Tourism in Cumbria

Author: Andy Beeforth - 01.09.22

You’ve probably packed your bucket and spade away and I hope despite queues at the ferry ports or air terminals you managed a well-deserved break? With hollibobs in mind I thought I’d talk tourism this month. What a chaotic and challenging three years faced by our tourism businesses. 2020 was the year of the ‘nay-cation’ (excuse the pun), 2021 was the year of the staycation and 2022 seems to be the year of the ‘away-cation.’ I recently spoke at the Cumbria Tourism Awards and offered my sympathy to business owners trying to duck and dive through such chaos. In 2019, Cumbria and the Lake District received almost 48 million visitors, the following year those numbers were more than halved and in 2021 numbers were moving back up to 38 million. The pandemic caused a loss of over 17,000 full time jobs and many businesses have struggled to fill vacancies in the last twelve months with knock on impact on service levels.

After our people, it’s our natural environment, our food, our landscape and cultural heritage that are our most highly prized assets. Together they bring visitors to the county who generated over £3 billion in 2019 and currently sustain the equivalent of 32,000 full time jobs. With more Michelin starred restaurants than anywhere else in the country and a growing range of top-class hotels as well as festivals, art galleries, Hadrian’s Wall, Cartmel Races and our very own Theatre by the Lake, Cumbria deserves to be at the top of all UK holiday destinations. For those of us concerned about the climate crisis, a strong and consistently supported domestic tourism industry is also vital to minimise our carbon footprint(s). Even when, as Cumbrians, we leave the county for work or holidays, we can proudly say where we’re from and be envied for it. Our visitors don’t come without a price, and millions of feet tramping over the mountains wear out paths and cause erosion which is where projects such as Fix the Fells and the Lake District Foundation come in, collecting donations from our visitors and undertaking valuable conservation and enhancement work.

One peculiar effect of the pandemic was the trend of people choosing to leave the city and relocate to the countryside and/or buy a place in the countryside. Baby boomers and Gen X’ers  with accrued capital in their homes and pensions have been outgunning young millennials and Generation Z’ers trying to get a foothold on the property ladder. The growth in holiday lets, in part facilitated by platforms such as Airbnb, have seen up to 40% growth in homes for holiday lets across the UK according to research by the BBC. The Cumbrian market is more mature than many parts of the UK but despite that the economics of holiday letting versus residential are stark. I can’t blame property owners for wanting to maximise the return on their investments but we’re seeing an already difficult housing market become almost impossible for people wanting and needing to work in the Lake District. I know that many people owning holiday lets in Cumbria spend time in their Cumbrian homes and feel part of the community in which their properties are based. This year, the Foundation set up the Cumbria Home from Home Fund to provide a mechanism for holiday and second home owners to give back to communities in Cumbria. The fund encourages an annual donation of the equivalent of a week’s rent with a suggested minimum of £500. Funds raised will provide grants for community projects in and around the Lake District. We’ve already used the fund to help provide kitchen facilities at Lunesdale Hall Community Centre in Kirkby Lonsdale to facilitate more community gatherings, and another grant has been made to Carer Support South Lakes to contribute to a wellbeing programme for over 140 unpaid carers in the area. If you know of any second home or holiday home owners, do pass the message to them that the fund is open to contributions so they can help the communities that host their properties to continue to thrive.