Portsmouth launches tourism campaign called Wind in Our Sails to attract day-trippers and short breaks after Covid restrictions ease

PORTSMOUTH is gearing up to make the most of the loosening of coronavirus restrictions, as a major campaign aims to promote its tourist attractions to the rest of the country.

Monday, 22nd February 2021, 7:00 am

While Boris Johnson prepares to outline his ‘roadmap’ today to take the country out of lockdown, city tourist chiefs have been working for months on a new drive to put the city on the UK tourist map.

The campaign, called ‘Portsmouth, Put the Wind in Your Sails’, is pushing the twin facets of 800 years of maritime history and a modern city with seafront shopping and dining.

Portsmouth is already the 20th most-visited city in the UK – and the tourist industry brings in about £610m a year, supporting about 12,700 jobs; 12.1 per cent of all employment in the city. In 2015, the city welcomed 9.4m visitors.

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HMS Victory & The Mary Rose Museum at Portsmouth Historic Dockyard. Picture: Shaun Roster Photography www.photoboxgallery.com/roster.

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The city council has said that this year will be focused on the UK staycation market, with international marketing continuing to keep Portsmouth in potential visitors’ minds - but ‘inbound’ tourism is not expected to recover until 2022. Council papers show that Normandy in France is also likely.

However, for Councillor Steve Pitt, cabinet member for culture, leisure and economic development, this is an integral part of the fight back against the strictures and difficulties of locked-down 2020 and early 2021.

He said: ‘Culture and tourism support many thousands of local jobs, around 13,000 pre-pandemic, and the council is determined to do everything that it can to collaborate with and support our local attractions and venues over the recovery period.

Ivan Lim and his aunt, Tring Lim, owners of The Keppel's Head hotel on The Hard Picture: Habibur Rahman

‘Portsmouth is a fantastic city and we want to make sure that we are promoting ourselves both domestically and internationally as things begin to return to normal in the months ahead.’

Put the Wind in Your Sails is a bid to rebuild Portsmouth’s domestic market for day trips and short breaks.

A council report outlines that it aims to ‘encourage visits in a safe manner and highlight the benefits of tourism to people's wellbeing – whether it be pure escapism, the great outdoors, discovering our wide culture and history or learning a new skill for example’.

It will also highlight Portsmouth’s creativity and events.

Tring Lim, owner of The Keppel's Head hotel Picture: Habibur Rahman

It comes after transport secretary Grant Shapps’ previous request for people not to book summer holidays led to confusion in the travel industry.

Another minister, this time health secretary Matt Hancock, said at the same time that people should look forward to a ‘great British summer’.

Meanwhile, one hotelier is looking forward to a better summer than last year.

Portsea’s Tring Lim, who owns the Keppel’s Head, is hoping for an injection of cash with any reopening.

Charlotte Walker Picture: Habibur Rahman

The Keppel’s Head is steeped in history, having survived fires and Nazi bombs in the Second World War – and it is said to be where Cold War era navy frogman Buster Crabb spent his final night before he infamously disappeared.

Yet, will the 30-bedroom hotel survive the coronavirus pandemic?

‘Of course,’ Mrs Lim said.

Though the £65 a night hotel is currently open for key workers and business travel, they have not had any trade.

Mrs Lim is ambivalent about this situation and said: ‘It is unfortunate as we have no trade; but, fortunate as we have no Covid.’

What brings people to the city, for Mrs Lim said, is its family attractions. The hotel’s location at The Hard is great for families - just next to the Historic Dockyard, she said.

Cllr Steve Pitt, cabinet member for culture and city development and deputy leader of Portsmouth City Council. Picture: Sarah Standing (090320-9853)

Mrs Lim said she would love all of her rooms to be full to make a successful summer - and revealed people are already booking.

‘People are booking anyway,’ she said. ‘We are obviously hopeful that they can come but there’s no guarantee.

‘We also have a lot of customers who have pushed back their trips from last year to this year.’

Mrs Lim fears another lockdown - and wants to see trade return to 2019 levels.

She said: ‘When we took over in mid-August 2019, with a refurbishment and new management, we were absolutely heaving.

‘(It was the) same again at Christmas.

‘It was great, right through to last March and the first lockdown.’

She added: ‘We cannot just keep opening up and locking down.

‘Though as a business owner I’d love to open up, it’s not worth it if we’d then have to shut down.

‘What we don’t need is another Eat Out to Help Out (scheme).’

Mrs Lim, who received £25,000 in pandemic support from the council, and also praised the government’s furlough scheme. All 11 of her staff are on furlough.

Self-employed Charlotte Walker is another person in the tourist industry who is suffering.

She manages eight serviced holiday-let apartments across the city through her firm Stopover Portsmouth.

With plenty of experience as a landlord she made the decision four years ago to get into a then-blossoming market and loved it.

Like The Keppel’s Head she is open for key workers but faces the same challenges.

‘I have low occupancy,’ she said.

‘I have some Monday to Friday guys working at the dockyard or in various essential jobs but really low occupancy at weekends.

‘It’s only occasional people with access visits to their kids, or whose homes are uninhabitable due to work.’

Mrs Walker has also been prominent in a small local group of providers who have teamed up as Southsea Serviced Apartments.

They have between 60-70 apartments in the city and as a result can make group offerings to the NHS and businesses in need of accommodation for their staff.

Last year’s government-led Unlock Summer campaign can be some source of optimism.

Both Mrs Lim and Mrs Walker confirmed they benefited from the extra footfall brought during the easing of restrictions.

‘The school holidays were very, very busy,’ said Mrs Walker.

Mrs Walker has also been the beneficiary of furlough, using the self-employed scheme for herself, and the part-time scheme for her staff.

‘I just say open up,’ she said. ‘Apartments are great places to stay.

‘You’re not with other people. It’s self-contained and you have all your cooking facilities and everything you need. It’s definitely the safest way to get away.’

Though she would like an immediate lifting of some restrictions she, as a bare minimum, hopes for Easter.

Nevertheless, the prospects for tourism are not, overall, very rosy.

Visit England does not expect domestic tourism to return to its peak until 2024, and inbound tourism until 2025; and Brexit is another factor.

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Portsmouth Historic Dockyard is one of the tourist attractions which is hoping to be able to reopen safely later in the year.

In 2017 there were 850,000 visitors, bringing in £110.4m to the city.

However, the shutdown for most of 2020 meant that it is struggling to balance the books. While it has already had government help, it says it needs more.

A statement issued by the dockyard says: ‘As joint operators of Portsmouth Historic Dockyard, the National Museum of the Royal Navy NMRN) and the Mary Rose Trust (MRT) have both been clear about the devastating impact the loss of admissions has had on their financial position.

NMRN received emergency funding from the Treasury to help fill its £6m funding gap. The MRT mounted a high-profile fundraising appeal, in order to cover core costs for conserving and caring for the ship and collection of £2.2m and received support from the Culture Recovery Fund and the National Lottery Heritage Fund.

‘However, the ongoing crisis and further lockdowns mean we are both looking for additional support this year and are working with government departments and funders to achieve this. We will continue to demonstrate the economic and social value that the internationally important ships and collections in our care offer to Portsmouth, Hampshire, and the UK.

‘Whilst the support we have both received to date has been hugely welcome, the impact is far-reaching, and we will both require further additional funding to make up for the shortfalls we have experienced.

‘We are currently awaiting government guidance regarding reopening, but we very much hope to welcome back our visitors later this year. When we reopened last summer, we were able to implement a range of Covid safe measures, which were welcomed by our visitors, staff, and volunteers, and review them regularly. We have continued to develop our offer despite site closures, and we will be launching several new features this year.

‘These exciting additions will provide new opportunities to explore the stories of both HMS Victory and the Mary Rose encouraging old and new visitors alike. Further details will be announced in due course.

‘In August last year, we announced our joint working relationship and new ticket offer, a response to the challenging conditions in which we were operating. For the period of 2020, we were able to open, we saw the positive effect this had on improving the experience of our visitors and the value for money we were able to offer.

‘We are also working closely with partners across Portsmouth and the team at Visit Portsmouth and Visit Hampshire to maximise our exposure to visitors planning day trips and UK holidays across Hampshire and the surrounding areas throughout the summer and into the autumn.

‘It has been an incredibly challenging year for all, but if when we are able to open our doors again we believe working together and with the wider Portsmouth and Gosport community, we can be optimistic about a busy and positive summer season.’