Of all industries, tourism has been the hardest hit during the Covid-19 pandemic. Welsh tourism has had a particularly rough time, with a parliamentary report stating it resulted in the immediate shutdown of 97% of businesses with 80% of staff being furloughed. Across the Easter bank holiday alone, it’s estimated that North Wales lost more than £100 million in revenue.
But there’s now reason for optimism. The rollout of vaccines and subsequent easing of travel restrictions means the worst appears to be over. And not only are employees in tourism and hospitality heading back to work, they’re busy preparing to deal with the pent-up demand for holidays and excursions.
Though lockdowns have been brutal, they’ve also been a useful learning exercise. Digital transformation was already underway in Wales, but Covid-19 has accelerated change. With traditional business operations restricted, companies have needed to adapt and diversify. Restaurants and hotels moved online to sell products and food, while shuttered attractions promoted themselves through virtual tours. The Welsh Government's historic environment service Cadw, for example, hosted virtual reality visits to Castell Coch and the UNESCO World Heritage site, Harlech Castle.
Digital transformation was already underway in Wales, but Covid-19 has accelerated change.
Consequently, lockdowns have reinforced how important digital technology and the internet can be, whether it’s video conferencing with staff, providing updates via social media, or engaging with potential customers using a website. Some businesses are further along this digital road than others. But it’s easy to catch up. Superfast Business Wales offers a range of online courses and business advisers, whose expertise has already helped a number of companies make the most of the opportunities that a good online presence can provide.
Nestled at the foot of Snowdon, the Royal Victoria Hotel looked to digital in order to both build its business and enhance the customer experience. Much of the work was done pre-pandemic and improving internet connectivity was a key challenge. With guidance from Superfast Business Wales, the hotel not only improved the service for its guests but improved the platform for its internal business systems.
“We have never looked back on our decision to upgrade,” says the hotel’s General Manager Steve Lee. “It was business critical. Today, we are all cloud-based and that includes sales, purchases, accounts, rota and stock management, data protection, PC defence software, VoIP communications, plus apps for the restaurant and bar. It also provided our Track and Trace platform during Covid, as well as Zoom and Teams video conferencing.”
On a slightly smaller scale, The Old Mill Holiday Cottages in Flintshire have also benefited from embracing digital. Liz Stack, who operates three cottages, turned to Superfast Business Wales for advice on how to improve the online function of her business.
Following a training course and one-to-one session, she brought her website up to date, employing widgets and embedded video. She also set up a booking system that works in tandem with Facebook and Airbnb, enabling guests to see availability and to book online. These efforts immediately reduced her commission costs and put her in a good position as Wales emerged from Covid.
Liz Stack, owner of The Old Mill Holiday Cottages, used Superfast Business Wales webinars to improve her website and optimise for SEO.
“Post lockdown, the buzzword seems to be ‘UK Staycation’,” says Liz Stack. “However, in an increasingly competitive holiday let market, embracing digital technology is imperative – not just to allow for ‘The Old Mill Holiday Cottages’ to stand out from the crowd, but to also increase profitability. This, in turn, enables me to continue to re-invest and grow my business further.”
How has Liz survived the lockdown period? As she explains:
“I continually strive to put into practice methods I’ve learnt through attending Superfast Business Wales webinars. I have implemented SEO best practice and I’ve started to write blog posts to drive potential customers to my website. In addition, I have been regularly engaging with potential customers via social media, sharing information and photos about our local area.”
The Covid-19 outbreak has reshaped many areas of the tourism industry in Wales, but businesses shouldn’t wait for a pandemic to embrace the benefits of digital transformation.