'Nowhere in any plans for the economy is there any serious reference to the tourism industry'

Ted Vibert

By Ted Vibert

ANYONE who still believes that we have a healthy tourism industry can have spent only a few days in Jersey and know nothing of our history. You need to go back just 30 years to see that we once had 30,000 hotel and guesthouse beds available to accommodate our visitors. Now we have 6,700.

There can be no grimmer picture of a dying industry than that.

When the Occupation ended, a number of local families re-started what had been, before the war, a modest, genteel “visitor industry”. Prominent in this development were many local families such as the Seymours, headed by George and his wife Ada, who started the Merton Guest House on the site of the current Merton Hotel, and then his siblings continued with this work to create their hotel empire of today.

These pioneering families were helped by some far-sighted politicians who developed the world’s first hotel grading scheme to be introduced by a government in a law with inspectors to ensure that everything was up to standard.

While all of these efforts were vital to our success as a tourist resort, the Island was also helped by events that the UK had introduced. In the mid-1980s Britain was gripped by a credit crisis and the government legislated to stop people taking more than £50 abroad. The islands were not included. Luxury goods were heavily taxed in the UK making perfume, watches, cameras, liquor and tobacco extremely expensive. Jersey became a shoppers’ paradise.

When I was working in a London PR office I had about 15 female colleagues and they would give me a list of perfume and make-up to bring back for them on my monthly visit to Jersey. I would also take back my bottle of gin or whisky and 200 cigarettes that we were allowed for my male colleagues, as they were all nearly half-price.

However, there were storm clouds on Jersey’s tourism horizons that were gathering in the mid-1960s. The Channel Tunnel was going ahead, linking Folkestone with Calais, which would allow a railway to link with their Eurostar service direct to Paris (opened in 1994). New airlines, with a totally different business model to the traditional operators, began their “no frills” scheduled air services at low-cost fares (£10) to the new “sunshine” resorts in the Mediterranean and the ocean and river cruising industry began to boom with huge numbers of ships being built to cater for demand.

Jersey’s politicians at the time simply refused to accept that the Island’s tourism industry was under any form of threat. They were convinced that our beaches were the best in the world, the sun shone every day from May to September, visitors have a nice hotel to stay in and the costs were reasonable.

Back then, I was also a senior executive for a London-based public relations company handling the UK promotional activities for Majorca and had spent some weeks there in 1966. I wrote a report for the Jersey Tourism Committee pointing out the Spanish government’s plans for the next decade, which included giving land with direct access to the beach to anyone who wished to build a tourism development they approved of with tax breaks on their first five years of profits.

In that year, I interviewed Bernard Binnington, the owner of what was the Chelsea Hotel (opposite the Hospital in Gloucester Street) who was the president of the Jersey Hotel and Guest House Association. I asked him: “How about competition from other areas. How worried was the association that Jersey was lagging behind?”

His answer was: “We are sadly aware of it. Remember that we do travel and see what other places are doing. And don’t forget we are the people who have to bear the wrath of the visitor when it’s raining. One of these days the States should be taken on a tour of Europe so they can see what we have to fight. They have no idea how fierce this battle is that we have been pitched into. And the truth is, we are sadly equipped for such a battle. With real support from the government and the ploughing of capital into amenities, we would fear no one. This is long-term planning, which no one bothers to do.”

And the licensing law? “The whole thing is lopsided and damaging to our tourist trade. It needs a complete re-write and we will be more than happy to do what we can to help.”

The Senatorial elections were held the month after that interview was published. The president of the Finance Committee, Senator Cyril Le Marquand, shut the door on the States providing any help to the tourism industry, proclaiming that there was no need for any extra amenities for tourism as our “beaches are magnificent, we have fine hotels and a good climate for our visitors”. He topped the poll.

That attitude continues, so nothing has changed – except a once great industry is in freefall. And much of it is self-inflicted. One can write on the back of a cigarette packet the list of amenities to encourage people to visit the Island that the States have provided.

And no one seems to care. How can anyone believe that we are serious about the tourism industry when there isn’t even an office anywhere in St Helier where visitors can get information and where the promotional arm for tourism – Visit Jersey – is still formulating its promotion plans when our main market in the UK make their holiday decisions in January.

Nowhere in any plans for the development of Jersey’s economy is there any serious reference to the tourism industry being part of it.

So, does Jersey’s tourism industry have a future? It does, but it will never go back to the numbers we enjoyed in the mid-1960s and 70s unless there is a massive investment by the States in “tourism infrastructure” which is unlikely.

It could be greatly improved but neither the Economic Development Minister nor Visit Jersey have displayed any interest in discussing this with me. So I can just stand by and watch things get worse, which is very frustrating.

  • Ted Vibert was Jersey tourism’s public relations officer based in London from 1959-64. He then joined an international PR consultancy that specialised in tourism development and was the account director of their tourism division responsible for marketing in the UK for Majorca, Baden Baden in Germany’s Black Forest and the Greek National Tourist Organisation and travelled extensively throughout in Europe during this period.

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