The past few years have taken a toll on many businesses across the region, with the hospitality and tourism sector taking a huge hit. Rising costs, staffing issues and reduced footfall to the area all having an impact on how hospitality businesses are able to operate.

Figures from the Great Britain Tourism Survey 2023 show that there was a 10% fall in domestic holidays across England in 2023 compared to the previous year. In Cumbria, 45% of businesses reported a fall in visitor numbers in January of this year compared to last year, according to Cumbria Tourism’s Business Tourism Tracker 2024.

That being said, figures show that the situation for some business owners is potentially beginning to look up as we head into summer. Visit Britain reports a forecasted 39.5M overseas visitors will holiday to the UK in 2024, a 4.5% increase from last year. Inbound tourism is due to boost the economy by £34.1bn, a 7.6% increase from 2023.

This is proving to be the case in Cumbria and across the North West, with 39% of Cumbrian hospitality businesses reporting an increase in bookings for June this year and 93% feeling confident about their survival over the next six months, up from 89% six months ago.

Alasdair Swan, Senior Commercial Relationship Manager at specialist hospitality lender, The Cumberland Building Society says: “There’s no denying that the hospitality and tourism sector has suffered several setbacks over the past few years, especially here in Cumbria.

“Our people-first approach to banking allows us to work incredibly close with our customers in the hospitality space, and so we’ve seen first-hand just how difficult things have been for these businesses to stay afloat. The one thing that has stood out, however, is the resilience of our local business owners who have worked tirelessly to continue to evolve and serve their local communities, contributing to their local economies.”

He continued: “We’re not out of the woods yet and there is still a lot of work to be done in order to ensure that businesses can continue to operate, but it’s fantastic to see a shift in the dial forecasted for this summer.”

One such business owner is Steve Hargreaves, Managing Director of The Cranleigh Boutique Hotel in Bowness on Windemere. He said: “I’ve been in the industry for over 28 years and so have seen my fair share of ups and downs. The past few years have been incredibly challenging, but I am optimistic about the next 12 months and beyond.

“People come to our beautiful corner of the world to sit in the sun, listen to music, and enjoy a beer while over-looking the lake, before going to bed to a luxury state-of-the-art room. I’m committed to continuing to offer this experience to both domestic and international visitors alike and am grateful for the support of The Cumberland in ensuring we can do so.”

The Business Tourism Tracker 2024 from Cumbria Tourism reports that 43% of businesses have seen an increase in turnover this year, with 28% seeing an increase in overall profits.

It is not all positive news, however. 87% of businesses are still concerned about increasing costs with 38% claiming this is their primary concern. 81% of businesses are experiencing difficulty with recruitment, with 96% attributing increases in wage costs as a concern.

Managing Director of Cumbria Tourism, Gill Haigh, says: “Amid rising costs and continuing issues around recruitment and skills, the challenges being faced by the industry are by no means over. However, there are positive signs heading into summer and a definite pick up in last minute bookings.  We are continuing to focus on raising the profile of the county all year round to ensure Cumbria remains at the forefront of people’s minds when considering potential holiday destinations.”

Whilst it’s clear that issues with rising costs and recruitment continue to affect many businesses in the region, some will be breathing a small sigh of relief as pressures begin to ease.

For more information about The Cumberland, please visit: www.cumberland.co.uk/business

For more information on Cumbria Tourism’s Business Tourism Tracker 2024, please visit: https://www.cumbriatourism.org/resources/research/