products such as ‘FlyDrive’ trips, encourage alumni groups visits from the US, and get the Isles of Scilly to feature for the first time in international travel brochures.
These encouraging signs should energise all private and public stakeholders to grab this opportunity to support tourism as a key part of driving the county’s whole economy forward.
Niall MacDougall – Managing Director, Urlaub Cornwall Travel Services Ltd