Use West Midlands as test bed for early reopening of tourism

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

Andy Street, the Mayor of the West Midlands, has been joined by a number of other prominent figures in the region, including 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, in sending 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.

The region believes 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.

Street 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. This way we can lead the way and help strike the right balance between safety and outputs, allowing other regions to follow suit. 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.”

The coronavirus lockdown has had a major impact on the sector right across the region. Figures show that: 95 per cent of businesses are reporting a fall in revenue; over 50 per cent are struggling with cashflow; and over 40 per cent have closed or ceased trading, with a further 35 per cent forecast to join them by August.

Fiona Allan said: “This region has incredible cultural assets, which attract visitors from around the country – including theatres, galleries, festivals, museums and heritage sites, not to mention our incredible food and beverage offer – and it is vital we find a way for these businesses to open as soon as possible. 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.”