Government urged to use West Midlands as testbed for reopening of tourism and hospitality sector

Regional leaders including Martin Sutherland, CEO of Coventry City of Culture 2021, are backing the call to use the West Midlands as a pilot area for the reopening of the tourism and hospitality sector.

Regional leaders have called on Government to allow the West Midlands to become a national testbed for an early reopening of the tourism, hospitality and cultural sector.

Mayor of the West Midlands Andy Street; Fiona Allan, chair of the West Midlands Tourism Board; and Martin Sutherland, chair of the West Midlands Cultural Leadership Board and CEO of Coventry City of Culture 2021, have sent a joint letter to Oliver Dowden, Secretary of State for Digital, Culture, Media and Sport, asking for the region to be used as a pilot area which would see the sector opening sooner than elsewhere in the country.

The region’s tourism, hospitality and the cultural businesses have been hardest hit by the lockdown and, with little or no trading revenue being generated, have been almost entirely reliant on the furlough scheme to avoid wholesale redundancies and business closures.

With tourism, hospitality and cultural businesses in the West Midlands supporting more than 135,000 jobs, the sector contributes around £12.6 billion a year to the local economy.

Regional leaders have said that there is now a pressing need to restore confidence in the sector so it can not only fully recapture the economic and cultural benefits it enjoyed pre-lockdown but can grow further.

The Mayor said: “Our tourism, hospitality and cultural sector was the first to close under the lockdown and is likely to be the last to reopen. Even then it will have to operate at a much-reduced capacity.

“But we believe we have a unique opportunity to re-establish the sector as a key economic driver in the region’s post-COVID-19 recovery, and we are asking Government to pilot the West Midlands as the region where this sector opens up faster than in other areas.

“It’s important for the West Midlands to build on its unique heritage and distinctive strengths and seize the opportunity to reset, rebuild and reinvent our region, and come back even stronger.”

Regional leaders are keen to see staff in the sector allowed to return on a reduced, part-time basis until it is safe for normal activity to resume.

The COVID-19 lockdown has had a major impact on the sector right across the region. Figures show that:

  • 95% of businesses are reporting a fall in revenue
  • Over 50% are struggling with cashflow
  • Over 40% have closed or ceased trading with a further 35% forecast to join them by August

An earlier than planned reopening under a pilot scheme would provide a much-needed boost for the region’s key visitor destinations such as Stratford-upon-Avon, Warwick and the National Exhibition Centre (NEC).

It would also provide confidence to the region’s theatres, who are currently considering whether to cancel Christmas productions.

Fiona Allan said: “We need to be promoting our region as a visitor destination now or we may miss the opportunities afforded by both Coventry City of Culture in 2021 and the Commonwealth Games in 2022.”

The setting up of a pilot scheme would also bolster the wider COVID-19 recovery plan being drawn up by the region.

The West Midlands’ civic, business and trade union leaders have already committed to a ‘bounce forward’ approach to create a more inclusive, environmentally sustainable economy.