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Cornwall: supplying skills for the local visitor economy

Tourism is the biggest sector in Cornwall, supporting one in five jobs and is projected to grow at 3.8 per cent each year through to 2025. As the leading domestic brand, the area attracts over four million UK tourism trips every year.

Cornwall continues to experience growth in inbound tourism, with a 5 per cent increase in the number of trips made to Cornwall and 10 per cent increase in spend. Cornwall is particularly well-known for its high quality natural, historic and marine environments, its beaches, resorts such as Newquay and iconic attractions like the Eden Project, the Maritime Museum and St Ives. Since 2015, Visit Cornwall, incorporated as a community interest company, has taken over responsibility from the county council for marketing, promoting and developing the visitor economy in Cornwall.

Issues and challenges

Cornwall’s geography, dispersed population and lack of a significant industry base have all impacted on the economic growth prospects of the county. The area’s GDP is less than 70 per cent of the national average, with a high proportion of employment being low paid and seasonal.

Tourism is identified as an opportunity sector, with the focus on maintaining existing markets and building new ones. An important opportunity area is to increase the number of international visitors through improving and diversifying the tourism offer. Despite its contribution and projected growth, the sector faces a number of challenges:

  • dominated by small and medium sized enterprises (and self-employed entrepreneurs) which typically do not have an HR function and are least able to engage with skills and training programmes
  • a reducing pool of labour, particularly in light of Brexit uncertainty
  • low productivity, particularly low pay  and low output
  • a number of ‘hard to fill’ posts, particularly in catering.   

Industry feedback highlights the continued challenges in attracting and retaining talent and recognises the importance of developing a range of opportunities and quality work practices.

Getting to employment and training is often one of the most significant barriers for local residents including transport time and cost implications. Employment in the sector in rural areas is often seasonal, temporary or part-time due to the business base in most rural areas. Other issues relate to access to training and further education/higher education provision, lack of diversity and childcare issues.

There is recognition of the importance of tourism and hospitality, although no sector- specific actions are identified. The Employment and Skills Plan has a focus on identifying and supporting niche areas of competitive advantage, ie smart specialisation sectors.

The local response

Cornwall has one of the most recognised and comprehensive visitor offerings in the UK, making it one of the top UK tourist destinations. With a key, growing contribution to the Cornwall economy, the visitor economy sectors need to plan for the skills needed now and in the future.

On the ground there are a number of successful examples of programmes and initiatives to support skills and workforce development including an active FE sector leading on a range of initiatives to foster culinary talent. There is a recognition that more needs to be done to bring together demand with supply and a focus on ensuring that there is a strong employer voice on skills for Cornwall. The consensus is that more needs to be done at a local level in order to maintain and create a skilled workforce within the sector, specifically to address the image and profile of the sector as providing quality career opportunities and to support independent/micro businesses address skills needs.