Contrasting urban and rural experience presents mixed picture in the latest NatWest Tourism Business Barometer

Tourism businesses across the north of England are experiencing distinctly mixed recovery trajectories as their economies reopen according to the latest round of data presented by the NatWest Tourism Business Barometer.

The fortnightly barometer, which launched in July, has regularly surveyed over 100 tourism businesses across nine regions of the North* to measure the UK post-lockdown business environment. Eight weeks into the 16-week study, data suggests that whilst green shoots have emerged across several of the barometer metrics compared to the benchmark data set in week one, recovery is slower in urban destinations.

When looking at the average data across all nine regions, the percentage of business trading with a revenue shortfall of over 60% has decreased from 58% in mid-July to 31% at the start of September, whilst the percentage of businesses trading with a shortfall of customers of over 60% has more than halved from 63% to 30%.

Whilst this signals positive news for the broader north of England as a whole, the data shows a more fragmented picture when looking at specific data for regions, especially when making comparisons between urban and rural areas which have experienced significantly different summers.

In Manchester, for example, the percentage of businesses trading with both lower revenue levels and lower visitor numbers are double the average figures for the north, at 60% and 62% respectively, compared to 31% and 30%. A similar picture emerges in Liverpool and Newcastle, suggesting that businesses in cities are struggling with recovery post lockdown.

The data for rural destinations paints a marginally better picture of revenue and footfall, likely due to the boost in rural staycations over the summer. However, there are significant concerns around employment and forward bookings, suggesting that businesses in these areas will need additional support to sustain them through winter and into the future.

Sheona Southern, Managing Director at Marketing Manchester which is leading study, said: “The NatWest Tourism Business Barometer is an essential piece of work in helping us to intimately understand how tourism businesses are navigating through a post-lockdown environment that is littered with constant new obstacles as well as opportunities to weigh up.

“As the data shows, the situation Manchester is concerning at the moment with almost two thirds of businesses continuing to see shortfalls in revenue over 60%; double the average across the north of England. The experience in Manchester is also replicated in other cities across the north of England, exposing that urban destinations are somewhat more vulnerable to the many factors that are conversely helping and hindering different parts of the industry to recover.

“Of course, the data is set against an unprecedented backdrop which includes continued calls for specific support for the tourism, hospitality, leisure and cultural industries, including extension of the government’s furlough scheme; boosts from short term initiatives such as Eat Out to Help Out and VAT cuts for hospitality businesses; and ongoing safety restrictions which have been in place across areas of the north of England throughout summer.

“This all makes for a complex and precarious situation for the tourism industry and highlights the significant level of support that destinations – especially cities – is going to need over the coming weeks, months and even years in order to drive recovery of the industry and the wider economy post Covid-19.”

Richard Topliss, Regional Managing Director for NatWest Commercial Banking in the North of England, commented: “The latest data demonstrates the differing complexities for rural and city destinations but similar concerns for the future and it’s important that we look at ways we can support all of these businesses in the weeks and months ahead. We know that a one size fits all approach will not work, and finance experts, business leaders and local stakeholders must work together to support the sector over this period.”


Notes to editors

* Nine tourist boards – otherwise known as Destination Management Organisations (DMOs) – are involved in the study and are responsible for recruiting businesses from within the tourism economy to consistently participate in a survey. They are Cumbria Tourism, Make It York, Marketing Cheshire, Marketing Lancashire, Marketing Liverpool, NewcastleGateshead Initiative, Visit County Durham and Visit Leeds. Marketing Manchester is leading the project.

The fourth edition of the NatWest Tourism Business Barometer can be viewed here, and the first edition which set the benchmark data can be viewed here. Editions two and three can be supplied on request.