English Tourism Week is getting into full swing, and as demand for hotels during April and May continues to rise steadily in the North East of England – so too does NGI’s initiative.

NGI is confident the demand now being experienced will continue into the summer as Newcastle prepares for several major events happening including Rugby Magic Weekend, the Rugby League World Cup, the arrival of the Lindisfarne Gospels and the Great North Run from Newcastle to South Shields, and UK Pride.

Ian Thomas, Tourism Director at Newcastle Gateshead Initiative, shared:

“Already, forward weekend bookings in April and May stand between 47 and 65 percent occupancy. The city’s reputation for providing a warm welcome, its compact nature, proximity to the coast and of course, a wide range of things for people to see and do are combining to make it a great place to visit in 2022, now that all restrictions are lifted, and people can once again get out and about.”

Reputation

The city’s reputation as a great place to visit will be further highlighted when the first-ever Rough Guide to NewcastleGateshead is published in June of this year. 

Tourism is vital to the city’s economy and figures from NGI show just how important it is. In the year before the pandemic hit (2019) 19.22 million visitors came to Newcastle (the region-as a whole-welcomed 73 million visitors) and total visitor spend stood at £1.85bn for the city and £5.058bn for the region. 

Anna Wadcock is General Manager at Newcastle’s Maldron Hotel and Co-chair of the North East Hoteliers’ Association, she said: 

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“We’re certainly seeing resilience in the leisure market: our city and region have always been a popular spot for weekend breaks but it’s the midweek business travel that is still slow to return to post pandemic levels and this is due to factors such as companies switching to either fully working from home, or hybrid working and there is still a hesitancy around travel due to covid etc. 

Conference and events, and smaller face to face meetings have been very busy, and Anna Wadcock says it’s encouraging to see trade shows returning and large-scale conference events back in the diary.

“Although there was a slower start to the year, with the restrictions still in place in January, I am far more confident for the rest of 2022. It’s just fantastic to have our hotels filling up and seeing people get used to being out and about again.” 

Led by VisitEngland, English Tourism Week is an annual celebration of English Tourism, highlighting the importance, value and vast contribution of the sector makes to the UK economy.

Staffing and recruitment 

One of the main focuses for English Tourism Week in 2022 is staffing and recruitment, and that is something that remains a challenge for many businesses in the sector. 

Prior to the pandemic, the industry supported 21,000 jobs in Newcastle and Gateshead but because of the pandemic and associated lockdowns, the number of people directly employed in the tourism sector saw a fall of around 61 per cent. 

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Anna Wadcock said: 

“Team recruitment is still a challenge, entry level roles are easing in recruitment, but it’s the supervisory and management roles that are becoming more difficult to recruit to. Chef recruitment has always been a challenge but even more so since the pandemic hit, and many properties have not been able to fully open their food and beverage operations due to kitchen shortages.”

Newcastle was no different from any other in terms of being impacted by the pandemic and NGI continues to work with the sector, to help it re-build and grow, and one specific action that has been taken to help address some of the recruitment challenges was to recently appoint Skills and Jobs Project Manager, David Ord, who brings with him extensive skills in the field. 

“I’ll be supporting employers as they look to fill their current vacancies by ensuring they are aware of the services they can access across the city, as well as working alongside local partnerships who support employers in solving their skills shortages”, said David. 

“Additionally, my role will involve helping young people aged 16 to 24to access jobs and training opportunities through the Youth Employment Partnership engages local employers to provide support and opportunities for young people.  

“Tourism is a large employer of school leavers and young people making it a great place to start a career and learn valuable, lifelong skills.” 

Anna Wadcock believes the post-pandemic challenges faced by the sector also provide an opportunity for “true” hospitality management training in the north east: 

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“I’m very fortunate in that we have individual training programmes within our company but it’s not indicative of the region’s many properties who are franchised, and the hotel owners may have a small number of hotels in total. 

“The sector is an incubator for entrepreneurs and innovation – encouraging people to start businesses and put new ideas into practice. There is also an opportunity to work closer as an industry with the colleges and universities locally to develop and deliver a true hospitality management full degree course to tailor courses to the specific skills and management requirements of the hospitality industry.” 

Despite the many challenges being faced by the tourism sector, Ian Thomas at NGI remains confident it can and will bounce back and points to major investments in the city as examples of the confidence there is in the city’s tourism sector. 

“We continue to see major investment in the sector, for example the recent opening of the Hard Rock Café, and INNSiDE Melia hotel on the Quayside, and there are ongoing plans for the Newcastle Gateshead Quays regeneration scheme, due to open in 2024, which is expected to attract more than 300,000 additional visitors each year. 

“On top of this we’ve seen the approval of a landmark five-star hotel for the centre of Newcastle and a £30m hotel complex in the Grey Street/Cloth Market area of the city; add to this the city’s wider transformation plans that will create cleaner and greener space for local people and visitors alike and you have a city that is certainly working hard at bouncing back from the pandemic.”