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Cumbria Tourism, a regional look at business challenges

Updated: Feb 2

Speaking to Gill Haigh (Managing Director, Cumbria Tourism) we get a first-hand look at regional tourism in one of the UK’s most visited regions exploring the challenges ahead in 2024 and where the local tourism market needs to focus to deliver for domestic and inbound market.We explore the difficulties of staff shortage, the commercial impact and the solutions businesses are coming up with to solve this dilemma from collaborative working to creating attractive working environments and packages including apprenticeships. This interview featured in part in the Travel Monthly Review show January edition. 


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Programme Notes


This episode has been automatically transcribed by AI, please excuse any typos or grammatical errors


Ryan Haynes:

Hello and welcome back to Travel Market Life, the show that has just been named a finalist in the European Content Awards 2024. I'm your host, Ryan Haynes. And in today's interview, we are going to be speaking to Gill Hague, the Managing Director of Cumbria Tourism. I invited her in to find out what some of the businesses in their local region were looking at in 2024 and some of the challenges that they got ahead. Now you can hear a little summary of this in the January edition of our Monthly review show with our regular panellists, Will Plummer, James Clarke, and Claire Steiner. But this is the extended interview where we delve deeper, and I'll get to hear a little bit more about how they're really utilizing apprenticeships and how they're calling on the local council and government to look at other initiatives to bring more people into the region to ensure that there are that job market people available to fill those roles.

 

Ryan Haynes:

It was a very interesting conversation with Gill and I really hope that you get as much out of it as I did. So, let's hear what she has to say up after this quick announcement.

 

Ryan Haynes:

Travel Market Life is backed by Haynes MarComs, a B2B, marketing communications, PR consultancy, specializing in the technology travel hospitality and property sectors, creating meaningful connections and visibility to grow. Hans Marcos cuts through the noise to resonate with target buyers, decision-makers and influencers. From contextualizing your mission to positioning your value proposition. Haynes Marcoms helps you address the issues that matter. Marketing, PR and social build profile. Gain momentum shape strategy with Haynes MarComs

 

Ryan Haynes:

So, joining me on the line now is Gill Haigh, Managing Director of Cumbria Tourism. Hello Gill. Thanks ever so much for joining us today. Now you are actually going to help us sort of delve into some of the issues that are actually being faced by inbound operators and also in particular the tourist boards. And you've been really highlighting some of these with the local media and with businesses. What are two of the biggest challenges facing Cumbria, Tourism and hospitality businesses then for 2024?

 

Gill Haigh:

Yeah, well, we as a membership organization have a kind of unique position, I suppose, where we're able to speak directly to hundreds of businesses on a really regular basis. And the two themes that have been coming up for a number of years now are very much around skills and staff shortages, and also, of course, the impact in terms of rising costs for businesses and also for our consumers. So, I think if I was to go out and do a quick sample today of our membership and beyond, they would be definitely two, the two things that are right at the top of their agenda.

 

Ryan Haynes:

I mean, the solutions are, are and widened, however, you know, are they really practical and what in what way can businesses actually grasp hold are some of the right solutions for their business in the location that they're in? So, for a rural area like Cumbria, what are the solutions that you are working with around your membership?

 

Gill Haigh:

So, if we break it down and we start with the skills and, and, and challenge around the shortage of people of working age, that's that. In some ways that's probably the biggest one. And then we'll come to the other, we have a population of less than half a million, and yet we welcome over 40 million visitors every year. And not only are we a small population, but we are a super ageing and declining population. Super aging means that more and more people within the county are economically inactive because they their past working age or they don't need to work.

 

Gill Haigh:

So that is really challenging. And in the past, of course, we've had the freedom to bring workers in from Europe and other parts of the world. And clearly over the last few years that position has changed at the same time as we've come out of Covid. And we've found that many people have chosen to step away from work or not work as many hours or have chosen to go into professions and areas of work that weren't as badly hit as the hospitality sector was. So that's created a renewed emphasis, desire, need, force for trying to use every opportunity that there is to increase the, the, the sort of work pool if you will.

 

Gill Haigh:

So, businesses led by organizations like ourselves are working really closely with partners, including departments for work, pensions, inspira, working with people with disabilities, and even looking at things like people who are coming out from prison sentences and looking for a fresh start. And of course, working with our young people here in Cumbria, we have a real talent in our young people in Cumbria, but unfortunately, so many of them choose to leave the county. We often do, don't we at 18 choose to go away for a few years and then come back, but what is it that we need to do to make this a place where our young people actually want to stay at 18?

 

Gill Haigh:

We've got a fantastic university of Cumbria here in the county as well as some great further education colleges that we partner with. So, we're working with all of those partners to look at, well, what are the workforce needs in the first place? And then working with the colleges that help us to develop programs. And then obviously working in terms of a campaign to attract younger people to go onto those. And then also working with partners to look at those people who are out of work and who want to work or who need to work to help make the path work into our sector as attractive as possible.

 

Gill Haigh:

And I think there's a, there's a sort of a myth really that working in the hospitality sector means you're working every weekend and they're on sociable hours and the pay is rubbish. Actually, have a look again because there are some incredible opportunities. Businesses are very attuned to the fact that they need to support their staff to get a really good strong work balance because it's no good just employing somebody. You want to retain somebody, especially if you're going to invest that skill at that time in, in upskilling them. But the beauty of our sector, and I see it absolutely every day, is you can start in one position.

 

Gill Haigh:

You might be a pot washer, you might be a waitress, you might be somebody that's looking after reception and in no time whatsoever if you've got the right aptitude and you are willing to do what it takes, you are in some really good middle and senior management positions within not very long at all. And brilliantly here I think uniquely the University of Cumbia set up a degree apprenticeship within the hospitality sector. And that program, that degree apprenticeship allows and we've got somebody in our team whose part of that allows them to work within the workplace four days a week and spend a fifth at the university.

 

Gill Haigh:

But all of their work with the university is geared around the needs of the business and helping them to develop within that business. And of course, they're getting paid at the same time. So, there are lots of solutions that are out there. We are working with transport providers and the councils to improve transport links between places of work and, and where people are living. Though there are lots and lots and lots of solutions out there, it's going to take time And, in all truthfulness, and this is my personal view, we won't fill that gap from Cumbria alone because we do not have enough people who are needing employment in the places where the employment is.

 

Gill Haigh:

So, if I look at somewhere like South Lakeland, which is sort of the Kendall and Windermere area, it's less than, or it's just over 2% of people who are seeking jobs. So, it's absolutely tiny.

 

Ryan Haynes:

And that's fascinating because I mean, as I was reading in one of the articles from the interview that you did recently, 12% of roles are vacant and 79% of businesses are struggling with recruitment. That's a huge number. And as you pointed out, you know, that businesses unable to fill these roles are then having to think about how they cut Mac operations and potentially have to close their doors. And this is something that is definitely reflected across the country. I mean, I'm down here in Paul Dorsett and I've spoken to a couple of the pubs on the key front who then themselves, you know, are struggling to fill roles and therefore having to look at that daunting prospect as to whether the business is still commercially viable. Now, one of the great things though you were telling me about Cumbria is just the number of hospitality venues that have Michelin stars.

 

Ryan Haynes:

And so, as a result, you know, there is a huge opportunity to, as you say, sort of get that valuable experience that you get, could take someone onto their next career ladder. And what we're well aware of, particularly within hotels and hospitality, is that those that have really climbed the ladder are, those have put themselves forward, but have potentially also moved around somewhat they have relocated, whether that's in and around the UK or taken their career internationally. And I guess as a result, you know, Cumbria with a huge number of, of tourists that visit every single year, there's so much, so much insight and value experience that you can offer there.

 

Gill Haigh:

Absolutely, yes. I mean, you know, it, we are really proud to say that we have more Michelin stars than anywhere outside of London who would've thought that, you know, a few years ago. And that's, that's really down to the brilliance of businesses like Long Clum Simon Rogan think he really set the bar high, and actually, a number of his trainees, if you like, and people that have worked with him are those that have then gone on to open other restaurants in the county that now have their own Michelin stars. And you, a couple of days ago we were at Kendall College for an away day was the team where we were treated by the level two apprenticeships that, that apprentices that were there two, one of the best meals I've ever had in my life, quite truthfully.

 

Gill Haigh:

So, the talent is there, the training is there, the reputation is there, and yet, you know, from a chef's perspective, that's one of the biggest areas of vacancy. I think it's partly because we are so brilliant at it and we are known for our food and drink, but there are around 4,000 roles in chefing and senior cooks within skilled cooks within the county. So you can imagine trying to fill all of those roles is really challenging and that's where that European workforce and international workforce helped to really compliment, not just in terms of being part of that workforce, but actually their skills, their knowledge that they were bringing in and sharing with the rest of the team where they were learning and developing and bringing that benefit to our customers and helping to raise our reputation.

 

Ryan Haynes:

I mean, it's fascinating that you know, you have these apprenticeship schemes in place locally as well. I mean, that is an area that definitely needs that investment and growth from businesses for businesses to realize that value really of apprenticeships because you know, so many young people do not see the value of going to full-time university, but needing the requirement really to earn in this day of living costs are so high that this is a perfect balance really for both the employer and employee. And I do understand that there are quite a few support schemes or businesses there who want to get those, those apprenticeships on boards and for them to start making sure that that they've got those opportunities available.

 

Ryan Haynes:

And is, is this this something that you provide support with or is this something that you provide support with along with some of your partners of the Cumbria Chamber of Commerce and for Federation of Small Businesses?

 

Gill Haigh:

Yeah, we work really closely with those partners and, and, and the colleges. We have a really strong relationship through all of the colleges and we've collectively pulled together a hub if you like, a portal, which is a careers hub for people within the county and it is for young people and it does help direct them in terms of, well actually these are the options that there are within the industry. And by the way, it is really broad and wild wide. So, if you want to be working in falconry, if you want to be working as a beauty spar therapist, if you want to be an outdoor leader that, you know, there are all a, you know, a finance person, a marketing person in the great culture and art curators, it isn't just about working in hotels directly.

 

Gill Haigh:

There's such a breadth of careers here in the county. So yeah, what we've done together with the colleges, the Chamber and the other partners has created a portal which brings together all of those career opportunities and then talks you through what are the routes into those. So, whether that's going to college first, whether that's directly into a job, whether that's as an apprentice and or an undergraduate apprentice, a degree apprentice. But it also talks not just to 16-year-olds and 18-year-olds, but it talks to moms and dads as well. It's trying to help them to understand the industry and, and it, you know, what it is rather than what they think it is and the career opportunities, but it also talks to career changes or perhaps people who are later in life and want to pick up some part-time work.

 

Gill Haigh:

So one of the brilliant things that we do see often in this county and not very far away from Windermere here, where Windermere Lake Cruises, number one of the top 10 paid-for visitor attractions in the country. They employ a lot of people who have retired once perhaps as policemen and from the army or whatever it might be. And they really fancy skippering a boat a couple of days a week. Well, what better way to retire than to spend a couple of days sailing across a windmill?

 

Ryan Haynes:

And it's one of the unique things about the travel and Hospitality industry that a, you can come back and you can join the sector at any point and there's a good job for you and you can climb a ladder at that point. But also, the fact that if you look at some of the big commercial directors in various senior positions, they did start in front of the house, they did start at the reception desk and they worked their way up. And it's perhaps for me when I hear those stories, it's one of those sorts of reaffirming career stories that to know that there is, you know, you don't need money, you don't need, you know, you know, a number of degrees and qualifications to be able to get there. You just need to work hard and focus your efforts.

 

Gill Haigh:

Yeah, and you know what, even you just saying that to me and I, and you know, I know this and I talk about this so much, but even you just saying that to me makes me tingle because it is so true. And you meet the most incredible people. They're quite humble, actually, incredible people who, you know, the, one of the first people I met when I joined this job six years ago was a guy who owned a hotel, beautiful hotel in the grass, Mia, and he, he's retired now and he's, he sold the business, but he told me that when he was 16, he'd had a fallout with his mom. I don't think dad was around anymore. He packed his bag over his shoulder and he'd gone to Kek and, and from there he had worked his way through, you know, and ultimately became an owner of a relatively small hotel but had the most loyal customer base.

 

Gill Haigh:

And when he retired, he had a party and it was so many of his loyal customers that were part of that party and celebration of what he'd achieved. So, but there, but you know, there are hundreds of those stories and I, and, and I, you know, again, you know, so many young people who come to the county, perhaps to an out of the bound centre, you know, through school sometimes it's their first visit to the countryside and they often fall in love with the place. And it's that, it's not just about a place to work, it's about it being a fantastic place to live as well.

 

Gill Haigh:

And you know, what it does for you in terms of your health and wellbeing as well,

 

Ryan Haynes:

From businesses then to travellers. So, consumer spending and travel are due to be down in 2024 Gill, how will Cumbria attract tourists to remain buoyant?

 

Gill Haigh:

Yeah, so this is the other big challenge, isn't it? And you know, we, we, we, we, we, we've seen so much that businesses have done to, to try to reduce some of their overheads and costs and to keep that price down for their customers. And actually, the whole sort of agenda around sustainability is also an opportunity for businesses in terms of helping to trim some of their costs. So, the move to solar, et cetera, and ground source heating, it's always a challenge because, at the end of the day, it costs what it costs. And what we, what we won't compromise on here in Cumbria is quality and quality of experience for the customer.

 

Gill Haigh:

But there are lots and lots of ways for people to have a fantastic experience here in the county and also look after their, their budget. Really what we've seen, I think over the last couple of years, it's fair to say, is that people are still coming, which is great, but they've been more circumspect in terms of their spend. So let's say they're going to stay in the county overnight, but they're choosing perhaps to eat out less as part of that holiday experience or they're choosing to do some things that, some, some activities that are not paid for free activities, if you like a walk, you know, a, a walk or going to some of the free venues that there are.

 

Gill Haigh:

So, I think it's what we call our secondary spending that's suffering. And at the end of the day, we are in a cost-of-living crisis and each and every one of us is feeling the impact of that at the moment. And it is a, it is a strain that we're all feeling and businesses are doing what they can to keep those costs down, but also, they have to keep going and they have to pay their staff. you know, I know from my own experience of going to one of our local restaurants a year ago with a friend for her birthday and footing the bill and taking her back a year later and having virtual, an identical meal and footing the bill, it's noticeable that the bill has gone up.

 

Gill Haigh:

But I know, you know, that their overheads could have gone up in terms of their energy costs, in terms of the food costs and in terms of the drink costs. In terms of the wage costs. And actually, when I think about all of that and look at the difference in the bill, I know that I'm not paying the full impact of those wage costs. So, I think all of us understand that the cost of living for businesses and for us as consumers has gone up. But there are lots and lots of things to do here in the county. And also, I think one of the things that I would also say to people is it's not all about coming June, July, and August. We are open in other months of the year and you know, and, and, and it is thinking about, well actually would it be the best time for me to come in the autumn or in the early spring in the winter where perhaps there are some deals around.

 

Ryan Haynes:

Wonderful Gill, thank you very much for joining us today and you know, delving into some of those issues and challenges that Cumbria Tourism is facing tourism as well as the wider travel and hospitality industry here in the UK. Much appreciated.

 

Gill Haigh:

My pleasure. Thanks very much.

 

Ryan Haynes:

We'll be having more conversations with industry leaders and directors who are looking at different aspects of the industry, from the inbound to domestic to the outbound to different sectors as well as within the travel, hospitality, and tourism industry. You can keep following us and stay up to date through our LinkedIn channel or by subscribing to our newsletter, simply head, To Travel Market Life where you can subscribe to that newsletter. We'd love to make sure you're on the list and nearing of the latest podcasts and articles that we're launching coming up very soon. Check out the Hospitality Monthly Review show. It'll be our first for 2024 and that will be coming out in February as well as later in February, the February edition of the Travel Monthly Review Show.

 

Ryan Haynes:

I'm your host, Ryan Haynes. Thanks ever so much for tuning in.

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