I was listening to a Bath-BID-sponsored online discussion yesterday in which council leaders spelt out just how important the city’s tourist industry was to their finances.
Along with income from property and car parking, it adds up to 35 million pounds worth of the authority’s annual income.
The pandemic has brought about an international lockdown and paralysed the tourist industry worldwide.
Our World Heritage city is going to take years to recover and there are real concerns the UK’s handling of preventative measures to tackle the coronavirus – and its high level of fatal infections – could mark Great Britain as a toxic brand and make people unsure as to whether this is a safe country to visit.
That’s a national issue but – on a local level – Bath’s commercial heart is eager to start beating again and waits to hear how the Government is going to start opening things up.
To their credit, city councillors are examining ways in which some central streets can be made safer for pedestrians. There are moves to see how traffic can be diverted to allow Milsom Street to be pedestrianised. It would make social distancing easier – especially for the restaurants who would be able to put tables outside.
More on that next week, but l wanted to move onto the problems faced by a major provider in the tourist economy.
Bath Preservation Trust owns and runs four museums in the city – No 1 Royal Crescent, The Museum of Bath Architecture, the Herschel Museum of Astronomy and Beckford’s Tower.
All of them are closed though – according to their Chief Executive Officer, Caroline Kay – the hope is still that they will reopen before the end of the year.
Just what effect their closure is having and how the Trust will deal with the difficulties of social distancing and – ultimately – rebuilding its tourist trade are some of the subjects now covered in an in-depth interview l have done with Caroline – via Zoom.
Apologies for the small amount of ‘freezing’ we had – as our internet connection wavered a little – but every little bit of it is worth listening to.
I asked her how hard they had been hit.
As the IBM Chief Executive said recently on Newsnight, this situation will super fastforward innovations that basically should have been rolled out before the pandemic (I’m more than paraphrasing).
Closing Milsom Street could add social distancing if the road is used carefully for restaurant and bar seating, but not done in the old style of UK or Italy etc… but with permanently, maybe with a barrier of high plants around each sitting area?
I’m ex-catering, so I’ll be fascinated as to how this will be done. My father, who ran The Cona Restaurant in the 1960s in Bristol went through all the power strikes, using basic Gaz camping equipment! The quality of the cooking was just as high, but then we did have exception kitchen and waiting staff. Ah, if they could all come back and help.
World Heritage Spa Just as Britain needs radical thinking and action to re-shore manufacturing and jobs, Bath must use this appalling pandemic crisis to re-think its tourism strategy – a strategy that was heading for the rocks long before the Corvid-19 shutdown.
Listening to council leaders spelling out the importance of tourism to its finances can be fairly compared to hearing farmers talk about the significance of the seasons for agriculture. These statements of the patently obvious are not encouraging.
The problem – or one of them – in Bath has been the gradual slide to low-rent, day-trip tourism that’s given the town centre far too many fast-food, litter-generating outlets, EFL schools for vast brigades of sidewalk-blocking youngsters who have no interest in Roman history or 18th century architecture, anti-social behaviour, rough-sleepers occupying the doorways of the closed independent shops some of the tourists thought they were coming to see, and beggars attracted to what they thought would be a honeypot.
If in its desperation to fill its £50 million black hole the council fails to see the dangers of over-tourism and fails to come up with a strategy based on limited roles for a) distinctively high-quality tourism and b) a reduced student ‘industry’, the town will continue its slide from World Heritage Spa to World Heritage Slum.
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