The sky above me as I write this article is largely composed of a thick layer of rather threatening clouds, and there have been several showers over the last couple of hours – so I suspect that South West Britain is in for a rainy day.
But much of the summer has of course been brilliantly sunny – and has made the South West an even more attractive destination for tourists than usual.
Ever since the first quarter of the current financial year, the evidence of growth in UK tourism has been mounting, with visitor numbers growing by quite surprising amounts compared to last year.
While I haven’t seen any official figures yet for July or August, one would have expected the sharp drop in the sterling exchange rate following the Brexit vote in late June to be reflected both in an increased number of ‘staycations’ and in increased numbers of visitors from abroad – and the informal indications so far appear to be bearing that out.
From the point of view of West Dorset, this should be good news that tourism is – unbeknownst to many – our biggest single industry. And growth in tourism affects not only the businesses directly involved in providing services to tourists but also many other local businesses that benefit from an increase in passing trade.
So this is a good moment to be investing further in the promotion of Dorset’s tourism – and I was delighted to see that the new Government had allocated increased funding for the enhancement of the coastal path through a new ‘Discover England Fund’. This is just the sort of thing that will bring more tourists from northern Europe and further afield on walking holidays to Dorset. And once they have come to the Jurassic Coast, it is a fair bet that they will spread the word back home in a way that will bring friends and relations in future years. This is an opportunity for viral marketing if ever there was one.
For many years, the biggest issue, so far as the profitability of our tourist industry and the provision of stable local employment is concerned has been the ‘lumpiness’ of the industry with huge contrast between the number of tourists in the summer and the number during the rest of the year. We have never managed to develop anything like the Alpine recipe which keeps the hotels full of walkers in the summer and skiers in the winter.
Clearly, bucket and spade holidays will remain the preserve of the summer months. But I suspect that Jurassic walkers will prove to be much more of a year-round affair. The attractions of our landscape in winter are at least as great as they are in summer, and to some tastes (including my own) rather greater.
And, of course, if the Jurassic walkers are also (as many of them will be) culture-vultures, they have only to make their way inland as far as places like Sherborne Abbey to see things that can match anything anywhere in Europe, both for beauty and for history.
In short, the future of tourism in West Dorset is bright, notwithstanding the occasional shower.