Industry leaders from the South West travel and hospitality sectors are broadly optimistic about the business outlook for 2024, a survey at the second South West Tourism & Leisure Forum has found.
Whilst 66% of the 40 senior business representatives feel that 2023 has been either worse or saw no improvement on 2022, 94% are optimistic that 2024 will see an uptick in the sector's fortunes across the region.
The Forum, organised by leading law firm Trowers & Hamlins and the Hotel Capital Markets Team at Savills, took place in October at The Lanhydrock Hotel and Golf Club in Cornwall. Attendees, comprising of hotel group owners, as well as leading tourist attractions and associated industry representatives, were surveyed as part of the 2-hour seminar and networking event, in which they discussed the state of the industry in the South West.
Speakers at the event included Kathy Coxhead, Financial Controller at Rick Stein Group and Ben Harper, CEO of Cornwall's Watergate Bay Hotel, Another Place and Beach Retreats.
With an emphasis very much on looking forward and planning, attendees were asked what their investment priorities are for 2024, with the largest number, 39% saying that HR & Skills tops their list. A third (27%) see financial sustainability as their priority and a quarter (24%) are putting investment in facilities and operations front and centre.
This focus on HR and skills was mirrored in responses when attendees were asked about the biggest challenges they foresee for 2024 – staffing was the most commonly cited answer, with costs and growth coming in second and third.
In a speech looking at future-proofing business, Kathy Coxhead talked about how the Rick Stein Group is very much focused on its longer term future. She commented, "Our business really is around looking forward to the next three to five years not just looking at today. We have to ensure that we are focused on improving our efficiency within the business which is very much around supply chain and people. It's always essential that we're making sure we're doing the best we possibly can, constantly challenging ourselves and improving that foundation for the business, with ultimately growth sitting above all of that, making sure we're getting ourselves in a really sound place to offer new opportunities to customers that love our brand."
In his address, Ben Harper called on the industry to keep its sights high and heed the lessons that the COVID pandemics had taught – "Hospitality is a people business and it took COVID for us to realise that. It took COVID for us to realise that our people are our greatest asset. And I think as a hospitality industry I think we need to push ourselves to work harder and be better and deliver more experiences and deliver hospitality that is of a global quality rather than just comparing with the restaurant or hotel around the corner."
Harriet Fuller, of the Savills Hotels and Capital Markets team highlighted the trend for spending on corporate and leisure tourism, finding that for many holidays and travel remain a priority – "In the face of a cost of living crisis, we are seeing consumers prioritise leisure travel. So far this year, spending on leisure travel has been in line with the long term average and hasn't dropped off despite the challenges consumers are facing today."
Her colleague James Greenslade mirrored this positive stance with his observations on the appetite from investors for South West opportunities, "Since COVID what we have seen is private equity stepping into the regional space. We are still seeing good levels of interest in the region from high net worth individuals and we still have a strong overseas contingent." he commented.
Ian Brown, partner at Trowers & Hamlins, added, "This was the second South West Tourism and Leisure Forum and it was great to see familiar faces back in the room, and in particular to hear such optimism. This has been a tough year for both travel and tourism, with inflationary pressures dampening consumer confidence and businesses also hunkering down to weather the fragile economic situation.
"That attendees, who represent many of the key organisations and industries in our region, are so optimistic about 2024 is telling. There was a definite positivity in the room, but also a realism – as evidenced by the focus on HR and skills in their business planning on the need for prudent planning. Planning requires investment and investment is an indicator of optimism – I think we all left the event feeling rather brighter about the year ahead than when we arrived!".
If you would like to attend the next South West Tourism and Leisure Forum, please contact Henry Smith at Trowers & Hamlins in Exeter, firstname.lastname@example.org.