As hospitality businesses struggle to cope with the perfect storm presented by Covid-19 and Brexit, and in particular the issues around staffing, there is potentially a far greater challenge facing the wider visitor economy, which has longer-term repercussions for Jersey’s tourism industry and the Island as a whole.
In the days of the 1980s TV series Bergerac, visitors flocked here and, to accommodate them, the Island’s hotels and guest houses provided in excess of 30,000 beds.
Since the peak tourism years, Jersey has seen a gradual decline in serviced accommodation. In the early 1990s the number of beds had dropped to 20,000, then in the noughties a halving to just above 10,000.
Fast forward to 2020 and, following a five-year period of growth in visitor numbers, the Covid-19 pandemic arrived and closed the borders to visitors.
With the exception of a few weeks in the summer of 2020, there were no visitors for 15 months. Partly, but not exclusively as a result of this, at the end of this summer the industry will probably lose at least another five hotels and almost 1,000 beds.
The number of available hotel and guest house beds will then fall to just over 7,200. In recent years, this means that the bed stock will have dropped by one third.
Why does this matter? After all, it could be argued, that some of the properties that are closing are past their sell-by-date, lack recent investment and are simply no longer matching the needs of the new type of visitor to Jersey.
Their owners have studied the numbers and concluded that closing the business and turning over the property for housing development, provides the best return on their asset.
However, there are two key reasons why the industry and government should be seriously concerned about this decline. The first and most important to Islanders, is route connectivity.
In 2021, Jersey was able to encourage airlines such as Jet2 & Easyjet to re-establish historical routes as well as open up some new links such as Stansted.
In total this summer, visitors could fly from 27 airports in the UK to Jersey. However, all airlines are driven by achieving the highest possible passenger loads on each flight and, even with the recovery this summer, many flights arriving into Jersey have been less than half full.
Almost two-thirds of all passengers travelling into the Island are leisure visitors – so they are critical to the success of any route.
With a reduction in beds for visitors to sleep in, there will be a growing problem with availability. While there may be plenty of airline seats to sell, with a lack of available hotel beds tourists will not be booking holidays here.
As a result, the airlines will see sales falling short of expectations and this will lead to a cut back of routes and frequency of service.
The other major impact that the loss of these beds will cause is on group business. In recent years the Island has been successful in attracting more group business, particularly for sports events.
Most of the hotels that are closing this year, were ideal for accommodating these visitors. Primarily in the 3-star category, hotels such as the Mayfair with 500+beds, provided exactly what this market is looking for.
With their closure, those hotels that remain will understandably limit the number of groups they will accept whilst inflating prices to match supply with demand.
And they cannot be blamed for seeking to recover from the losses caused to their business by Covid. As importantly, the whole tourism industry will feel the knock-on effects of fewer visitors – including attractions, restaurants/bars and transport providers.
There is no simple solution to this issue and it is certainly not going to be resolved overnight. However, the government should be seriously concerned about the impact of a loss of beds on route connectivity and the hospitality and tourism infrastructure on the Island.
Working with industry, the politicians need to find creative ways to encourage investment in new product, similar to that which has recently been revealed for Millbrook House.
Prior to the pandemic, Jersey’s visitor economy was enjoying a period of growth not seen in the previous two decades. As tourism worldwide starts to recover, the Island is in danger of being left behind, if the fall in bed numbers is not addressed.