Surviving the impact of coronavirus (Covid-19): a toolkit for tourism businesses in West Sussex

Like the rest of the world, West Sussex is feeling the repercussions of the global coronavirus pandemic.

Our landmarks have been closed, major events postponed and there’s understandable concern about the short- and long-term impact of coronavirus on the tourism industry.

Experience West Sussex continues to work hard to support local tourismWe want to use this time to build a stronger, more connected, resilient tourism industry in West Sussex, together.

“For destinations, it is an opportunity to take stock, look at the core appeal of a destination but also understand the talent, variety and innovation that can be developed, to ensure longevity and appeal to potentially different markets and provide the ability to cut through the inevitable recovery phase marketing noise. This period of time also provides destinations a chance to rethink and plan what tourism is wanted, to focus on sustainability, to make it work for local communities and be kinder to the planet.” – Jo Williams, Partnership Manager, Experience West Sussex

This toolkit is designed to help tourism SMEs in West Sussex plan a coronavirus survival strategy, develop lockdown exit strategies and start to understand what tourism in West Sussex might look like once travel restrictions are eased. The toolkit contains:

  • Practical, actionable advice for strengthening and future-proofing your business
  • Case studies of West Sussex tourism businesses already finding ways to survive and thrive
  • Tips for connecting and collaborating with other local tourism businesses
  • Guidance on communicating with your customers
  • Insights to how the tourism landscape in West Sussex might change over the coming weeks, months and years

Up-to-date guidance on the range of support measures available for tourism businesses affected by coronavirus in West Sussex can be found here.  

Further reading:

Experience West Sussex: coronavirus (Covid-19) guidance, including funding opportunities for businesses

West Sussex County Council: latest information and advice about coronavirus in West Sussex

VisitBritain: COVID-19 – latest information and advice for businesses

Case studies: Five West Sussex tourism businesses diversifying due to coronavirus

For inspiration and encouragement, look to these West Sussex-based tourism SMEs successfully adapting to our ‘new normal’ by diversifying during the coronavirus (Covid-19) pandemic.

Moving outdoor activities online

Pied a Terre Adventures runs walking and outdoor experiences in West Sussex and beyond. Even before lockdown was confirmed, owner Richard Betts quickly changed his tourism business’s proposition to include 1-to-1 sessions and trips to quieter areas, both of which made it easier to maintain social distancing.

When travel restrictions and strict social distancing measures were introduced in March Betts pivoted again, this time turning to tech to help generate revenue. In five days, he scoped, defined, wrote, trialled and delivered a new series of online navigation skills courses.

The instructor-led classes take place in a web-based classroom that allows students to meet other outdoorsy people and learn the skills they’ll need to safely and confidently explore once lockdown has been lifted.

Betts says that despite falling through the gap for much of the funding available, he’s trying to view things positively.

“It’s an interesting time to look at this differently, to trial ideas. We need to remember why we’re doing this, and be agile and quick enough to adapt.”

He also sees a place for the new courses beyond the coronavirus crisis, either as a revenue or value-add, or as support preparation for other courses.

Pivoting to a different sector

Tulleys Farm usually runs escape rooms and seasonal events such as Shocktober Fest, PYO Pumpkins and family Christmas attractions. But three days after it was announced that pubs, restaurants and other businesses would have to close, Tulleys re-opened as a drive-through farm shop.

Tulleys ran a farm shop from the early 1990s until 2014, so it was a case of contacting old suppliers and working hard to radically re-invent itself. Within three hours of opening the trial run, Tulleys had sold out.

Now, it supports the local community and keeps its 40 members of staff busy. Customers can even download branded ‘Why I’m Driving’ notices for their car and watch a video about the shopping process – both effective marketing measures.

Delivering the product differently

People still need to buy presents for friends, family and colleagues, as well as themselves. Adapting existing products and services to sell online helps meet that need.

Lockdown restrictions mean that vineyard tours, tastings and events have been cancelled or postponed, but businesses such as Kingscote Estate and Bluebell Vineyard are shifting focus online by offering discounts and free delivery “to keep spirits up”.

Elsewhere, hospitality businesses are turning attention to gift voucher opportunities. You can sell gift vouchers via your own website, and/or join a national project such as Vouch, a gift platform supporting local independent businesses. Vouch collates vouchers from restaurants, pubs, cinemas and other venues around the UK into a convenient website that makes it easy for people to buy gift vouchers to use when travel restrictions are eased.

Supporting the coronavirus relief effort

While tourism has ground to a halt, numerous tourism SMEs are pivoting their services to support those on the frontline of the coronavirus crisis.

Many accommodation businesses across the UK are turning down empty beds for those most in need of a safe place to sleep. While it is temporarily closed, Butlin’s in Bognor Regis is housing homeless people as well as paramedics and vulnerable families.

British distilleries, wineries and breweries are using their steady supply of alcohol to help meet the unprecedented demand for hand sanitiser. Brighton Gin has teamed up with a premium skincare producer to create a skin-safe, vegan hand sanitiser. For every bottle sold, two are donated to front-line organisations such as the NHS, hospices and foodbanks.

Further reading:

Gov UK: offer coronavirus (COVID-19) support from your business

How collaborations can help tourism in West Sussex recover from the impact of coronavirus (Covid-19)

As the UK slowly emerges from strict social distancing measures and travel restrictions, a strong network of local tourism organisations will play a key role in rebuilding West Sussex’s tourism industry over the coming months and years.

The time to start building strong and mutually beneficial relationships is now. Coming together before visitors can return to West Sussex gives us a head start on reviving West Sussex’s tourism industry so that we emerge stronger, more innovative and more resilient.

This approach benefits local tourism businesses and communities as well as visitors.

Why collaborations work 

A collaborative approach can help businesses split costs, reach a wider audience and raise standards.

Collaborations also help create a more appealing visitor experience.

Pre-coronavirus trends already indicated a growing appetite for immersive local experiences, such as sampling local food and drink, meeting interesting people and connecting with the outdoors.

With nervousness about coronavirus expected to be a driving force in future visitors’ behaviour, local factors such as provenance and easy access to open-air activities are likely be especially appealing as they indicate a more hygienic environment.

Creating a local package that bundles these features together is more achievable when we work collaboratively – and it’s even more effective if it can be brought together under a competitive, single price point and simple booking process. Bear in mind Package Travel Regulations and Linked Travel Arrangement Regulations if you do decide to go down this route; these are designed to give the customer absolute confidence that they will either receive the product they bought, or get their money back.

Where to start

There’s no need to make collaborating with other local tourism businesses complicated. You can start small and keep it simple, allowing space for partnerships to grow organically.

Connect online and, when appropriate, offline to share the latest information and advice issued about the coronavirus outbreak, help promote each other on social, or work together to create enticing tourism products.

Ideas for positive ways to collaborate:

  • Temporarily take over another local tourism business’s social media account
  • Work together to offer a competition prize such as a holiday in West Sussex
  • Share learnings, about everything from cleanliness and hygiene to sustainable practices and emerging trends
  • Partner to host an exclusive event such as a competitive watersports event
  • Run a guest blog exchange programme
  • Develop an itinerary that cross-promotes non-competing attractions, activities, places to eat, drink and shop, and accommodation in the area

Audience: building a picture of future visitors to West Sussex

At this stage, it’s difficult to predict exactly how the profile of visitors to West Sussex will change over the coming months and years but it’s inevitable that the coronavirus (Covid-19) will influence the way people consider, plan and experience travel.

Having said that, it is possible – and necessary – to imagine an audience profile based on the more likely factors and scenarios.

“Domestic tourism is going to be a dominating strength for destinations for at least a couple of years but what the nuances will actually look like, it is too early to say. Outdoors, escapism, wellbeing and ability to book individual units will undoubtedly do very well in the first throes of freedom.” – Jo Williams, Partnership Manager, Experience West Sussex

Who will visit West Sussex, and when?

The first wave of tourism is likely to be highly localised and led by friends and families re-connecting in local or semi-local places.

An initial focus on local and domestic visitors makes sense, with day trips and regional tourism more likely in the weeks and months following any lift in travel restrictions. Countries ahead of the coronavirus situation in the UK, such as France and Italy, have already announced intentions to develop domestic tourism.

Depending on your typical audience, you may see a change in your visitor demographics. Millennials and millennial families, used to uncertainty and young enough to be less physically affected by coronavirus, are more likely to leap back into travel as soon as restrictions are lifted. Where relevant, they could be a primary target market.

Be prepared to see a decrease in the number of concessions and older visitors, who may be wary of travelling.

Keep an eye on business travellers too. A study by the Global Business Travel Association found that around one third of its European members expect international business travel to resume in two to three months – though international business and leisure travel will be highly dependent on political policies, quarantine measures, international transport capacity and international border controls, as well as individual airline operators’ plans and whether there’s sufficient demand from passengers.

Government policy at home and abroad will largely dictate what international flights are possible but some could start operating from early-mid summer, with some industry chatter forecasting that international travel won’t return to pre-coronavirus levels for at least a couple of years. That, plus an expected reduced capacity on aeroplanes due to social distancing measures, suggests that international visits are unlikely for the immediate future.


Where will they visit first?

Following the stretch of time spent largely indoors during lockdown, and longer-term concerns about enclosed spaces and shared touch points, it’s conceivable that people will initially desire open and natural spaces.

With that in mind, open-air and more spacious attractions may be the first to see visitors return. Patricia Yates, CEO of VisitBritain, believes that 2020 “should be a year for exploring the lesser-known places.”

Rural and coastal areas such as West Sussex could see a strong uptake in visitors, especially considering its proximity to London.

Longer-term trends:

  • With predictions of a baby boom in nine months, it’s feasible there will be a rise in romantic travel as babymooners plan trips for two
  • Sustainable travel may also enjoy a surge in interest following the positive climate news widely circulated during lockdown
  • Visitor spend is likely to be down as travellers feel the economic fallout of the global pandemic

What this means for tourism SMEs in West Sussex

We can expect many visitors to be budget-conscious, so it would be wise to have relevant special offers and promotions in the pipeline – but be prepared to pivot as knowledge of your new audience deepens and travel restrictions are eased or re-imposed.

Case studies: How two West Sussex tourism businesses are handling social media in the time of coronavirus

With coronavirus (Covid-19) putting usual business operations on hold, it can be difficult to generate on-brand and sensitive content for your digital marketing.

Draw inspiration from these West Sussex businesses creating thoughtful content that reassures and entertains customers, while encouraging them to visit as soon as they can.

Arundel Castle: a virtual season

The lockdown started shortly before Arundel Castle was due to re-open for the 2020 season, throwing opening plans and the programme for the attraction’s first major event of the year into disarray. Manager Stephen Marion acted quickly to implement ways to engage visitors digitally.

The new restrictions meant that Arundel’s renowned annual Tulip Festival could no longer go ahead. Instead of seeing the tulip displays in person, visitors were invited to view the blooms via a rapidly built festival microsite and daily pictures on Instagram.

As well as keeping the castle’s audience engaged, this generated media interest; national and local television, radio and press ran stories on Arundel’s Virtual Tulip Festival. Consequently, when a tulips video was posted on 18 April, it was viewed almost 900,000 times. The number of people following the castle on Instagram grew by more than 1,000.

In a rare stroke of lucky timing, one of Marion’s recent pre-lockdown projects involved filming the castle, gardens and events using drone and Steadicam. Arundel’s film company VisualAir edited footage into a short video overview of the castle’s visitor experience. The film was launched on Facebook on 1 April as a virtual opening. The video now been viewed 185,000 times and generated a huge amount of positive feedback.

Elsewhere on social, the team has successfully engaged customers in several ways. There are gardening tutorial videos with head gardener Martin Duncan, and Arundel’s cancelled Norman Knights weekend was reinvented as a cartoon series targeting home schoolers.

Longer-term plans for social media at Arundel Castle


As the prospect of remaining closed looks to continue for some time, Arundel has evolved its plan into creating a virtual season, with a more strategic approach to the postings and the development of another microsite.

This includes virtual guided tours of parts of the castle and gardens, an events programme based on unseen footage and photographs from last season, and ‘how to’ videos covering everything from planting potatoes to medieval crafts.

The plan is working. It helps that Arundel Castle started with a good presence on Facebook and Twitter, a new Instagram account and a freshly stocked bank of imagery and footage, but Martin credits much of the success of the response to the “creative team that we have built up over the years, who have a shared passion and a strong sense of loyalty.”

The team’s innovative and agile approach to social media is helping the castle gain a large and diverse audience in the digital world, which Marion hopes will translate into real visits over the coming months or years.

Fluid Adventures: uplifting customer relations

Fluid Adventures, a Chichester-based canoe and kayak specialist, is also active on social media, with a smaller presence and budget than Arundel Castle. During lockdown, the content they choose to share emphatically does not mention coronavirus, apart from one post announcing that they are currently closed, and the business is actively steering away from directly selling their watersports experiences.

Director Phil Smith says: “Our main focus through this period is sticking to our core strategy of posting nice photos, and hopefully giving people a moment of something nice to look at amongst the amount of virus-related negativity and spam which seems prevalent (particularly on Facebook).”

How to start: Five ways to make your tourism business more resilient in a world with coronavirus (Covid-19)

With your usual business operations disrupted, this is a sensible time to strengthen and future-proof your SME in preparation for a tourism landscape that will look very different after the global coronavirus pandemic.

It’s essential to have a clear picture of where your tourism business stands financially.

If you haven’t already, recruit an accountant to create a cash forecast. Accountants are cheaper than you might expect, tax deductible and worth their weight in gold.

Ideally, your cash forecast will cover the next three months at least. It should tell you how long your business can survive and the size of any gap you might need to fund.

Doing this will also tell you exactly what cash you may have to invest in any other opportunities or diversification strategies.

It would also be wise to draft a two-year recovery plan budget that aims to build up cash reserves to see you through this downturn and prepare for any other unpredictable events.

You could also review your business insurance and cancellation policies.

Check which local and national coronavirus funding opportunities your business could qualify for and talk to your bank about any flexibility around your finances.

Explore ways to diversify or adapt your product. Can you think of alternative ways to use your assets, or can you identify potential new markets for existing services?

For example, could you adapt craft workshops for online delivery? Or replace existing on-site tours and tastings with a delivery service and virtual tastings bundle?

As travel restrictions and social distancing measure are eased, could you run one-to-one or private group tours? How about hosting educational visits from local schools? Or repurposing buildings and land for weddings and corporate events?

See case studies on West Sussex tourism businesses that have already diversified.

We can’t accurately predict what will happen, but we can theorise, craft strategies and be agile so we are better prepared to work in a greatly altered tourism landscape.

Scenario planning will help you identify the most effective next steps for your business. It’s not an easy thing to do right now, but defining your critical uncertainties, developing plausible scenarios and finding creative solutions will stand you in good stead in the long term.

It’s a rapidly changing situation, but we can look to countries ahead of the situation in the UK for an idea of what might happen. When China started to re-open major visitor attractions and museums, capacity was capped at 20-50% and all tickets had to be booked online, with pre-booked time slots and social distancing guidelines strictly observed. In France, visitor attractions aren’t likely to re-open approximately two months after primary schools.

As travel restrictions and social distancing measures are eased in the UK, cleanliness will become a priority for visitors understandably wary of physical queues and shared touchpoints.

With that in mind, be prepared to implement varying social distancing measures and to visibly improve your business’s hygiene.

For example, can your customers easily book tickets online, and can your website handle all your ticket sales if online booking is the only option? Are you set-up for contactless payments? If your answer is ‘no’, it’s time to put this functionality in place.

VisitBritain has announced plans to roll out a ‘quality mark’ across the country to signify to potentially nervous customers that the accommodation or attraction is operating safely. Keep an eye on plans for this as they’re publicised; sector associations such as AIM, ALVA and UKHospitality will have the latest advice and guidance.

Take the time to tackle those tasks that don’t usually make it to the top of your marketing and maintenance to-do lists. Examples include:

  • Add online booking to your website to make it easy for future customers to book
  • Clean up email address data
  • Paint tired exteriors and interiors
  • Make sure all website content is up to date, relevant and useful
  • Implement a new recycling bin scheme
  • If you haven’t already, add a page or pop-up to your website that answers coronavirus-related FAQs specific to your business
  • Improve your reputation online by reviewing your digital listings and responding to negative and positive reviews on sites such as TripAdvisor, Yelp, Facebook and Google

Throughout these uncertain times, it’s important to maintain, or even increase, communications with your customers and your market.

What you communicate will change as we navigate our way out of lockdown, but the need to be crystal clear and human holds true at every stage.

Use digital channels such as your website, social media channels and newsletter to reassure your customers about their bookings and tell them what you’re doing to welcome them back for a safe, hygienic and pleasant visit.

Find out more about how to communicate with your customers during lockdown and as travel restrictions are eased.

In addition to these five points, it’s also worth looking at marketing and collaborating with other local tourism businesses.

Further reading:
  • VisitEngland: business advice hub
  • VisitBritain: advice for tourism and event businesses affected by COVID-19
  • Gov UK: financial support for businesses during coronavirus (COVID-19)
  • Gov UK: COVID-19: guidance for employees, employers and businesses
  • Cambridge Network: three things visitor attractions should focus on during the COVID-19 pandemic

Marketing: how and what to communicate with your target market through the coronavirus pandemic

The global coronavirus (Covid-19) pandemic is affecting everyone on intensely personal levels, whether they’ve suffered the loss of a loved one or experienced increased anxiety.

While it might seem easier to simply put communications on hold for now, the need for sensitive, engaging communication and content is greater than ever.

Tourism is rightly taking a back seat as the country deals with the pandemic, but there’s still a role for your tourism SME to play, from supplying hotel beds for NHS workers to giving people a much-needed break from the onslaught of bad news. This can all be communicated with your customers in a way that benefits them, your business and the tourism industry in West Sussex.

“The biggest mistake is not to say anything… The other big mistake is not to think long term.” – Debbie Hindle, Chief Executive travel, Four Communications

As the UK eases through varying levels of social distancing measures and travel restrictions, your approach to your communications will need to adapt.

During lockdown

While travel restrictions remain in place, focus on communicating sensitive content that connects with your followers while gently positioning your brand front of mind ready for when people start to plan travelling again.

Remember that pushy calls to action risk making your business look like it is trying to take advantage of the situation.

Your goals at this stage could include:

  • Help lift your customers’ mood
  • Maintain brand awareness
  • Retain your audience by participating in the conversation
  • Reassure your customers about their future visit
  • Humanise your brand

Lockdown content ideas for tourism SMEs include:

  • Uplifting images
  • Downloadable colouring-in sheets of people and places connected to your business, or competitions with an educational element such as designing a new rollercoaster
  • Gift vouchers (with extended validity periods)
  • Video call backgrounds of iconic places in West Sussex
  • Live tasting sessions or cookery workshops
  • Clear information about your plans for existing bookings or expiry dates for annual memberships
  • Virtual tours and video interviews with staff

Behind the scenes, it’s time to start planning products and offers – and strategies for communicating them – ready for when travel restrictions and social distancing measures are eased.

Being prepared for multiple scenarios will put you ahead of the game in what is expected to be an aggressively competitive market in a rapidly changing situation. Consider a range of offers to suit various budgets and lengths of stay, and prep an agile, highly responsive marketing strategy to promote them.

As travel restrictions are eased

Michael Cooke at Colonnade House

Budget, hygiene and reconnecting with friends and families are likely to be priorities among these visitors, along with a flexible approach to cancellations.

Your goals at this stage could include:

  • Drive visitors or bookings to your business
  • Launch new offers
  • Reach a new market
  • Being ready to pivot your messaging according to customer feedback, real-time ROI figures and government strategy changes

As well as promoting your tourism products, services and offers, content ideas for this stage include:

  • Clear information about your plans to implement any new social distancing measures
  • Posts highlighting how you’re taking hygiene seriously; the more visible you can be about cleanliness, the better
  • Tips on how to have a great family day out on a budget
  • Detail of any coronavirus-related refund policies. (It will be critical to get your T&Cs right, so seek specialist advice from a legal representative or your sector association)
Cowdray Farm Shop and Goodwoof

Get the tone of your communications right

Putting a human voice and face to your business will invite genuine connections that last well beyond the pandemic. Aim for a tone that is sensitive and uplifting rather than flippant or dramatic.

Avoid words and phrases that are associated with or out of step with life in a world with coronavirus, such as ‘get in touch’ or ‘viral’. People will feel reassured by words that reinforce their feeling of safety, such as ‘Covid-secure’, ‘hygienic’, ‘virtual’and ‘contact-free’.