Tourism chiefs are targeting mobile phone-friendly travel booking sites such as Expedia and Airbnb to try to attract overseas and staycation visitors to Sussex.
They are particularly keen to boost the number of business guests and other overnight visitors – as opposed to day-trippers – because they tend to spend more.
But Sussex needs a fresh identity and its tourism sector needs a digital transformation, political and business leaders were told today (Tuesday 27 April).
The scale of the challenge was spelt out to the Greater Brighton Economic Board by Donna Chisholm, assistant director for culture, tourism and sport at Brighton and Hove City Council.
She told a virtual meeting of the board that strategic work was under way to support tourism across Sussex as the economy recovered from the coronavirus pandemic.
This included efforts to create a stronger identity as well as a single voice for Sussex and its attractions – in the way that Cornwall and Kent had managed.
And the drive to boost international and domestic bookings meant working “at a deep level” with online platforms such as Expedia and Airbnb to offer not just a place to stay but entire holidays.
Other market leaders such as Booking.com and Lastminute.com are in their sights, with more people turning to dot-com digital booking platforms on their phones as they looked to plan their next break.
Tourism in Sussex should focus on quality not quantity, she said, or value rather than volume, with overnight visitors accounting for 11 per cent of tourists but half the spend.
Visitors from overseas made up just 2 per cent of visitors to Sussex but spent 19 per cent of the income derived from tourism.
In contrast, the share of “day visitors” – about 55 million a year to the county – accounted for about £2 billion of spending.
The sector employed about 80,000 people before the covid pandemic and was worth £4 billion to £5 billion a year to the local economy.
She said: “We can’t assume this is going to return. We can’t assume that the tourism sector and the visitor economy more widely is going to bounce back.
“There has been quite significant damage done to it – and the world is changing rapidly.
“We must help the sector to recover … into the winter and into next spring is particularly important, beyond the staycation summer.”
Councillor Phélim Mac Cafferty, the Green leader of Brighton and Hove City Council, said that there was a hunger to “punch above our weight” and attract more tourists to the region.
He said: “We need to extend the season. I’m keen to compile a list of all the things that mean Brighton and Hove is a great place to visit at Christmas.
“We have been doing a number of pieces of work on really upping the game on that and stating the ambition.”
The council’s chief executive Geoff Raw said that the board needed to understand what visitors were doing.
At this stage, he said, it was still not clear whether the world would adapt to a new normal or return to the way things were before the pandemic.
Brighton University vice-chancellor Debra Humphris said that the university could help with its cultural offering, perhaps by offering short-course tasters linked with local museums and the Dome.
Professor Humphris said: “I’m thinking of the more mature, the older tourist, who is not necessarily seasonally driven by the beach and the sun.”
Ms Chisholm said that the beach user was not the focus but rather the higher-spending cultural tourists interested in the arts, education and the heritage of Sussex and its food and drink.
The Greater Brighton Economic Board has pitched to the Coast to Capital Local Enterprise Partnership (LEP) for funding to support the tourism recovery programme.
Coast to Capital’s chief executive Jonathan Sharrock said: “The ambition and scale on this issue is impressive.
“The challenge we face as a region is helping these sectors grow as quickly and as ambitiously as they need to grow to help the regional economy grow.
“That’s a sense of jeopardy we’re not used to in dealing with in this part of the country.”
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