In light of the COVID-19 pandemic, the tourism industry in the Isle of Man is facing considerable challenges. In recognition of the fact that accommodation providers are experiencing unprecedented issues, The Department for Enterprise has been working with the sector to establish a number of initiatives to support recovery. The Department has paid out £1m to date through the Strategic Capacity Scheme which was created for the direct benefit of the sector, and continues to identify additional measures for ongoing assistance.
The scheme has set aside an initial £2.4million with further support to be reviewed after industry consultation to ensure the Island retains its strategic accommodation capacity. By providing targeted financial assistance the Government has enabled those receiving the support to ensure their creditors within the local supply chain are paid first to help boost the local economy.
In addition, businesses within the accommodation sector have access to a number of other packages including business and salary support schemes, financial assistance for business adaptation, as well as free digital marketing support through a contracted specialist.
Laurence Skelly MHK, Minister for Enterprise, commented:
‘The Isle of Man Government, along with many other Governments globally, have put in place restrictions to suppress the spread of COVID-19. Decisions have been made in the best interests of our community, our visitors and the economy. We realise the impact this has had on businesses within the tourism industry and it is our role to ensure the stability of our visitor economy as well as looking after the welfare of the individuals who ensure that it operates effectively.
‘Our accommodation businesses are reaching crisis point, particularly around the issue of visitor deposits. We understand that many simply do not have the ability to refund deposits, even if they wished to do so and we recognise that simply rolling over a booking for a year, particularly with reference to TT bookings, will inevitably result in delayed cash flow issues.
‘We have offered optional guidance to the industry on how they might wish to consider dealing with visitor deposits for the benefit of visitors and the Island’s reputation, but ultimately support the decisions that businesses are taking to operate under their terms and conditions given the circumstances.
‘This is not just an issue we are facing as an island but one that is being felt around the world, and we have been closely monitoring communications and operating practices from similar jurisdictions. The tourism industry is struggling, and we are not immune from that. We stand by our tourism industry and accommodation sector, it is resilient and I have no doubt that it will bounce back.’
As part of the ongoing commitment to support the sector, the Visit Isle of Man Agency (an executive agency within the Department) has been working closely with accommodation owners to better understand the current issues.
Ranald Caldwell, Non-Executive Chair of the Visit Agency, commented:
‘The Visit Isle of Man Agency more than ever has a key role to play in interfacing with the Island’s Tourism industry, capturing the key issues and challenges along with gaining consensus as to what is required to sustain the industry during the current COVID challenge. The impact on tourism will be lengthy and it may take several years to restore to previous visitor levels.
‘We are gathering information and insights from all accommodation providers to gain a clearer picture of as many operators’ positions as we continue to monitor and adapt to this fast-moving situation. We will also shortly be extending our enquiries out to all tourism businesses to understand the impact COVID-19 has had on the industry as a whole and what support will be needed to ensure we retain a quality visitor proposition.
‘The Visit Agency’s position is to:
Retain as much of the Island’s existing accommodation bed stock and businesses to ensure we can continue to stage leading international sporting events
Support our accommodation providers’ stance with regards to non-refundable deposits where a visitor has availed of a reduced non-refundable rate. We know that many booking companies and credit card companies are attempting to chargeback the funds which are putting our businesses under severe pressure.
Lead the Industry back into recovery.’
Shirley Ver Elst, a representative for the tourist accommodation sector commented:
‘Accommodation providers ask that visitors with outstanding booking issues please bear with us at this difficult time as we try and resolve matters as quickly as possible and to the best of our ability. The industry is aware that in some cases this will not be satisfactory for all visitors and can only pass on our sincerest apologies. In an ideal world all businesses would look to offer full refunds or roll bookings, but for some this just is not possible due to the lack of funds available or the devastating impact it will have on the business in the future. A number of businesses have been able to offer some refunds and some have rolled bookings where possible to a later date, for which we are thankful.
‘Businesses currently have to deal with the immediate shock and impact the COVID-19 situation has caused as well as navigate the immediate operational issues they face including settling outstanding debts, looking after the welfare of employees, and understanding the different support schemes available to them. The industry is grateful for the support available from the Department for Enterprise but wishes to stress that the assistance will not currently be sufficient to sustain businesses and return non-refundable deposits.’
For businesses looking for further assistance the Department recommends reviewing the package of measures available at https://www.iomdfenterprise.im/coronavirus/ or contacting the Visit Isle of Man team at firstname.lastname@example.org.
For visitors with outstanding booking issues it is recommended that they contact their travel insurance provider to see if a resolution can be found through these channels.