Written evidence submitted by Institute of Tourist Guiding, British Guild of Tourist Guides, Association of Professional Tourist Guides, and Driver Guides Association
Impact of Covid-19 on tourism sector – feedback from Blue and Green Badge Tourist Guides
This evidence is provided on behalf of
Who Tourist Guides are (to provide context)
- There are approx 1,800 professional Blue and Green Badge Tourist Guides in England. There are hundreds of others in Scotland, Wales and N. Ireland.
- They are highly skilled and have taken up to 18 months of training to get their Tourist Guiding qualifications (their Badge)
- The vast majority of them are self-employed, hardly any are salaried
- They typically make 70-80% of their annual earnings during Mar-Sep (obviously that won’t be happening this year)
- They do this as a career choice, it is a full-time occupation, albeit with seasonal peaks and troughs
- They are portfolio workers and are working for many different channel partners
- They typically get most of their work from inbound tour operators and, increasingly over the last few years, direct from Free Independent Travellers (FIT)
Question 1 - What has been the immediate impact of Covid-19 on the sector?
Shutdown of the market
- 100% loss of income from booked / ’postponed’ guided tours up until Summer 2020. This is expected to be the case for the rest of the calendar year.
- 100% loss of income from guided tours that would have been booked at short notice for the coming season, due to lack of travellers (international and domestic)
- Many of the travel companies that employ guides; tour operators, coach companies etc. are in financial distress. If the market reopens in e.g. 4 months’ time, the infrastructure to support tourism may no longer exist.
- The cruise industry is reporting strong bookings for Summer 2021 but not much indication of demand for 2020.
- Training courses to provide new Tourist Guides for the sector have been put on hold therefore reducing the pipeline for future years. Some parts of training courses are delivered online now but there are still some practical elements which need to be demonstrated and delivered in situ
Financial distress and Tourist Guides leaving the market
- There is an acute problem though for newly qualified Tourist Guides
- They have invested significant time and money, sometimes up to 2 years, to acquire relevant skills for the Tourism sector
- All Trainee Tourist Guides are self-funding. There is no financial support
- They should have been entering the market for the 2020 peak season but of course there is no demand now
- However, because they have been studying and training for the past 2 years, they have no self-employed trading record so are being punished twice. This is not a good message for the sector when skills training has been the centrepiece of the Tourism Action Plan and subsequently Tourism Sector Deal
- We don’t have empirical data yet, we may do a survey once the situation has settled down, but we know there are already Tourist Guides leaving the profession
- This example is from France but we have exactly the same issue here https://www.lapresse.ca/voyage/202004/24/01-5270752-les-guides-touristiques-tentent-de-sauver-leur-metier.php?fbclid=IwAR2KfT9I2x58g3vqxeaC1GqyGX5S9SCx18QaZi7lcVNtl6zFyHMzbilN93g
- The combination of putting new training courses on hold plus existing Tourist Guides leaving the profession points to potential challenges fulfilling demand once tourists return again
Adaptation of product offering
- Tourist Guides are highly skilled and pride themselves on being flexible
- Many Tourist Guides have been conducting tours and seminars online
- This helps to keep England / UK top of mind for overseas visitors and positions us well for when the recovery is actually able to happen.
- Some recent examples and press coverage of these efforts:
- Guides are not really able to monetise these efforts though i.e. they are not a substitute for real tours. This is more about brand awareness
- Guides have also been running extensive online programs; lectures, tours etc. to update and upgrade their skills i.e. Continuous Professional Development
Question 2 - How effectively has the support provided by DCMS, other Government departments and arms-length bodies addressed the sector’s needs?
The following points, in italics, are taken from Nigel Huddleston’s G20 Tourism speech on 24th April where he outlines the main measures the Govt has introduced to help the Tourism sector. We were also present on the seminar with Nigel Huddleston, arranged by UKinbound, where many of the same points were covered:
“To support businesses struggling with liquidity, the UK Government has announced:
- Deferral of VAT payments for firms.
- £330bn worth of government backed and guaranteed loans
- A Retail, hospitality and leisure cash grants scheme; and a business rates relief programme and
- Protection for commercial tenants at risk of eviction”
These measures are all welcome, they are all positive for the Tourism sector but none of them directly benefits Tourist Guides because:
- The vast majority of Tourist Guides are micro-businesses, they are sole traders or one person limited companies. Hardly any are VAT registered so VAT deferral is not relevant
- None of them have physical premises that qualify for Business Rate Relief
“On employment protection we have set up:
- A Job Retention Scheme where employers can apply for a government grant to cover 80% of workers’ salaries (CJRS)”
- “A scheme to support Self-Employed workers (SEISS).”
This is where the bulk of the support should be coming from
- CJRS - this is a good scheme and can help companies who provide vital Tourism related infrastructure e.g. Regional DMO’s. Hardly any Tourist Guides though are salaried so the CJRS is not a big help for us
- SEISS - this is a good scheme and is helping some Tourist Guides but many are also being left behind i.e. not being covered at all
- Govt (Treasury) claim they are helping 95% of self-employed with SEISS
- Our survey of 330 Blue and Green Badge tourist guides shows only 53% of respondents think they will receive financial help
- We have shared our findings via written enquiries to Tourism spokespeople from all main political parties, DCMS committee, BEIS committee etc. etc.
The main reasons so many Tourist Guides are NOT eligible for SEISS
- They have been training for past 2 years so do not yet have a trading record as a self-employed person
- They have paid themselves via dividends not salary
- They have paid themselves via PAYE but annually not monthly thereby missing the arbitrary 19th March cut-off point
- Less than half their income comes from self-employed Tourist Guiding
- They are slightly above the £ 50,000 trading profits cut off point
This appears to be an example of the Govt / Treasury not fully understanding the labour market which now has 5 million self-employed people
- Universal Credit - this will provide a safety net for a small % of guides, but due to lack of security of guiding income, the household savings threshold of £ 16,000 often rules out longer established, prudent guides
“In addition, we have launched an emergency fund to support local tourism management organisations through this period.”
This is a really positive step; regional DMO’s are very important for the Tourism sector and will be even more so in the future. More details in the section on the evolution of the market. It doesn’t directly benefit Tourist Guides although any measures to grow the overall market are commendable..
To summarise, there have been positive measures for the Tourism Sector and they are very much appreciated. This submission though is on behalf of Tourist Guides and there are clear gaps in the employment protection financial support that has been rolled out so far.
2 small and easily achievable things we would like to call for:
- Training bursary - a small fund (£ 50-100,000 approx) made available to help people who have invested time and money to gain relevant tourism related skills in the past 2 years but now find there is no market and they don’t qualify for any support grant. The amount needed would be a tiny fraction of the £ 1.3m provided to Regional DMO’s.
- Wider self-employment support - the Minister for Tourism, together with the Minister for Small Businesses (Paul Scully), commit to working with the Treasury to find a solution to run alongside SEISS based on 'who should receive help' rather than 'what is easiest to administer by HMRC' which is the situation today. We certainly do not want to delay SEISS, it is vital for so many small businesses but the Govt is clearly aware that too many people and businesses have not been covered so far.
Question 3 - What will the likely long-term impacts of Covid-19 be on the sector, and what support is needed to deal with those?
Tourism is unlikely to bounce back quickly. Until a vaccine is found and widely deployed we will not see anything like the visitor numbers we have been used to for the past few years.
Some of the different segments of the tourism are likely to come back at different times - this is an approximation of what some timelines could look like:
Phase 1 - rest of 2020 - domestic tourism
- It seems logical that families will feel more comfortable doing staycations initially, especially in areas where population density is lower.
- This will need close cooperation with Regional DMO’s. Some local residents e.g. in Cornwall have felt nervous about having visitors come back too soon. There needs to be a delicate balance. We need to provide reassurance both for local residents and the visitors who are starting to venture out again
- Tourist Guides are already talking to different sites and discussing how social distancing guidelines can be incorporated into the visitor experience.
- Smaller groups rather than mass travel will probably be the trend in the near term.
Phase 2 - 1st half of 2021 - international tourism starts to return but smaller groups
- We need to reimagine the whole post Covid travel experience
- Perhaps visitor attractions need a rating like the Blue Flags for Beaches?
- This recent announcement by Visit Britain seems to be a step in the right direction
- This reassurance needs to cover the whole consumer experience e.g
- Flight over to UK - arrival at airport - airport transfer to hotel
- Stay at Hotel - dining experience - tour experience
- Visitor attraction experience etc. etc. etc.
- WHO will bring all those stakeholders together to ensure we have a common message?
- We need to understand and eliminate ANY perception barriers that would stop long haul visitors returning
Phase 3 - Summer 2021 - international tourism returns inc mass market (even cruises)
- Cruise bookings seem to be strong for summer 2021 but perhaps not much before then
- Aggressive marketing to talk about the benefits of the UK tourism experience backed up by the reassurance measures developed earlier for Phases 1 and 2
- Still need to decide if we are a value or volume destination as many countries will be marketing aggressively
As well as looking at this chronologically, there are some themes emerging which provide opportunities and also strongly link back to the Tourism Action Plan / Tourism Sector Deal
Encourage / incentivise visitors to come at different times of the year
- Encourage visitors to a broader range of destinations. Visitors won’t necessarily want to be crammed together in traditional hotspots; London, Bath etc.
- Accelerate deployment of Tourism Zones to enable this trend
- Get all local Tourism stakeholders together (we all know how to do virtual meetings now) and map out locally what each area needs to succeed
- Feed that up to DCMS in a bottom up approach, not just relying on top down
- Regional DMO’s, especially, will need more resourcing
Focus for now, on high quality, high skilled Tourism experience
- Visitors may be less keen on coming during peak season and looking to travel during quieter periods
- The Govt might relax restrictions at different times for different parts of the country
- Perhaps put some of the popular events at quieter times of the year?
- Mass tourism unlikely for next 9-12 months?
- Focus on value not volume because volume won’t be there for some time anyway
- The meetings of local tourism stakeholders, referenced in point 1 above, could help to flesh this out
- Professional Badged Tourist Guides
- Carry public liability insurance
- Are members of professional associations and sign a written Code of Conduct
- Are traceable UK residents and taxpayers
- Commit to follow Govt guidelines responsibly (as an example we have recently been working with the Metropolitan Police to proactively apprehend pickpockets)
- There are many other highly skilled workers in the Tourism sector too. We need to make sure that we provide the best possible experience, utilising the best available talent, over the next 12 months before mass tourism returns
- Invest in skills development to enable this quality tourism experience
- Need to make sure we have enough highly skilled workers to interface with visitors. This is why it’s vital we keep people in the profession who may be leaving at the moment. We don’t want to be in a position in summer 2021 where e.g. we don’t have language Guides because many of them left or couldn’t get on a training course
- Need to make sure that all stakeholders across the visitor economy have the same view of what skills will be required. It will be a mixture of academic and practical skills.
- As an example, managing effective social distancing, among groups, will become one of the practical skills required for customer facing staff across the tourism industry
- Renewed focus on domestic tourism
- This needs to get priority for the next few months
- Staycationers? Marketing campaign to encourage more tourism at home.
Question 4 - What lessons can be learnt from how DCMS, arms-length bodies and the sector have dealt with Covid-19?
Supply side issues
- Without necessary tourism ‘infrastructure’, we won’t be able to meet future demand
- If coach companies and tour operators close down, if Tourist Guides leave the profession or training courses don’t run, then we will not be able to deliver the customer experience we all want to
- Need stronger links, at a local level, of tourism industry stakeholders, especially with regards to training
Demand side issues
- It’s not as simple as just throwing a huge amount of money into marketing
- We need to work out which segments to focus on at which moment in time i.e. a phased and tiered approach
- Everything needs to be underpinned by reassurance (both for locals and for visitors)
- This reassurance question is not just a job for Visit Britain and the tourism industry. This needs to come from the top of the UK Government. It needs to be pushed strongly by the Foreign Office and the Diplomatic Service all around the world. All countries face the same challenge.
- Until the safety perception is solved. Tourism demand will be lacklustre at best
Govt support (esp Treasury)
- Needs of the self-employed micro-business to be more central to government planning and social welfare
- Furloughing was never a big issue for Tourist guides because it just didn’t apply.
- Unfortunately, SEISS was not well constructed which is why the Govt is continuing to receive pushback for what should have been seen as an amazing scheme
How might the sector evolve after Covid-19, and how can DCMS support such innovation to deal with future challenges?
Recommit to the Tourism Action Plan / Tourism Sector Deal. There are lots of good ideas in there and we now need to move at speed to start implementing them. The following objectives will be especially important as part of the recovery
- Spreading visitors out around the country not just London
- Spreading visitors over the rest of the year not just the summer peak
- Investing in skills development
Look again at the case for light touch regulation, at local level, of Tourist guiding profession, to help attract, reward and retain the quality of professional guides that the UK market needs
Encourage greater use of technology in the Visitor Economy e.g. timed-entry tickets; real-time data that shows length of queues at known bottlenecks (e.g. at Tower of London Jewel House or for shuttles at Stonehenge or on the Tube trains) in order to reroute visits as necessary; mic/radio headsets on coaches to enable social distancing by groups being transported