Hundreds of Yorkshire businesses could fold, warns tourism chief

Hundreds of tourism companies in Yorkshire could go to the wall as a result of the coronavirus pandemic, Welcome to Yorkshire’s chief executive has warned.

Empty streets and beaches in the normally-bustling tourist resort of Scarborough. Picture: Tony Johnson.

James Mason said the tourism agency has already been made aware of dozens of firms that have already gone out of business and expects the situation to worsen.

“We have a couple of thousand members. Some have told us they won’t be able to continue and are going out of business,” he said.

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“Businesses are having to give in because it is one thing trying to reduce your costs but if income stops, you can’t continue. I’m expecting hundreds if not thousands to end up in this position across the county and many more nationally.

“We are aware of dozens going out of business and the numbers are increasing on a daily basis. The figures may be even higher because obviously not every tourism business in Yorkshire is part of Welcome to Yorkshire.”

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“Anyone that relies on footfall or contact with people are the most at risk of going out of business.”

Welcome to Yorkshire has been lobbying Chancellor Rishi Sunak this week on behalf of B&Bs who fear they will be unable to survive as a result of missing out on a Government grant scheme because they pay council tax instead of business rates – an issue believed to affect hundreds of B&Bs in Yorkshire and up to 10,000 across the country.

Mr Mason said the tourism agency is adjusting its role in response to the pandemic.

“I’m conscious that Welcome to Yorkshire has been fantastic at celebrating everything great about Yorkshire and what we could do in the good times. Now the challenge is how we can provide a valuable service in times of real difficulty.”

Among the changes have been the suspension of membership fees for three months, the company’s website offering detailed and regularly updated support on the different Government funding routes being made available to tourism businesses and the launch of a #YorkshireTogether campaign.

A recent ‘World Cup of Yorkshire’ competition on Twitter to find Yorkshire’s most popular attraction – won by Halifax’s Piece Hall – was viewed one million times and attracted 33,000 votes.

There are plans to run similar light-hearted votes on a regular basis in the coming weeks to try to maintain the county’s profile and win back visitors when the coronavirus crisis is over.

“We have to make sure that Yorkshire and all our great visitor attractions are at the forefront of people’s minds as a place to come to when this is over,” Mr Mason said. “Yorkshire has the best of the UK in a county – coastlines, national parks and great cities. Our vastness and broad appeal is what makes us unique and we have to get that across.”

Tourism agency furloughs third of staff

Welcome to Yorkshire has furloughed one-third of its staff as a result of the coronavirus pandemic.

Mr Mason said 13 members of the agency’s 34 staff have been furloughed as part of efforts to secure the future of the company, which is part-funded by local councils and has been under major financial pressure prior to the outbreak after struggling to recovery its reputation following the resignation of previous chief executive Sir Gary Verity last March.

“When I joined we had 48 staff but that has been reduced to 34 through cost-saving measures and people leaving for other opportunities. We have now furloughed 13 people.

“While it was a difficult decision, I appreciate the Government offering this scheme as by doing this it means it will be a short term leave of absence.

“If I took on a challenge 10 weeks ago, that has just ramped up and become even more difficult for obvious reasons. But I’m confident we will be able to demonstrate just how important we will be going forward. I’m very thankful to chairman Peter Box and the board – they have backed our strategy.”

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