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Lifting On Lockdown Restrictions

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Devon’s Top Attractions Gives Cautious Welcome to Government Lifting On Lockdown Restrictions

The Chairman of the Devon Association of Tourist Attractions (DATA) Dick Wood gave a “cautious welcome” to today’s announcement of the easing of Covid 19 regulations, in particular the reduction in social distancing to one metre which will see many Devon tourism businesses re-open from 4 July.

DATA, which trades as ‘Devon’s Top Attractions’, has 35 member attractions around Devon which are all quality assured and inspected regularly to maintain high standards and ensure good quality visitor experiences. It is estimated that some five million people visit DATA member attractions each year, all of which helps make Devon the most visited county in Britain.

Since mid-March, all of Devon’s Top Attractions have been closed leaving them without any income and facing growing uncertainty and fears of job losses and even business failures as has happened in recent weeks sadly.

As things stand today, half of DATA’s members are still waiting to see the detail of the lockdown restrictions being amended, whilst others are partly open or opening in early July.

A list of the re-opening plans as known on 23/6/20 of DATA members is found here 

Devon’s Top Attractions Chairman Dick Wood, who also represents the South Devon Railway at Buckfastleigh, comments: “We have all been hanging around waiting for weeks now for some good news from the Government as to when we might be able to re-open and today’s news will be very welcome by many of our members who have had a torrid time with many wondering if they might even have a future.

 “But, like so many Government announcements, the devil will be in the detail for us and so we will all be studying the revised guidance and regulations very carefully now to check how these affect our businesses, and what we can do.

 “There are three key ‘C’ words for us that we all desperately need at present. We need CERTAINTY, with continuity and consistency in Government policy and financial help as key parts of that going forward; we need CONFIDENCE by people to want to visit and to show common-sense at all times, and we need CAUTION by visitors and staff in properly following the revised social distancing rules, but also being ready in case CV19 spikes again and we then get another lockdown.”

Whilst a number of attractions are hoping to re-open soon, others have come to the reluctant conclusion that it simply is too difficult and risky financially to undertake normal operations until a much later date given all of the restrictions involved, and whether running a very limited operation could actually make any money, or be operated safely.

The principal concerns and restrictions are: social distancing; costly additional PPE and cleaning requirements; concerns over the enforced reduced capacity of attractions; question marks over the ability to make any money doing so; the potential health and safety risks to both staff and visitors; the ability to staff the attraction properly; and low consumer confidence in the market about whether visitors will want to return to Devon anyway, especially given that travel by national rail and coaches is still severely restricted too at present.

The point does need to be made clear that NOT all attractions are in the same boat at all in terms of possibly being able to re-open, but all of them have been dependent on receiving further, updated Government advice and guidance ASAP on a number of issues that have prevented them opening.

The decision about an attraction possibly re-opening is, therefore, down to individual circumstances and based upon a number of big issues to consider, such as the care, welfare and feed for animals for some attractions.

Every attraction’s decision is their own to make since it’s going to be determined by many factors and not just one, and there is not one single common solution to the problem of course. Here are just some of the key issues being faced and addressed:

* the individual circumstances in terms of proximity to your market and target customers, type and nature of your business; and the likelihood of visitors returning given expected low consumer confidence other than at open air attractions;

* the ease or difficulty of actually opening, either partly or in full, including getting everything checked over, and ready and safe to use after a six month break, and all necessary staffing in place, and having infrastructure works teams back at work;

* how much money is in the bank or held in reserves, or available via commercial or Government borrowing (if it’s felt appropriate to even borrow money bearing in mind loans have to be repaid) and maintaining confidence by the banks in the attraction by avoiding financial risks;

* what further cash might be raised by boosting any donations appeals (that’s not possible for all attractions of course), and how high the monthly ‘burn’ rate of cash and fixed costs incurred is irrespective of whether the attraction is running or not. Some will have monthly ‘burn’ figures of £50,000-60,000, others much higher or lower, but it is assisted currently by Furlough payments to staff, although those rules change soon with any deferred bills paid;

* satisfying ALL of the regulatory requirements, especially for rides etc, which they are usually set out in detailed guidance papers in industry sectors requiring a raft of Risk Assessments for virtually every activity, including grass cutting, garden maintenance and weed killing etc;

* availability of staff and volunteers to man the attractions safely, including safety critical staff’s competence in both theory & practical work, and whether those using ageing volunteers (who invariably make up a large part of the workforce but are in ‘at risk’ categories), will want or feel able to return to their former duties;

* the attraction’s ability to crank up the marketing and PR function to draw visitors back in quickly as staff are furloughed;

* variable and flexible business plans and funding models with costed options to deal with different scenarios as they develop post lockdown;

* a proper competition & competitor analysis of the current marketplace, including market segments and known key sectors, such as groups and Christmas trade;

* how easily the attractions might be shut down again quickly if there is a further CV19 spike and a second lockdown, or if the operation delivered proves to be uneconomic.

There will be other factors at play too, but the above list should help show what has to be considered by all of Devon’s Top Attractions members who all provide non-essential leisure in either indoor and outdoor locations.

Some attractions have already run limited trial operations for ‘members only’ to try out their readiness to re-open which have tested their safety systems and staff competences. Others are just starting to gear up to possible re-opening in July after the Government delayed making the announcement today more than once, and it will take many attractions up to three weeks to get everything back in place to re-open safely

Devon’s Top Attractions Chairman Dick Wood added:

“Every DATA member desperately wants to get their attraction open and running again as soon as possible and that’s the clear aim. But not if that means putting additional further risk on your business in terms of health & safety issues and further pressurising your already strained finances.

 “Re-opening with all of the restrictions in place will still be a brave decision for many of us to make, but it could be foolhardy too given all of the issues we face. It is perhaps down to not letting one’s heart rule your head! We have to be cautious.

 “Some attractions will decide that they are unable to re-open for normal daily operations this year unless circumstances change significantly and quickly, and focus instead on 2021. But most will be looking into trying a limited if not full operation this Summer and also for Christmas if possible.

 “We all want to protect our valued and dedicated staff as best we can, some of whom are sadly at risk of redundancy, but know we are potentially facing three Winters in a row in terms of a massive loss of income. It’s been a very tough and unforgettable year for the country.

 “In the case of the South Devon Railway, whom I represent as an attraction, we still desperately need more people to help us raise the target figure of £500,000 in our SOS funding appeal.

 “We are so grateful to everyone who has donated to us already and helped us reach well over a third of that figure with £210,000 raised so far.

 If the railway is not able to re-open, we’ll need to try and raise around £32,000 a month for the next nine months from now until March next year. A tall order, but we have a plan!”