Published: 19:51, 26 May 2020
| Updated: 19:55, 26 May 2020
Kent's tourism economy could lose £3.2 billion this year, it has emerged.
Around 65 million people visit Kent each year, contributing nearly £4 bn to the local economy over the 12-month period and supporting one in 10 jobs.
However, over 90% of Kent's tourism businesses are currently shut, including pubs and hotels, as the industry enters its peak season. Thanet's Dreamland summer attraction was among the chief casualties, laying off 52 staff in April.
Visit Kent's chief executive officer, Deirdre Wells, said: “As many businesses will need to operate with far less capacity, due to social distancing restrictions,there will clearly be an impact on revenue.”
The tourism juggernaut has forecast income losses varying between 30% and 80% over the next few months while further concerns have been raised about imposing social distancing measures in an “economically viable way”.
KCC's main opposition leader, Cllr Rob Bird (Lib Dem), said "time is of the essence" for the survival of Kent's visitor economy during a virtual public meeting last week.
However, Visit Kent's chief executive officer says domestic tourism could quickly “rebound” and "staycations" could be rediscovered if Covid-19 infection rates remain low and a phased exit from the current lockdown takes place.
Culture Secretary Oliver Dowden said holidays within the UK could return from July as part of "ambitious" Whitehall plans to revive the tourism sector quickly. His comments came during a Downing Street daily news briefing last week.
Ms Wells added: “The very welcome support which our sector has received from the Government will need to continue for some time to enable us to avoid losing much-loved businesses in a year of ‘three’ winters.”
Hundreds of Kent businesses have already adapted since the March lockdown was imposed.Pubs have switched to grocery and takeaway services while some visitor attractions have offered "behind-the-scenes" virtual tours.
Kent County Council's (KCC) scrutiny committee met virtually last Wednesday and members discussed the potential economic damage of Covid-19 on the tourism and leisure industry.
KCC's former Lib Dem leader Trudy Dean called for urgent County Hall action to support the struggling sector. She said: "Kent has a huge reliance upon tourism.
"The people who want to book holidays in Kent will want to know that the accommodation they are coming to is doing things properly, such as social distancing rules."
Cllr Bird added: "We need to see what damage has been done to our visitor economy and what steps are being taken to support in the recovery, and, we need to do that very quickly if we want to get our recovery right."
After the virtual meeting, Ms Wells concluded: “What is clear is that, despite the industry facing its biggest ever challenge, our businesses remain passionate about welcoming visitors to our beautiful county.”
Earlier this month chancellor Rishi Sunak made a flying visit to the county and said he would fight for Kent's industry.
KMTV reports on Kent's under-pressure industry
More by this authorCiaran Duggan, local democracy reporter