The tourism industry is essential to the generation of income and jobs for coastal communities in the UK. The National Coastal Tourism Academy (NCTA) are a leading organisation on coastal tourism. They work to understand issues facing coastal communities, opportunities for growth and how to overcome challenges that are specific to the coast [1].

They strive to:

  • Support coastal industries
  • Bridge the gaps in coastal tourism research
  • Share lessons learnt and best practice
  • Develop projects to make change happen
  • Show vision, leadership, and advocacy for the coast

The NCTA lead international and national domestic marketing through England’s Coast brand, and they work directly with 35 Destination Marketing Organisations and over 2,000 businesses. Their work brings together government, industry, and academia.

Coastal Tourism Pre-Covid-19

Before the pandemic, the British coast attracted both domestic holidaymakers and global visitors. The NCTA report that before Covid-19, coastal tourism in the UK generated.

  • £17.1bn tourism spend
  • 27m overnight visits, 217m day visits
  • 285k tourism related jobs supported c.15-20% of employment in most coastal communities

For England:

  • £13.7bn tourism spend
  • 21m overnight visits, 169m day visits
  • 210k tourism related jobs supported

Additionally, 10% of all international visitors that arrived in the UK went to the coast.

Coastal tourism in England is highly seasonal, but prior to the pandemic change was happening because of investment in research, product development and marketing:

Coastal Tourism Challenges

There are several key structural challenges that inhibit coastal tourism in the UK, despite the pandemic.

For example, seasonality dampens waves of tourism to the coast. Productivity around the coast lessens during off-peak seasons, which can make the coast a less attractive place to visit.

Climate change is an ongoing challenge. Coastal communities that rely heavily on tourism now must consider the impact of coastal storms and flooding. This is a challenge that will only become greater and requires a great deal of future planning.

A high dependency on tourism makes communities vulnerable. For coastal communities, there is an average 15-20% employment rate in tourism-related jobs. For places like St Ives, Exmoor, Whitby, and Newquay, 50% of jobs are in the tourism sector [1].

The Impact of Covid-19

The NCTA bi-monthly Business Survey results from 2020 showed that 87% of businesses saw a decrease in turnover, with 54% of all businesses seeing a decrease of more than half their annual turnover and the average decrease in turnover being -54% [1].

The pandemic has had a significant impact on investment levels on the coast, pre-pandemic the average investment was £22,000 per year. In 2020 the average investment (if the investment was made) was £12,900. 10% of businesses could not afford to invest in 2020.

9% of all coastal tourism businesses closed in 2020.

A July 2021 survey revealed:

  • 53% of businesses say it will be more than a year before their business returns to a profit.
  • 67% of businesses have faced issues recruiting staff– Cleaning and maintenance staff (25%), Chefs and Kitchen Staff (20%) and Waiting and Bar Staff (19%) being the most difficult roles to recruit.
  • There has been a 43% net increase in businesses offering outdoor products and experiences.
  • 67.7% of all businesses said sustainability improvements are important or very important (higher among attractions 84%).
  • 63% saying that ongoing government support “will make a significant difference between survival and collapse” [1].

Wider evidence of the Impact of Covid-19

The APPG Hospitality and Tourism Coast and Water Inquiry 2020 highlighted “The Government should commit to a Coast and Waters strategy as part of its levelling up strategy, with hospitality and tourism at its core.” [2

The Social Investment Business report “found coastal areas to be disproportionately impacted by Covid-19. They have experienced some of the largest drops in local spending, as well as the highest rises in unemployment”. [3]

The Institute of Fiscal Studies –“ there is no longer a north-south, or urban-rural divide… coastal areas are notably vulnerable to both the health and economic impacts of the crisis” – especially Isle of Wight, Torquay, Blackpool, Dorset and Northumberland. [4]

A May 2020 report from Hotel Solutions forecasts 20-25% of accommodation in coastal communities will close. [5]

The NCTA has reported that coastal areas were extremely popular with domestic visitors in the summer of 2021. Some coastal areas reported that visitor numbers matched 2019 summer levels and they largely didn’t see the over-crowding, litter and parking issues faced in the summer of 2020.

Levelling Up

As we hopefully move forward from the pandemic the NCTA sees an opportunity to tackle the issue of seasonality for coastal tourism, with 2021 seeing new visitors to the coast that need to be retained.

However, there is a need to build back better by addressing the climate emergency and creating a more sustainable visitor economy. This also requires an understanding that all coastal communities are unique and have different needs when trying to build back better.

In 2016, the NCTA worked with businesses, stakeholders and DMOs to develop a Coastal Tourism Vision. The key objectives were:

  • Improving the Visitor Economy to support wider sustainable growth
  • Creating a quality experience, distinctive activities, and places to visit
  • Working together across the coast
  • Addressing seasonality and presenting a positive year-round image of the coast

These are still the priorities for the Coastal Tourism Vision and the NCTA state that they need a programme of investment that supports:

  • Small and micro businesses to develop and upskill
  • Product development to address seasonality
  • Improvements to sustainability, accessibility, and resilience

Key Opportunities for the Coast

England’s Coast Path National Trail is set to open in its entirety by the end of 2021. It will create the longest signposted trail in the world at nearly 3,000 miles

It will be the biggest major attraction on the coast of England, and it needs appropriate marketing and landmark celebratory events. It is not currently being promoted to enable businesses and communities to understand the opportunities that it can bring to them.

Off-peak growth markets: new audiences have discovered the coast in 2021, yet there are fears about the quality of the visitor experience due to staffing shortages, supply chain issues and higher prices.

There ought to be a focus on improving the visitor experience through data-led insights, targeted marketing, and product development to convert new visitors to advocates of the coast. Developing ways of reaching new off-peak growth markets by providing experiential, wellness, eco-friendly, active, and accessible  offerings all year-round

Innovation and Collaboration

Through NCTA incentives, coastal destinations have been seen to work collaboratively to address challenges. For example:

Beach Check UK App: Developed by Bournemouth, Christchurch, and Poole Council (BCP). The Beach Check app was developed and piloted in 2020 by BCP Council. In 2021 it is being offered to all Beach Operators nationwide and the first expected to go live are:

Adur & Worthing Councils, Havant Borough Council, Thanet District Council, West Wittering Estate, Redcar & Cleveland Council, Rother District Council and Torridge District Council.

All local authorities are invited to feature their beaches on the app, and it is hoped that it will be used nationwide as part of the government’s Covid-19 safety measures.

Prospects for Coastal Tourism

Overall, Covid-19 dealt a blow to coastal tourism in the UK, affecting employment and the generation of income in coastal communities. Change will happen but it needs coordination and investment to achieve its potential.

The NCTA continue to engage with MPs, Ministers,  and stakeholders to highlight the needs of businesses and destinations on the coast, based on data and evidence of market and industry needs.

They encourage the Government to increase investment in the England Coast Path to make the most of this fantastic new asset.

[1] The National Coastal Tourism Academy

[2] The All-Party Parliamentary Group for Hospitality and Tourism. 2020. ‘Coasts and Waters’

[3] Social Investment Business. 2020 Covid-19 & Coastal Communities. Investing in the social economy to revive seaside resorts and coastal towns

[4] The Institute for Fiscal Studies. 2020 The geographic impact of the COVID-19 crisis will be diffuse and hard to manage

[5] Hotel Solutions. 2020

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The pandemic has had a significant impact on the Coastal Tourism sector, with 53% of coastal businesses saying it will be more than a year before their business returns to a profit. This article presents suggestions from the National Coastal Tourism Academy on how to rebuild the coastal tourism industry in response to Covid-19.

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