The English Riviera - a return to the Golden Age?
With Covid-19 causing £20m of lost tourism revenue in March 2020 alone, we could be forgiven for thinking we’re in unrecoverable territory. However, with The Fragrance Group investing £140m into 4 new Torbay hotels, could we be at the start of a long-term upward curve in the Bay’s future and what else can we do to foster prosperity in the area?
During this crisis, we’ve seen bluer skies, better weather and more wildlife under lockdown, which is in part due to our decreased transport use but has ultimately increased our overall appreciation of our Bay, enabling us to notice the natural world we’re lucky enough to have on our doorstep. For Torbay to not only survive but thrive, we must look to the future and move Torbay beyond the Victorian era of its heyday, but build upon what made this such a successful period.
The English Riviera website has a host of information about Torbay and things to do, however we can all be champions to improve Torbay for everyone - partnering locally and regionally to improve our economy, environment and society. As a guide to do this, perhaps the below can be utilised to sell the holistic vision for Torbay’s future - a healthy, prosperous bay for all:
Look outside the area for comparable successes e.g. Newquay, Falmouth, areas of similar demographics who have developed for the benefit of everyone
Match lives to values - understand what local residents believe in and embed this into future local cultural considerations
Empower and facilitate collaborative engagement - understand prior roadblocks and evaluate these according to new, not old metrics - take a future view, not a historic one
Reward and recognise positivity within Torbay and celebrate local success - encourage residents that what benefits Torbay will benefit them
Increase Transparency - increase the visibility of these positive changes to Torbay and the impacts these changes have for residents
As a tourism hub for the UK, we are all aware of Torbay’s USPs - such as our 16 square miles of coastline and beaches, which we need to both protect and emphasise, in a sustainable manner for our future. With tourism likely to be minimal for Summer 2020, we must look to the positive and create a plan for 2021 and beyond, using a vision such as our example, ensuring everyone buys into Torbay’s development, not only for tourists, but also for those who call Torbay home.
With the aforementioned investment from the Singaporean Fragrance Group, we must couple this foreign investment with a long-term local vision, ensuring it dovetails with the Torbay Local Plan, Destination Management Plan and Marine Economy Action Plan, driving growth and acting as a model for future opportunities - there are many facilities in the area which need investment and hopefully, these new hotels can lead the way as first and foremost, what’s good for tourists is also good for locals, with new facilities, events and job opportunities boosted as a result of tourism investment. With Torbay Council and Torbay Development Agency (TDA) focused upon the regeneration of Torbay with 'ten projects making up Phase 1 of the town centres regeneration programme and secondly, preparing the ground for delivery of major regeneration projects as Phase 2 of the programme’ (more here), these opportunities are hopefully on the way.
Image: Paignton's new seafront hotel
One stumbling block lying at the heart of this regeneration is demography - with 1 in 4 residents over 65 and 60% of visitors being over 55, there is a significant older generation with different needs and requirements to meet. To ensure the future prosperity of Torbay, regeneration and development must keep pace with wider changing demographics to ensure there is something for everyone in the area.
With Covid-19 currently and Brexit still on the horizon, the 25-44 age bracket is most likely to see the UK as their main holiday destination (The Great British Staycation), so developing suitable offerings is essential - experience-driven tourism is one key facet for millennials for example, with music, food and art festivals being core to their considerations. If we can provide this type of activity, the subsequent income generated income will help Torbay fund future offerings for all. Hopefully from this crisis, prospective investors see the potential for our region, though Torbay Council, the TDA, local investment leaders and residents need to be open-minded to change, collaborative in their approach and clearer in their communication.
In working together to develop these opportunities across the built environment, we can bring in revenue to maximise the potential of our natural environment. With walking, hiking and cycling easily-accessible on land and swimming, paddle-boarding, kayaking and coasteering in the water - we are well-placed for sustainable outdoor activities before we consider our world-class boating proposition. However, taking a sustainable example, by improving our marketing and communication as a UNESCO Global Geopark (with more information physically located around the Bay and more widely online), we can educate locals and visitors alike to take in pride in the area and position Torbay as eco-tourism hub, targeting new markets, supporting our existing local attractions and promoting industry - particularly as a seafood destination, with Brixham being one of the biggest ports in England, creating a better proposition for our region than previously.
This localisation is going to be core to drive the future of tourism future across the UK, with Torbay a prime example of this. By coupling tourism with sustainability (ensuring we care for and conserve our environment in this sense), we have a real opportunity to capitalise on the staycation trend now foreign travel looks diminished for the foreseeable future. Innovative ideas are going to play a key role in driving profitability, even more so if it has purpose - for example, improve or build partnerships with regional groups such as Surfers Against Sewage or the Marine Conservation Society for locals and tourists engage in, promote and safeguard marine life and reduce local pollution.
Though largely viewed through the lens of tourism and sustainability, there is enough scope in the above to show how we can position ourselves to benefit from what our region has to offer, capitalising on considerate development of our towns and sustainable promotion of our environment, to ensure there is enough growth to support Torbay and hopefully, we can all help create an English Riviera for the future.