In the fourth instalment of the Visit Jersey series, ‘Together for Tourism’, showcasing the opportunities for this key Island industry, Robert Mackenzie, chair of the Tourism, Venues and Attraction Group, Jersey Chamber of Commerce, takes a longer-term look at the sector’s future
IN his 1973 collection of essays, Small is Beautiful, the economist E F Schumacher wrote: ‘Any intelligent fool can make things bigger, more complex and more violent. It takes a touch of genius and a lot of courage to move in the opposite direction.’
So far in this series, contributors have looked at the current position of the visitor economy and the steps needed to secure its future, primarily in the short to medium term. In this piece, I want to look further into the future and offer some ideas for how this small island’s tourism sector could look in 2043 – 20 years from now.
The growth in ‘mass tourism’ that Jersey saw in the second half of the 20th century will not be seen again. But that does not mean that the Island cannot enjoy a rich and vibrant tourism and hospitality industry in the future. It will, however, be different. Let us consider how.
The pressure to achieve carbon-neutrality in the next decade or so is driving airlines, ferry companies, ports and airports to speed up development of green solutions to travel. We already know that Ports of Jersey, Blue Islands, Easyjet and Condor are working with developers in this regard.
Will we be flying on hydrogen-fuelled planes and ferries by 2040? Almost certainly, but the focus will need to be on smaller craft and shorter journeys. Once the economics stack up, then Jersey will be in a perfect position to benefit, with its proximity to the UK and France providing relatively short travel distances.
It’s not just about boats and planes. Last month Spanish Airline Air Nostrum announced an investment in UK-manufactured airships that could carry up to 100 passengers at one-tenth of existing aircraft emissions. By 2035 we could see these gentle giants landing at the Airport.
Most stakeholders in this sector would agree that the loss of visitor beds is a serious issue and we need to find creative solutions to developing new accommodation that will meet the demands of generations X, Y and Z.
However, as well as developing new products, key to the future is growing visitor numbers outside the traditional summer months. As an industry, we simply have not succeeded, thus far, in creating compelling reasons to visit during the shoulder months and new accommodation product will need to play a part in this.
Whatever we build, it will need to create a lower environmental impact and, by 2043, that means operating entirely from renewable energy. Premier Inn is already doing this with a new-build hotel in Swindon and more will follow.
The friction between the need to have sufficient affordable housing for residents and to create new visitor accommodation will present a significant challenge. However, as Zach Lewy’s recent ‘Montmartre’ vision for Fort Regent shows us, there is really space for both to co-exist. It just needs a shared vision from government and private investors to make it happen.
We already know that, by 2040, we will all be driving electric vehicles, whether on two or four wheels. Earlier this year Liberty Bus trialled an electric bus in the Island – and almost certainly this will lead to our seeing an entire electric fleet purring around the Island in the next few years.
Next year marks 30 years since Jersey introduced its Green Lanes scheme covering 67 miles of Jersey’s roads. How visionary was that? Walking and cycling remain two of the most popular activities for visitors, so more focus needs to be applied to encouraging development of walking and cycle opportunities around the Island.
Keeping it real
For many, the world of artificial intelligence is a bit Aldous Huxley – machines replacing humans and so on. But it is a brave new world out there and we need to get used to AI as well as virtual and augmented realities. What is more, adopting these within the right environments can only improve visitors’ experiences.
Leaving aside the obvious areas such as face recognition to aid your journey through airports, allowing virtual tours of hotels prior to booking or unlocking hotel rooms via your Apple Watch, we will see increased adoption of these technologies as we head towards the 2040s.
The key is going to be how, as an industry, we use these amazing technologies to enhance and improve the visitor experience, without undermining the ability for visitors to connect with and enjoy Jersey – which is, after all, why they have chosen to visit.
Employment and skills
This is probably the biggest long-term challenge facing Jersey. Our ageing population and low birth rate mean that the available working population is shrinking and the pressure on all businesses will become greater in the next ten to 15 years.
Historically, hospitality has relied on migrating labour to support their people-focused service industry and this will almost certainly continue.
While technology may help to reduce a requirement for human resources more broadly, there will continue to be a reliance on people to look after our visitors. There is no magic bullet, but one absolute key requirement is for government and industry to invest proper resources in career development for young people. For way too long, this sector has been seen (perhaps with good reason) as the poor relation.
We need to change this – invest in skills training, pay people well and provide them with proper support and care in their work environment. Above all, we need to make young people see a career in our industry as fulfilling and one of which they can be proud.
Together for Tourism
Jersey’s tourism industry is indigenous. Unlike the finance sector, it has always been here and always will be. People want and need to visit this small island whether to see family or friends, do business or relax. How many of them choose to do so and what value they bring to our economy will depend significantly on government actions and, ultimately, money.
The Chamber of Commerce is proud to be a member of the Tourism Strategy Steering Group and to be contributing to the development of the new strategy. If, together with government and other stakeholders, we can create a new strategic plan and change-management programme – and then implement this with the infrastructure and investment to support it – the future of Jersey’s tourism industry will be secured.
But, as Schumacher so rightly identified 50 years ago, it will require a touch of genius and a lot of courage.