English Riviera tourim chief's warning to Torbay businesses
A LEADING Torbay tourism figure believes the resort needs more branded hotels if it is to 'turn the tide'.
Carolyn Custerson (pictured), chief executive of the English Riviera Tourism Company, was speaking at a meeting of the Torbay Business Forum.
She said some issues could inhibit potential growth, including the oversupply of traditional serviced accommodation, much of which closes the moment it reaches the threshold for paying VAT with no investment in quality.
She said: "The foundations of the resort are not ripe to turn the tide completely.
"People like brand hotels. They trust the more modern product. I really hope the Torquay harbour hotel goes ahead. I welcome the Oldway hotel and will be delighted if Hilton Hamilton come into Torwood Street. For the sake of the resort long term, we need them."
She also talked of a 'flip flop' approach and changes in tourism policies. She had previously only worked in the private sector. She told the meeting: "What I find unhelpful is the flip flop approach."
When she was consultant to the previous administration under Mayor Nick Bye, organisations were commissioned to provide services, such as Tor2.
She said: "It's a model that works, for example in the NHS, but now commissioning is not seen so favourably.
"I don't think you can keep switching. There are decades and decades of decline to arrest and what the tourism company needs is some stability, some consistency and some commitment.
"With that I believe we will get there."
The company is charged with attracting new customers and turn the perception of the English Riviera from a tired, traditional resort to an inspiring, year-round attraction which appeals to short break takers as well as those on main holidays.
She said the industry has reported a slight growth in staying and day visitors and in out of season visits. "There are some green shoots," she said.
The company now had an advertising budget of £500,000, a third of what used to be invested, and has to do more with less. It has nearly £200,000 private sector support this year and aims to increase that next year while it had lost £250,000 council funding over three years.
She added: "I understand the pressures. Tourism is discretionary spending. We need to be aware it is going to be increasingly difficult to ring fence funding for destination promotion with cuts like that.
"I have got to take the industry with me in order to go ahead," she added.
Previously visitor information centres had cost £267,000 a year and the cost to taxpayers will be £85,000 next year.
The company had focused heavily in digital marketing across all types of smart phones and tablets. The brand English Riviera now outperforms Torbay on the internet.
Mrs Custerson said the private/public partnership was the government strategy for tourism. It had, for example, slashed the VisitEngland budget by a third. However, the Bay is participating in a national seaside campaign through VisitEngland.
Mrs Custerson said the English Rivera was performing 'relatively well' compared with the rest of the south west and particularly rural areas, but generally Torbay's occupancy rates are still low, lower than Devon and the country as a whole.
She believed the Bay would benefit from having an organisation which manages what visitors experience in the resort, including beach cleaning, toilet opening times and attractions opening when cruise ships are in town.
THE chief executive of VisitEngland, James Beresford, will be attending the English Riviera and South Devon Tourism and Business Exhibition and Conference at the Riviera International Conference Centre at Torquay today.
More than 110 exhibitors and 300 pre-registered delegates representing the local tourism and hospitality industry will join representatives from the English Riviera Tourism Company for the event.