‘I think now is the testing time’ - Coastal business make the most of post-lockdown staycations
PUBLISHED: 05:30 12 October 2020 | UPDATED: 11:04 12 October 2020
Sarah Lucy Brown
Suffolk’s tourism trade made a valiant return after reopening from the crippling coronavirus lockdown - but the real challenges lie ahead.
Despite only being able to welcome a reduced number of visitors this year, traders and business experts have said firms up and down the Suffolk coast have made the most of an unprecedented situation and reopened by following strict Covid-19 guidelines.
But with the nights drawing in and the government’s furlough scheme ending, businesses are now having to plan carefully for the winter and the new year.
‘It has been an incredibly tiring time’
Hannah Wright began her role as town development manager in Southwold in April - when the coronavirus pandemic was at its peak.
She said the businesses have been “surprised” at how their recovery from the lockdown, highlighting how the introduction of the one-way pedestrian system helped keep visitors safe.
Mrs Wright said: “The summer really was a success. All of the businesses were amazingly surprised at how they recovered from the lockdown. They have been busier than they expected. Even though they might not be getting as many customers, people are spending more.
“But it has been an incredibly tiring time for them. Their top priority has been to ensure everyone feels safe.
“It’s definitely been a different summer, but it could have been way worse.
Despite the recovery, Mrs Wright is fearful of more restrictions being introduced - believing it could seriously hamper prospects for 2021.
She added: “There is definite concern about the future and what might happen in the case of another lockdown.”
‘The test now is to get through the winter’
Felixstowe Forward change director Helen Greengrass said her town had benefitted from staycations and the fact British tourists were not looking to holiday abroad.
However, she said the summer had been a “mixed bag” and believed the drop in visitors over the winter would represent a challenge.
Ms Greengrass said: “Overall, Felixstowe seafront businesses are buoyant and feel positive about the future.
“I haven’t heard anyone say it’s been absolutely dire, which is great. The test now is to get through the winter, it’s uncharted territory.”
‘People have been very sensible’
Charlie Manning, who manages Manning’s Amusements in Felixstowe with his brother Johnny, believes he was able to keep his customers safe this summer - albeit by having to remove a few machines.
He said: “This summer was better than expected, but not as good as previous years.
“Social distancing worked quite well. People have been very sensible and followed the rules.
For many businesses there is a fear of what happens next as the traditional season comes to an end.
‘The flood gates opened and people started coming’
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Susie Medland runs Munchies cafe in Aldeburgh.
She’s now been able to bring back almost all of her staff from furlough, even though things were tough for her business to begin with as she struggled to get hold of government business loans.
“I was so close to the edge. I just sat thinking I can’t do this,” said Ms Medland.
“Then the flood gates opened and people starting coming we went nuts.
“Summer was amazing for everyone. I think now is going to be the interesting time.”
Ms Medland said that she thought coastal towns had, had it good in comparison to other tourist areas.
As autumn arrives Ms Medland says she is already feeling the pinch as the number of customers and her takings begin to drop.
“Most of us have been able to put money in the bank,” said Ms Medland.
“But now is going to be the trying time for all of us.”
‘There is a general nervousness about winter’
Gary Thompson is from the Aldeburgh Business Association and also runs his own shop, Wag and Bone, in the town.
“I think there was cautious optimism in general after the summer,” said Mr Thompson.
“With winter I think there is a general nervousness with the spectre of further restrictions especially in light of the number of rising cases, as well as the current limitations on number of people allowed in shops.”
‘They made the absolute best of it’
Suffolk tourism experts have welcomed coastal businesses’ return from the lockdown - but warned the industry has “by no means bounced back”.
Annie Willey, brand manager at The Suffolk Coast, said: “After the work that had to be done to make businesses Covid-secure, everyone is pretty much exhausted. Frontline staff have done an amazing job in difficult circumstances.
“They have made the absolute best of it and shown tremendous creativity.
“But tourism has by no means bounced back.”
Pete Waters, Visit East of England executive director, added: “Tourism businesses enjoyed three very good months from July, but in many cases it won’t make up for the three months with no income at all.
“The continued reduction in VAT will go a long way to helping and a good October half term holiday will be important, but a second spike and lockdowns could be the death knell for some.”