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Coronavirus: Lack of tourism cripples small businesses in London

Lack of tourism in London has severely hurt small businesses and establishments that depend primarily on foreign and local tourists. India Today TV spoke to many shop owners in a popular market area. While some were optimistic, others shared details on how the pandemic has toppled their lives.

Small businesses have come to a grinding halt in popular market areas across London due to lack of tourism.

Tourism is a major economic driver for London and makes a big contribution to Britain’s GDP. Lack of tourism due to the coronavirus situation has meant difficult times for small and medium businesses.

Larry has been running a toy stall for 25 years in Jubilee Market, Covent Garden area — popular among tourists for being the entertainment hub of London’s West End. His business was booming before the pandemic but now he sits idle, hoping that some customers would come by.

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But hope seems to be fading fast for the likes of Larry. While his income has been reduced to almost zero, Larry has to pay rent for operating his shop in the market area.

“It’s very difficult. Sales have gone down to zero. There are no tourists. Lack of people and families coming to London has meant no sale. Local people are scared of using public transport even though at the reduced rate I still have to pay rent,” Larry said.

Missing Buzz

The Jubilee Market in Covent Garden area always use to be abuzz before the pandemic, but now hardly two to three stalls are open.

Mell, who owns a British sweet shop that also sells other items, comes only two days a week now.

“Unfortunately due to ongoing conditions I am suffering like the virus. Nothing is happening at all. Normally this time of the year it’s buzzing. It’s not only the tourists but also the local people. I am missing everyone,” Mell said.

Down the road is the Apple Market that usually sells antiques, paintings and so on. Now it is completely empty.

Covent Garden is also known for a variety of performances in open spaces. It usually used to be attended by the onlookers, but the pandemic has ensured such performances become a rare affair.

Tourism crunch batters London

In 2018, London generated almost £500 billion from tourism. The UK city attracts over 30 million visitors every year, contributing about £106 billion to the British economy and supports nearly 2.6 million jobs.

The pre-pandemic value of hospitality sector was £133.5 billion as per statistics furnished by UK hospitality, which is a trade body representing the UK’s hospitality sector.

Its report shows that almost 36 per cent restaurant and pubs are considering shutting down permanently. Only 16 per cent businesses are still optimistic and hope market will pick up in the next 12 months.

Pedro, a Portuguese who has been living in London and running a stall in the popular London market, said, “London will be London. It will pick up. I have been here 30 years and I saw this before during IRA and London terror attacks, but London does to normal.”

Karl Chessell, Business Unit Director, Retail and Food at CGA, says: “The last four months have been the most difficult period of trading that most of us in the industry have ever seen. CGA’s data shows how the pandemic caused a sudden and dramatic downturn in sales and had a seismic effect on consumer behaviour, and the big question now is how quickly the market can recover.”

“There are clearly many tough challenges ahead, but with the backing of consumers and the right support from government, businesses cannot just survive the pandemic but thrive in the happier times that lie ahead.”

Local tourism boost?

One trend that has emerged during the pandemic is a possibility of increased local tourism. In the absence of lots of flights and many quarantine rules, people are gradually turning to local travel.

Ramesh Arora, managing director of the Montcalm Hotels, consisting of over 20 hotels under in its umbrella told India Today: “\We are positive. Local travelers have kept us relatively busy. We also provide free yoga and meditation classes to our guests if they like. We are waiting for global tourism to open then God willing things will be back to normal then.”

Hotels chains were allowed to open from July 4, but not everybody has opened completely.

Quantifying the challenge, the UK hospitality report on recovery said, “Size of the challenge to bring people back to hospitality, with a quarter (23 per cent) of consumers only returning to venues with caution, and a third (33 per cent) only doing so if they are sure that added precautions were in place.”

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