Speaking to Coinslot ahead of the summer season, CEO of Bacta John White explains how the trade association has been putting forward the case both locally and nationally for the seaside sector.
You recently attended the first English Tourism Week Conference. Was this all about Cream Teas and Chocolate Box villages or did delegates discuss the very real contributions made by amusements businesses large and small the length and breadth of the country?
John White: The Conference provided an excellent opportunity to explore the very real business issues facing the tourism industry from rates to infrastructure and from skill shortages to Brexit. As a relative newcomer to the Tourism Alliance, which organised the event and associated English Tourism Week, I was pleased that key amusement issues have been picked up by the body which represents nearly £70 billion of GVA to the UK economy. We are now separately identified in the Tourism Alliance narrative and our key seaside asks on infrastructure and car parking were individually addressed during the day.
CS: Conversations around the seaside economy understandably tend to focus on the macro economic issues but what can/is Bacta do(ing) about the nitty gritty issues such as the cost of car parking and transport links?
JW: Step one is to get the issues acknowledged as one of widespread concern. It was great to see that car parking is part of the Federation of Small Businesses agenda. We will work with them and the Tourism Alliance to move to step two – getting governmental action. This is likely to be much more about putting pressure on local government structures than a UK wide response but we must get local authorities to realise that expensive and incoherent parking drives people away from our High Streets and seafronts. Solving the Car Parking conundrum is one of our six steps to seaside success, a manifesto for which is being launched this week.
Top of the list has to be the recent rates review that has landed many members with a significant bill. The loss of ATMs, the creeping regulatory burden for example on making tax digital, the simple fact that we can’t pass on cost increases. These all add up to an assault on margins….
CS: Based on the feedback you are receiving from Bacta members at the coast what are the big challenges and what’s keeping them awake at night?
JW: Like many small businesses it is the conjunction of many seemingly smaller issues that cumulatively amount to the metaphorical headache. Top of the list has to be the recent rates review that has landed many members with a significant bill. The loss of ATMs, the creeping regulatory burden for example on making tax digital, the simple fact that we can’t pass on cost increases. These all add up to an assault on margins. It is a testament to our industry that so many of our business continue to deliver quality leisure entertainment for the nearly one third of the population that visits a seaside arcade each year.
CS: How strong is the industry’s seaside lobby of parliamentarians and how is Bacta using that well of support?
JW: Very strong. Every MP I speak to has a fondness for a quintessentially UK leisure experience. Keeping those relationships warm directly and through our members in the constituencies ensures that we can call on their help when we need it safe in the knowledge they will help.
CS: If and when the UK withdraws from the European Union should coastal operators be preparing for a Brexit Bounce of domestic holiday makers?
JW: I have given up making predictions around Brexit! I expected there to be a Brexit boost; I hope we still get one, but the figures show that bookings for foreign holidays remains as strong as ever.
CS: Does history confirm that the best custodians of our seaside heritage are private sector amusements operators – many of whom are Bacta members?
JW: That’s a big claim, but you can’t deny, as Dierdre Wells OBE, Chair of the Tourism Alliance, said last year; amusements are often the engine room of the heritage businesses located at the coast.