The tourism ban triggered by the coronavirus outbreak will leave Cornwall’s retail sector in tatters, costing the local economy up to £2.4 billion this year, business leaders have warned.
Tourism bosses in the South West peninsular and other popular holiday destinations joined politicians in taking the unprecedented step last week of urging travellers and day-trippers to stay away amid concerns over the spread of Covid-19.
In Cornwall, business leaders were originally anticipating a bumper year for tourists, with green tourism driving a greater number of domestic holidaymakers to the South West.
However, the Government’s decision to enforce a lockdown on homes across the country, initially until the end of Easter, has left many small businesses in Cornwall facing the prospect of going bust before they can reopen.
Kim Conchie, chief executive of Cornwall Chamber of Commerce, told the PA news agency there is “no way” many businesses will survive the summer, with some already closing and others “fighting for every pound”.
He said: “Tourism is 25%-28% of gross value added of Cornwall, and the visitor economy could be as much as £2.4 billion over the year. If people aren’t allowed to come, that money will be lost.
“That is hard to see how that doesn’t have a really bad long-term impact.”
He said business leaders are looking at a recovery plan for when the “darkest days are over”, but added: “There’s a sort of begrudging acceptance that perhaps the only way forward is to put tourism on hold.
“But this will be the end of many businesses in hospitality and retail.
“Retail is on its knees at the moment and ‘zombie’ businesses have been hanging on by a wire.
“If the summer is lost then hundreds of retail businesses will just disappear. There’s no way they can survive.”
Mr Conchie said the long, wet winter had been bleak for some Cornish traders, leaving them in need of a good Easter to provide a financial boost.
Many were hoping that the so-called “Poldark effect” would provide another fillip, after the Cornish-based BBC series drew hordes of fans to the area.
Others, such as hotels, had invested savings in a low-season redevelopment – meaning they have nothing in reserve to keep them going over the forthcoming quiet period.
The coronavirus outbreak has also forced key visitor attractions such as the Eden Project to close its doors.
Mr Conchie praised Chancellor Rishi Sunak’s pledge to cover 80% of the wages of staff businesses kept on their payrolls.
But he said confusion remains over how it will affect the self-employed and seasonal workers.
He said: “Small and micro businesses aren’t used to dealing with Government.
“It’s an incredibly worrying time. There’ll be many hundreds of businesses in Cornwall that can’t even see a week; they will have been looking forward to Easter and breathing a sigh of relief.
“There will inevitably be an upturn so that when the time comes we can get cracking again.
“The geographical benefits will always be there, but it’s hard to see how thousands of small Cornish businesses will survive.”
Mr Conchie also urged the Government to come up with a formula for health and social care funding across the UK, similar to the E111 scheme in Europe, “which reflects the number of people who are using the facilities not just the council tax payers who, in Cornwall’s case for example, are already paying unfair amounts for policing, sewerage etc in addition to providing healthcare for visitors”.
He added: “A robust mixed economy of which some 25% is reliant on tourism needs some safety nets in place in our infrastructure that small businesses cannot carry the financial burden for, over and above the business rates they’re already contributing.
“We may be at a seminal moment in business and travel where people don’t want to go abroad.
“There could be a benefit to Cornwall that we were hoping for this year that we may see in future years.
“For the individual hotels that survive there will be a huge desire to manage Cornwall as the clean, green, environmentally sensible thing to do.
“Let’s hope there’s enough still in business.”