Support for Harrogate's hard-hit hospitality and tourism sectors urged amid Covid-19 outbreak

Tourism and hospitality leaders in Harrogate are calling on the government for more cash care packages - as businesses crushed by the spread of the coronavirus scramble for solutions to survive.

The district's essential industries have been hit hard by the Covid-19 crisis - with some business owners fearing they could never open their doors to customers again after the government enforced a nationwide lockdown.

And although billions of pounds in grants, wage support and tax reliefs are being promised, none of that cash has yet to been seen and industry leaders are asking for more urgent action.

In an open letter to MPs, Welcome to Yorkshire chief executive James Mason, said: "The measures announced by the chancellor this week, are far reaching and will be welcomed by many. But there is a sense from our members that urgent action is required now.

Tourism and hospitality leaders in Harrogate are calling on the government for more financial help.

"We fear this pandemic will cause many of our tourism businesses to close their doors for good.

"We fully appreciate the pressure you are under, dealing with your caseloads and calls for help during this crisis. Without wishing to add to that burden, we are asking that you make representation to government, specifically calling for a package of targeted support measures for businesses in the tourism, hospitality and allied industries.

"Tourism is now worth £9 billion to this region’s economy. We can’t afford to lose that."

Hospitality represents over 10 per cent of employment in Harrogate.

And according to the Harrogate Chamber of Commerce, one in three jobs in the district are hospitality based.

But with all businesses in the industry being told to shut shop for at least the next three weeks, hotel owners are urgently looking for ways to keep their staff employed and maintain the goodwill of their customers until the pandemic abates.

Ali Standen, who runs the Acorn Lodge guest house on Studley Road with her husband Phil, said all their bookings have been cancelled - and the couple are not expecting to see a single penny in income for the foreseeable future.

She said: "We first noticed that bookings were dying off at the beginning of March. February bookings were pretty much like normal, however reservations for the end of March and into April were slowing. By the 15th March trade had plummeted by around 90 per cent and no bookings were coming through at all.

"Our diary is now empty right through to June, and the few bookings we do have we expect to cancel now we have been officially closed down by the government."

Ali, who is also deputy chair of Accommodation Harrogate, the association of independent guest houses in the district, said the crisis is not only affecting hotels, guest houses and serviced apartments, but all the ancillary businesses which they use for goods and services.

She added: "The impact will be huge for Harrogate. If the ‘social distancing’ advice continues to the end of the year and we lose further events such as the Knitting and Stitching show, trade exhibitions, the Christmas market, I fear this will definitely be the end for some of us.

"Despite help being offered by the government in terms of business rates, grants and cheap loans, this will only cover many of us for a short period of time. It is very unclear what we can claim as self- employed, particularly as many of us do not take much from our businesses in the way of a salary."

Members of the Accommodation Harrogate group are rallying round and helping each other through social media. Ali said they are sharing messages of support to keep each other going through these challenging and trying times.

Some guest houses are also looking for alternative ways to use their accommodation, including offering cheap rooms to NHS staff.

Ali said: "We need the people of Harrogate to shout loud and proud about our town and tell everyone they know to come and visit our fabulously friendly town. As a way of saying ‘thank you’ members of Accommodation Harrogate will be giving concessions to the hard working NHS workers who visit us to relax and recover.

"Once it is safe to travel we are hopeful that people will be desperate for a break, to get together as families and come and enjoy some time in the Harrogate district."

By Jacob Webster, Local Democracy Reporter