Six months ago, none of us could have predicted the ways in which COVID-19 has impacted virtually every aspect of life and the economy on the Lincolnshire Coast since lockdown was implemented on March 24th.
Since then, we have seen our largest local industry, the tourism sector, closed for nearly four months just as the busy holiday season started. Most retail has also been closed and many transport operators have seen passenger volumes fall by 80-90% or more.
In Skegness, the hardest-hit sectors include transport, tourism, retail and wholesale, which employ more than 45% of the local workforce. In Mablethope it stands at around 37%. In both towns this is much higher than the national average of 26%, which has made our economy very exposed to the impacts of the pandemic.
So what will the new normal look like and how will this impact Mablethorpe and Skegness?
The truth is, no one knows. The pandemic has been the largest experiment any of us have ever lived through. This isn’t just because we have been faced with new rules and social norms, but also because of the wide range of different responses by consumers, government and businesses.
However, there are few clues which may help us to understand what the new normal may be like.
Online sales in the UK have risen from 19% of retail in January to 33% by June, with more growth seen in six months than in the previous decade. This change is, I believe, one which is permanent because many people have tried online shopping for the first time and consumer surveys have consistently shown most like it. Companies are rapidly expanding their online services and many have started selling online for the first time, therefore capacity continues to increase.
We have all grown used to terms such as social distancing, but what will it really mean for our tourism economy? Surveys are showing that due to social distancing, consumers are more likely to choose accommodation options, such as self-catering units and camping and are choosing to visit open spaces such as beaches and the countryside. The Lincolnshire Coast and its rural hinterland are well placed to benefit from these changes and, with investment in improved connectivity on the Coast, we can make even more of our wonderful open coastal views, clean air and wildlife.
However, these large-scale changes in how we all live, work and travel also means we will have to re-imagine our high streets, tourism attractions and pubs, hotels and restaurants. The Connected Coast team is keen to work with the community to do this and we would be delighted to hear from you about what changes you think we need to promote locally so we can all thrive post-COVID.
If we embrace the changes we are seeing around us daily, I am convinced Mablethorpe and Skegness can bounce back stronger and be a beacon of hope for a pandemic-proof economy after the challenges we have collectively faced since March.
Martin Collison, Rural and Agri-Food Consultant.