Planning for a different tourism post COVID19

COVID-19 will have a profound effect on consumer behaviour and the look and feel of our future economy. Every sector of the economy will need to look at how it does business and for Reading’s tourism and hospitality sector this is especially true.  

This article outlines how we are approaching the development of a recovery strategy for Reading as we unlock from the COVID-19 pandemic and work our way through unchartered economic times. In this instance, we look at the tourism sector, one of a number of key sectors that we will be throwing a spotlight on during the coming weeks and months.

Tourism pre-COVID

Lido Summer 3After a gap of more than 10 years, Reading has been rediscovering its rich and varied offer to the leisure tourism market.  With investment in new tourism products such as the conservation of the Abbey Ruins, the opening of the Lido, a desire to make more use of the waterways, a revived cultural impetus in Reading and a need for enhanced support for the hospitality sector, there is an opportunity to put Reading back on the tourism map.

Until earlier this year, Reading had benefitted greatly from the business visitor; we had ventured into the group travel market and were promoting Reading to an international leisure audience through the Great West Way, a new national tourism trail.  But the world has now changed beyond recognition. We need to respond to the impacts of COVID-19, embrace change and look for the opportunities for tourism.

Changing behaviours

As consumers, COVID-19 seems to have changed our behaviour. We seem more conscious of the world around us – more interested in wildlife and the outdoors. We have discovered parts of our own backyard that we have never thought to explore before. We have taken a keener interest in human interest stories, supporting our local communities and the people who provide us with services, the people who run ethical businesses, those who are making a difference locally.  And we have become virtual tourists.

Once the tourism sector is able to open its doors once more, there is likely to be a need to concentrate on family groups and individuals in the home market, to target local visitors rather than long distance travellers, providing a safe staycation experience.

Just think of your own favourite holidays - river cruises, learning more about the history of a destination, wandering around museums, being outdoors on the water or in the countryside. Reading has all this and more – and lots of local people have never sampled it.

Responding in Reading

20160911 111104One of the real strengths of Reading’s visitor story are the personalities that make up Reading’s history, from Henry I to Oscar Wilde but we also have lots of people who work and volunteer in Reading’s tourism sector who are equally passionate about what they do. They can help tell Reading’s story. More than ever, people will need welcoming to Reading. Reading doesn’t have a tourist information centre any more, but experience from 2016’s Reading prison exhibition has shown us that a mobile, flexible information resource staffed by volunteers can do a great job in greeting and directing visitors. This is a model we can look to develop further.

Longer term, we think the increasingly ‘conscious’ traveller will be looking for real people and genuine experiences; travel media will be looking to tell the stories of the people behind the tourism experience, the local people who really merit support and provide a personalised experience. Sustainable tourism will become increasingly important. We need to respond to these trends to engage visitors and make a visit to Reading feel very real for people.

Responses to our tourism sector survey this month showed that the overwhelming majority of tourism businesses remain optimistic about the long-term future of their businesses. The central government grants and the furloughing scheme have been vital in keeping them afloat and allowing them to retain their staff. This needs to keep going as long as restrictions on opening and social distancing apply. However, this is a stop-gap measure and Reading UK with Reading Borough Council is looking to the future and developing a longer-term targeted recovery strategy for the visitor tourism sector in Reading.

Reading’s own residents will become the town’s first visitors, while the rest of the world takes slow steps towards gaining confidence in travel.  At an appropriate time, returners and new staycation visitors, students from around the world and business visitors will need a clear message about how to visit Reading safely and practice social distancing.

On behalf of our tourism and hospitality sector, we need to respond to the challenges that COVID-19 has set us, embrace change and ensure that we support the sector to maximise every future opportunity.



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