Improving travel links, boosting our USPs and focusing on the UK and Irish markets form the cornerstone of the DfE’s plans to reach 500,000 tourists to the island a year by 2032.
‘Our Island, Our Future’ is the first Visitor Economy Strategy to be laid before Tynwald since 2004 and has been written by Visit and other such reputable gov agencies and departments.
In the year before Covid, 2019, the island had 330,000 visitors, if the gov’s tourism plan is to work, it will need to not only recover back to this level, but increase it by 170,000 visitors in the next 10 years. This would require an average of 17,000 extra visitors a year.
It’s not a terribly long document, and you can read it below, but we’ve broken it down a little.
Essentially, the island is underperforming as a holiday and short break destination, with just 56,500 visitors coming for that reason in 2019, representing a market penetration (no giggling) rate of just 0.5%.
The cost of travel is ‘perceived’ as a barrier for a significant proportion of the gov’s target visitors. We’re also a seasonal holiday spot, you may think this is because it’s, you know, really cold in winter and we’re in the middle of the Irish Sea, which could be true but DfE says it’s made worse by a drop off in winter transport links.
This seasonality is also making it hard to invest in improving the visitor accommodation which is said to be lagging behind our competitor destinations in terms of quality, choice and innovation’.
We’re not making the most of our USPs, essentially the sea, countryside, food, drink, heritage, etc, the sort of stuff you can’t find anywhere else, as long as you’ve never heard of Cornwall, Jersey, Ireland, Wales, Scotland, you get the picture. Covid (of course) has seen the island ‘falling even further behind competitor UK and Irish destinations. And, as seen this year, there is a real shortage of workers for the visitor economy.
As Homer Simpson once said, you can’t have a float without flowers and following that lesson, you also can’t have a plan without targets.
Along with its headline target of growing annual visitor numbers to 500,000, with a subsequent economic contribution of £520m, by 2032, Visit is also aiming to increase the average spend per visitor, driven by ‘strong growth in a longer staying and high spending leisure market’. It predicts this should result in a more than doubling of annual visitor spending on the island to £310m, which will support an increase in visitor economy jobs to 5,000 and generate an annual exchequer benefit of £49m.
The plan also includes objectives such as ‘getting ahead of the competition’ which will include the ‘development of a distinctive Manx visitor experience and the establishment of the Island as an ecotourism destination that can be explored sustainably and offers dynamic ways for visitors to engage with our unique natural environment’. Extending the season is also key, with the gov keen to expand the season to between February and October half-term before building up to going all year round.
The Target Market
Visit says its priority through to 2032 will be to ‘triple our holiday and short break demand’ and it says that over 70% (122,700) of the additional visitors (compared to 2019) will be standing for these purposes.
As such, it has its eyes on four key UK and Irish markets.
- Traditional Travellers – ‘Empty nesters and retired couples that like to take things at a leisurely pace, want to take closer-to-home breaks, and come for our heritage and culture’
- Curious Explorers – ‘Empty nesters and older couples that like to take holidays off the beaten track and discover new places. They have a wide range of interests and enjoy heritage and culture, the outdoors and nature.’
- Experience Seekers – ‘Pre-family couples and friends that love to socialise and try new things. They are very experience-led, want to escape to the country, and look for a balance between relaxation and active leisure time.’
- Family Adventures – ‘Families and extended families that want to spend quality time together on holiday. They are looking for play-focused attractions and activities for younger children and active, family-friendly outdoor pursuits for older children. Family-orientated accommodation that provides a safe and welcoming environment for children is important.’
In the first three years, Visit says it will target the traditional traveller and curious explorer markets with the others being seen as ‘medium to long-term, once the visitor accommodation, attractions and activities products are more developed’.
As well as this, Visit wants to grow the number of existing groups such as motorsport fans, group tours, heritage transport fans, golf tours, cruise ships etc.
Up in the Air or All at Sea
The first ‘action programme’ focuses on improving air and sea links to the island. Visit says that the new (£70m) Liverpool ferry terminal and Manxman ferry will help with this while the air services strategy, which we haven’t seen yet, will focus on ‘ensuring the viability of existing critical air routes, expanding regional connections, and developing new connections to international hub airports’.
The key results for this are simple, more passengers, improved yields for carriers and a more positive perception of travelling to the island. For this, the Steam Packet will look to improve services while working with Visit to promote ferry travel as an environmentally sustainable option for travelling to the island and developing ferry-inclusive package holidays. In the skies, the gov wants to ‘introduce and promote new scheduled and charter flights and package holidays’. Change to Open Skies, anyone?
Build Back Better
Recognising that tourists want higher quality and value for money, the plan says the island must ‘continually improve quality standards, service levels and quality assurance across our visitor industry to ensure that the Island delivers an exceptional experience for all of our visitors’. To work towards this, Visit will lead a Quality Improvement Programme which will include ‘largely voluntary schemes’ to improve visitor welcome, quality assurance and visitor satisfaction.
To achieve these aims, Visit wants to reintroduce the ‘Manx Welcome customer care and product knowledge training programme for frontline staff in visitor businesses’. Other work includes a revamped grading scheme, working with DEFA to implement its food hygiene rating scheme and the development of a business case for a Visitor Business Improvement Fund.
Make Accommodation Great Again
Visit’s studies have shown that the island is ‘lagging behind our competitor island, coastal and rural destinations in terms of the quality and choice of visitor accommodation that we offer’.
The plan says to improve the island needs new modern offers such as coastal and harbourside boutique hotels, spa and thalassotherapy (seawater therapy) resorts and retreats, e-sports hotels, branded hotels, and contemporary pub rooms. It also means improving the non-serviced offering through innovative offerings in back-to-nature retreats, wellness resorts, sea cabins and luxury glamping, among others.
The objective here is to deliver ‘500 new and transformed hotel and serviced accommodation bedrooms and 500 new units of distinctive, contemporary eco-friendly non-serviced accommodation’.
Planned actions include the development of guidance for prospective visitor accommodation developers, a planning policy approach that can give positive consideration to proposals for well-designed, eco-friendly coastal and rural visitor accommodation, better marketing and a series of cabins and bothies around the island to support coastal paths.
Visit’s research says it can make better use of the island’s countryside, coastline and wildlife, as well as the heritage, culture and food and drink offerings. It plans to develop a series of unique Manx visitor products to entice visitors.
To achieve this, it will develop a series of seven Product Development Programmes (PDPs) covering: walking; cycling; adventure and sea sports; Manx heritage, arts and culture; eco-tourism; food and drink; and harbour towns and marine leisure.
The island is probably most known around the world for the TT and by extension the MGP but there are also a number of smaller events that attract a few hundred visitors each. Visit wants to expand these into events that are attracting 1,000 to 3,000 visitors. The plan for this includes developing the TT into a ‘sustainable world-class event’, researching what other events could be held on the island and how the island can capitalise on its USPs, particularly those which are out of the main tourism season.
Visit’s research shows that its target markets don’t know enough about what the island has on offer for a holiday or break and ‘in some cases have an outdated view of the island as a place to visit’. The report added: ‘A lack of packaged holidays is also a barrier for some. Effective marketing of the Island as a holiday and short break destination, and of visitor accommodation, attraction and activity businesses, events and packaged holidays will be critical to achieving our targeted growth in visitor numbers.’
It wants to improve the awareness of the island as a place to visit, improve marketing partnerships, a stronger digital presence, increased traffic through social media and have more ‘influencers and journalists recommending the island’ (paying them to say nice things).
Island’s Got Talent?
Pretty simple this, there aren’t enough people to fill roles across hospitality and tourism.
Visit recognises that the island needs to improve pay and working conditions, improve management skills, hone the skills and knowledge of the key workforce, improve career progression, improve recruitment of seasonal workforce, promote the sector as a career opportunity and address visitor industry’s staff accommodation needs.
What this costs, we don’t yet know, but given the 10 year timeframe, there may still be a member of Tynwald or two around for us to judge them by whether it succeeds or fails.
You can read the report below: