Contributed by MHA Larking Gowen
22/05/2019 - MHA Larking Gowen
The region’s tourism leaders gathered in Norfolk and Suffolk on 22 and 23 May to hear the results of East Anglia’s largest Tourism, Leisure and Hospitality Business Survey. High on the list of challenges was the weather in 2018. The survey, which is produced by chartered accountants and business advisors, MHA Larking Gowen, has been running for 14 years and is the largest independent survey of its kind in the region.
The eclectic mix of businesses within the visitor economy, leisure and hospitality sector across Norfolk, Suffolk and Essex means there is something for everyone. With a range of businesses completing the survey and the different type of visitors, their focus and interests impacted on the results. The weather, in particular, played a big part in the trading results for a lot of businesses.
For businesses in this sector, 2018, nicknamed recently as the “Goldilocks year” (so-called because there was too much snow in March, too much rain at Easter and it was too hot for the summer) saw changes in customer spending habits, leading to mixed trading results.
Many businesses have said that the weather is a leading concern for them and in response, there has been substantial investment into weather-proofing attractions. Which has helped increase visitor numbers and seen a boost to the economies of our region over recent years, with the economic value of the visitor economy across Norfolk, Suffolk and Essex now being worth over £8 billion.
Chris Scargill, partner at MHA Larking Gowen, who coordinates the annual survey, said, “While we, as families, all got to enjoy the opportunity for being outside more, once the warm weather arrived, our spending habits changed, and we enjoyed more of the low cost outdoors but this has had some significant impact on a number of businesses in the sector. It certainly isn’t all doom and gloom though, and we have seen some real positives, but there is no doubt that the unusual weather patterns impacted a number of businesses, and it came at a time when businesses are seeing rising costs in rents, business rates, rising staff costs through legislation.
“In 2018, we continued to see the loss of swathes of the high street and the national restaurant chains, with some only being saved by entering into CVAs with their creditors and heavy negotiations on rents. For some, it really is quite tough out there.”
Continued Chris, “The results of the survey indicated that while 49% of businesses saw revenue levels increase, nearly one in three (31%) suffered a decrease in income.”
A big issue in 2018 was the increasing awareness on plastic waste. The tourism sector has clearly been doing its bit, with the majority of businesses reducing plastic in their cooking, cleaning, and purchasing habits. More can clearly be done around plastic waste; 61% of businesses felt local government could help them more in their endeavours, with 57% feeling the drive should come from central government.
In this region the sector employs over 150,000 staff and three quarters of the businesses surveyed employed staff. One in four of those businesses indicated that staff retention was an issue. For the majority, staff numbers stayed the same; just over a third of businesses have increased their full-time and part-time staff numbers, and one in ten reduced staff. Flexibility in working hours is seen as a real bonus for the sector; 51% of employers surveyed provide zero hour contracts, two thirds of which are providing, on average, between 11 and 30 hours per week. Articles in the survey results publication outline a focus on making the sector a positive career choice.
All business sectors have seen a rise in pay for staff. Near full employment levels suggest that the National Minimum Wage (NMW) and the more recent National Living Wage (NLW) have been a success. However, calculations also highlight the impact these have had on businesses. An individual working 35 hours per week, earning the NMW in 2015/16 at the time the NLW was introduced, would have cost an employer, in total, £12,550 in the year. Now, for someone 25 years or older, and following the introduction of pension Auto Enrolment, that cost is £16,077 – a rise of 28% over four years.
The introduction of the NLW and pension Auto Enrolment has been a real boost for employees as it has also had a domino effect across all staff levels, but as the costs of employing staff have increased, cuts in staff numbers or other areas of spend are being impacted as the customer is resilient to price changes. However, the survey results show that 27% of businesses are planning price increases to accommodate these legislative changes, whereas 18% accept it will simply hit their bottom line.
Marketing spend was increased by a third of businesses, but the results highlight greater efforts in the use of social media and the selling of an experience. While the level of increase in the use of Facebook and YouTube, as marketing mediums, has remained consistent, Instagram has seen more activity, with 80% of businesses this year reporting an increase in their use of the format compared to the previous year.
The results indicate that the consequence of all of the above factors provided mixed results on business profits, with only two in five businesses seeing an increase in profit levels. Chris comments, “Profit levels are essential to allow businesses to keep reinvesting, so it was good to see profits rise for a significant proportion of the sector, especially the fact that one in three businesses increased profits by over 10% compared to last year. But with nearly a third of businesses seeing profits fall, this could be a worrying trend, particularly as two-fifths of those making a loss this year are anticipating losses in 2019.”
Chris concludes, “This clearly brings to question sustainability and risks investment long term. However, for now, investment continues, with 16% of businesses planning to extend their premises and three in five planning site improvements and refurbishment to help improve business. 2019 will inevitably be another interesting year for the sector.”
To view the full survey results, download a copy here.
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