Jo Hardy is Business Operations Manager for Hardys Farm Ltd, Director at the Greater Lincolnshire LEP, and Deputy Chair of the Visitor Economy Board and shares with us here her vision for a healthy, prospering, tourism, hospitality, and leisure sector.

Since relocating from London in 2009 with my future husband, I watched in admiration at how his family have successfully managed and grown multiple businesses within a tough seasonal environment. Farming their coastal land since the 1950s and having the foresight to diversify early on is no small feat and since joining the business myself, they have taught me what strong work ethic and resilience means. Now it is down to my husband Stuart and I to make them proud and continue to build upon the foundations they have passed to us, so that we in turn can do the same for our children.

I feel incredibly lucky to live, work, and play in Greater Lincolnshire and to have the opportunity to promote the fantastic and varied tourism offer and opportunities we have on our doorstep.  As a Director of the Greater Lincolnshire LEP and Deputy Chair of the Visitor Economy Board, I am privileged to help shape and support this priority and growing sector.

Notwithstanding Covid impacts and the rising cost-of-living crisis, our ambition is to develop the visitor economy sector by levelling up and supporting some of the more deprived coastal parts of the region by providing higher-quality and more reliable employment for workers in the sector and our board is focused on the three Ss; seasonality, sustainability. and skills.    

Tourism is Greater Lincolnshire and Rutland's third biggest industry worth £2.49bn pre-pandemic. Needless to say the sector has been sadly very hard hit by lockdowns, however it is also incredibly resilient and has supported new opportunities and concepts including a Tourism Sector Deal (bridging investment, product development, marketing and skills) brought successful Town Deals, promoted our attractions to a global audience, and embraced armchair and digital tourism.  A host of fantastic websites for both businesses and the visitor have also been created recently including for visitors with a strong focus on green tourism, and for tourism and hospitality businesses to include a series of bitesize master-classes for those in our fantastic service industry. 

With up to 50 miles of coastline, and hundreds of visitor attractions, we are home to the Red Arrows, Lincoln Castle and Cathedral, and the Lincolnshire Wolds, as well as the vibrant coastal resorts of Cleethorpes, Mablethorpe and Skegness, and further inland, the water leisure industries around Rutland.  We take pride in a rich heritage, culture, and leisure offer and it is not difficult to see the fantastic opportunity and natural collateral we are gifted in Lincolnshire to build on.

Embedded within a strong recovery of the tourism sector, alongside a global revolution in the way visitors travel, is the overwhelming need for sustainability. The nature of tourism values the very things that are most precious in our world; stunning landscapes, wildlife, history, culture, and people. Tourism can be an amazing catalyst for growth in the local economy, providing high quality jobs, opportunities for enterprise, and funds for conservation. But it can have negative impacts on local communities and environments, creating long term problems for residents, which can ultimately lead to the decline of tourism in the destination, if not developed sensitively.

A digital transformation programme is being delivered this year so that so that tourism here rivals the most digitally advanced areas in the country. Digital technology can be used both to increase business productivity and to package up our products to meet changing customer interests and collaborate with compatible partners. We are establishing a packaged approach to green tourism, cycling, walking and the great outdoors, niche retail, short breaks for millennials and aviation heritage, and are starting to use these tools to fashion tailored, personal experiences.

This rise in the use of AI undoubtedly enhances tourism, but it cannot surpass the human touch which is an essential element of a great tourism experience. Instead, AI can bring a complementary dimension to the future of tourism. It offers travel services that are automated, customised, and insightful, and allows travellers to learn about their behaviours and interests to provide a truly personalised experience. The future of travel brings the opportunity to enjoy a seamless and personalised visitor experience. From tailored transport, automatic check in, welcome and greeting options, to a mini bar stocked with your favourite healthy snacks, and the room temperature set to your personal preference, digital disruption is streamlining the full journey with a frictionless, convenient experience which is highly likely to encourage heightened satisfaction and return stays.

Scenarios like this are already playing out with the most innovative hotels and airlines leveraging real-time data and precision analytics to capitalise on the next wave of digital innovations, ultimately speeding growth, and driving customer satisfaction.

By focusing on seasonality, sustainability, and skills, all underpinned by service, we are working with experts across these themes, to address labour market challenges and create a sense of pride of place within the county.

For example, we have submitted a strong proposal for a Skills Bootcamp programme, to identify employer demand, focusing on hospitality and catering.  We are also linking with the probation service to find routes into employment for those currently still in prison but with a history of light offending. And we are working with Grimsby Institute and Butlins to collate real life studies of staff and students who have succeeded in this sector to highlight career paths and opportunities.

If we are successful, by the end of 2025 the Greater Lincolnshire and Rutland visitor economy will be a well-known, thriving, and attractive destination option, flying the green tourism flag, future focussed, and adapting to a rapidly changing and demanding audience. We see the new normal as a great opportunity to create a tourist industry that embraces quality, accessibility and sustainability, encourages our considerable but undeveloped outdoor offer year-round, and invests in our incredible staff, who will see tourism as a worthwhile long-term career.

I’d like to round off by saying a huge thank you to everyone working and promoting this important, varied, and versatile sector as we move forward now with renewed energy to support all tourism, hospitality, and leisure businesses, workers, and owners to create the right conditions and opportunities for growth.

Jo Hardy

Director - Hardys Animal Farm, Director - Greater Lincolnshire LEP, Deputy Chair – Visitor Economy Board