Enterprise Minister Laurence Skelly has told Gef we have to keep our economy moving forward, particularly as we emerge from the pandemic.
He said that every department has faced its challenges during the pandemic but that thanks to the island having a strong economy prior to the pandemic, we have been able to sustain public services.
Mr Skelly said: ‘I think we’re fortunate to have such a diverse economy, if we look back at the first lockdown, it proved we could still function fairly effectively. The digital and finance sectors both managed to adapt very quickly to working from home and we could support those who couldn’t.’
Getting Tourists Back
As Minister for Enterprise, Mr Skelly is also responsible for tourism and said that while any hope of tourist seasons relies heavily on borders, the vaccine rollout and numbers decreasing, his department also recognised that our offer to tourism was ‘strong’ and was going through a ‘renaissance’.
He explained: ‘We’d had decades of decline and we’d started to see gradual and sustainable increases and that was really positive and we were looking forward to a really strong season.
‘I think our offering hasn’t actually changed, but it’s been recognised in a more positive and stronger marketing light and now with the coverage we’ve had with Covid both in our local media and international media so we’re ready to come out of the blocks but I think travel trends will be changing.’
These shifts in trends, Mr Skelly said will likely see people booking shorter holidays this year, with people in Britain and Ireland more likely to opt for somewhere nearby, either on the adjacent islands or here.
Before Covid, the island was seeing annual growth in the number of smaller cruise ships that would visit our island, bringing day trippers for tours to our shores. While the cruise industry has long had a history of issues with viruses spreading on board, how they recover from Covid remains to be seen.
Mr Skelly said: ‘Cruising will undoubtedly take many years to recover. We didn’t commit to a large scale cruise berth, so we will be able to receive those but they’re day trippers, the hoteliers don’t get much from it, our restaurants weren’t getting much from it, they were largely day trippers with a great interest in our railways and our heritage sites. So we were getting some business, but it was never a mainstay of our tourism industry. It will take some time, we will welcome them back, but we have other areas we can focus on.’
The Minister said the island’s future tourism market will be tilted further towards activities including cycling, walking and golfing holidays.
He said: ‘These are three key areas we feel we can come out the blocks very quickly with.’
TT Brand Remains Strong
Mr Skelly spoke to Gef before the announcement that the Southern 100, the MGP and Classic TT had been cancelled, but said that the island’s brand as the home of road racing remains strong.
He said: ‘What we do know from having to cancel the TT for two years running, which was heart wrenching to be honest, not just for the industry and the fans, but our community, it’s part of who we are. But what came out of that is that the brand is very strong and the fans, the teams and everyone associated with it say yes we do want to be back, we want to make sure this does stay live and remains a mainstay.’
However while there was enormous disappointment around the TT being cancelled, Mr Skelly said it has allowed the DfE to think more about what it can do differently in the future. This includes scheduling, live streaming, a return of TT Zero which he said means the TT can ‘come back bigger and better than ever’.
Stretching the Season
While TT 2022 will likely see a sudden flood of fans, both old and new, the overall tourism market will likely be slower to recover. But instead of just providing support, there is work going on to look at how some of the island’s hotels and guesthouses could change.
Mr Skelly said: ‘There has been talk of repurposing some of those properties and some of that activity is ongoing as we speak. There are some big businesses looking at converting short stay accommodation and are looking at the hotel industry, for example, so there is already some activity there.
‘I think the question of if the industry needs ongoing support remains to be seen, I think we need to stretch the season. We are very good at doing events here, we’ve talked about TT and everything else, but we also do a lot of indoor stuff as well, there’s the darts tournament, pool tournaments, even chess tournaments and poker tournaments. They could all happen out of season and we need to look at how we can make that happen.’
Mr Skelly was also very grateful for the support shown by residents to our local hoteliers as staycations became the go to holiday for 2020. ‘Manxies and people living here are now seeing more of their island through staycations more than they’ve ever done’, he added.