Apparently, we’re spending at least £100 million on keeping the Rock afloat. Our tourism industry will be hanging by a thread if no visitors arrive in 2020.
Our Minister for the Department of Enterprise likened our return to business will be like the ‘Phoenix rising from the ashes’. The challenge ahead may seem immense and paradoxically, the Isle of Man could have a head start in the tourism race to normality.
The uncertainty of travelling abroad, lack of cheap airlines and a general fear of ‘going international’ will be in the minds of the British holidaymaker. The ‘infection ritual’ of cleanliness that is now prevalent in our daily routines will deter foreign travel for many.
The acquisition of ferry services by the Isle of Man Government could be one of the luckiest moves made in this term of office. Nobody foresaw the C19 outbreak. Maintaining an affordable transport link with complete control should harvest rewards. Respecting the needs of the Manx taxpayer is a key component for success. Let’s face it, there’s little trust in the airline industry following the Flybe debacle and EasyJet’s bad press at the moment.
Speculation around the local economy predicts there will be victims of the 2020 lockdown. Businesses will be exposed on the money front. Those who rely on the TT motorcycle races will be pining for the fortnight of turbo charged income that many say, takes care of many bills for the year. The knock-on for many operatives in the tourism and service sector will be a lack of investment for 2021. Premises may become even more tired looking and this creates a real own goal when we look at sharpening the reputation of the Island.
If we could attract serious investment now, our prospects and reputation will fly. Our tourism offering demands an overhaul, what we do has to be modernised. I’ve been involved in the trade for almost a decade and seeing our attractions showing signs of fatigue year in and year out.
The days of the coach party tourism genre needs to be confined to the history books. Relying on an aged class on visitors has little future. Improve our offering and attract an alternative bracket with disposable incomes. The tourism market is evolving and the Island must adjust dynamically. We have to be ahead of the game as the tourist economy landscape will have changed.
Before any capital is spent, our political masters in Tynwald could make some simple adjustments in legislation and how tourism related business is taxed.
For a start, the Isle of Man Government must take steps to install legislation to deal with redundant/derelict sites. These locations are well known and compose damage to the reputation of our UNESCO sponsored Biosphere status. They could be interpreted as an insult to the Manx people who cherish the Island. A simple mechanism to force wealthy landowners to respect the Manx public and their guests has to be devised.
Compulsory purchase processes and clever prosecutions to rid the Island of such eyesores is the answer. The lack of action by the Manx Government to deal with such an obvious glitch in the rule books suggests to me, something untoward. It’s a travesty that our never ending promenade project may be flanked by a strip of run down sites when the Minister finally cuts the ribbon and declares £20m+ project open.
Our food and drink industry is well and truly on the back foot due to the C19 crisis. Pubs and restaurants have been served with rates and utility bills. If you’re located on the Douglas Promenade, almost 2 years of disruption where customers have been driven away from front doors will have sucked the will to live out of most proprietors.
Customs and Excise possess a kick start solution. An immediate reduction in VAT for alcoholic drinks will undoubtedly help. Fixed pricing for local produce would be desirable. Our range of beers and spirits are loved and should be front and centre in the Manx offering. How much busier would our night life economy be if local beer was £2.50 per pint? How about £2? We would thrive on pulling Britain’s best value pints. Tickets for the ferry would be in short supply if such a headline price existed.
Most Manx folk sit as armchair experts on how how to improve the numbers of tourists. Many who were around in the 60’s and 70’s enjoy a memory of deckchairs and packed promenades. The nostalgia pages provide a great insight. The image of the Douglas beach is astonishing. It’s not the prettiest bay by any means!
Just imagine an utter shed load of money to deliver a visitor economy mega spend on tourism? Perhaps a weeks worth of gaming cash that is squirted through our blessed Isle of Man monetary pipe?
These ideas are not economically measured and are designed for a spot of whimsical thought on my website.
The Wish List
THE ‘GO TO’ HOTEL
A few years ago, I handled a golfing couple who visited the Isle of Man on a 3 day break. On day 2, I was asked ‘Where do the money people go? You know, a place that is really special?’ The couple seemed lost. A bit bemused on how lame the Island was to meet there needs.
That question has stuck with me ever since. The simple fact is, that the 5* venue doesn’t exist and we’ve been putting up with ‘average’ for too long. We have hotels, that provide a good service and try hard. The vital ‘X’ factor is missing and replaced with a ‘C’ factor in many cases. The geography of the Island’s capital is fragmented and linking accommodation to the ‘attractions’ is a challenge.
About £20 million in a ‘Fantasy Fund’ may get close to the construction of a top quality ‘go to’ hotel at Douglas Head. One of the Islands most stunning locations and adjacent to the breathtaking Marine Drive. The hotel doesn’t have to be enormous, it needs that quality assurance that is held at a few other venues on the Island that are unfortunately placed. We had a 5* property at Bradda Head until a couple of years ago. That became the number one choice for high spenders and fit the bill. It ceased operation as the owners moved on to other challenges. It was never short of bookings.
We need a hotel that locals will adore, praise and use. The Sunday lunch/ afternoon tea/wedding/party venue that offers extra special service. Somewhere that makes you feel a bit special. I don’t know the precise economics for viable hotels, you’d think a 100 bed operation with 90% occupancy for 6 months of the year would survive with ease when complimented with local heavy use.
Remember, this is the Fantasy League of tourism.
An exciting building in design with a huge panoramic outlook for residents is the key. A dramatic view over Douglas Bay and eastwards across the sea towards Cumbria, will be treasured.
The location at Douglas Head would be accessible for facilities in the capital, this would become much more appealing with the development of the Lord Street Bus Station site that has been kicked around for years. The area has the harbour appeal with pubs and restaurants containing character and retain a heavy touch of ‘Manxness’. Visitors enjoy pubs like the Albert, Market, Rovers and those not having a corporate trade stamp. If only we had live music at key times for visitors. Spirited Manx songs of folklore would be loved.
A hotel situated at Douglas Head would have direct access to the spectacular Marine Drive. This wasted resource is magnificent and serves as a gateway for cycling and walking holiday adventures. Furnished with craggy cliffs, Peregrine Falcons plus dolphin displays in the waters below. The regeneration of the amphitheatre and ‘mini’ golf course in that area in a sensible form would also add to the offering.
The Victorian era established the location as the prime spot for the Capital to host a premiere hotel. The attractions at Port Soderick plus the Camera Obscura supported the trade. It’s no surprise that the modern day tourist will be looking to enjoy the experience of such attractions. Holiday packages cleverly entwined with our unique railway network, heritage sites and our food and drink offerings.
The concept of a modern hotel with panoramic views and modern facilities certainly captures the imagination. Perhaps one of our existing hotel groups would swap a Douglas Prom site for the opportunity. Anything Queens Prom upwards could be argued would be better zoned for accommodation. First time buying options to bring younger people near the town and keep the town vibrant.
Some may baulk at the thought of situating a glorious hotel at Douglas Head. ‘It’s too windy and up a steep hill’ will be an argument. There is nothing we can do about dramatic and exciting weather. The hill climb could be transformed with an Victorian style funicular railway. Our Island is famed for railways, a generous cheque book would be utilised for such a project. It’s worth reflecting that funicular railways are common place at ski resorts around Europe. The folk that go skiing in the winter need to be in our target market for their summer break.
The (Cycle) Way Ahead
We Have It All
Cycling is like ‘marmite’ to many of us, there is no escape from the fact that it’s invigorating and often described as the ‘new golf’ for those in their 30’s. The Island has toyed with the idea of becoming a cycling destination for many years. The challenge is making the Isle of Man match the appeal of venues in the UK. Wales, Scotland and the Lake District. Those jurisdictions have invested heavily into country cycle ways and mountain bike parks. The Island has chosen not to do this properly and instead, allowed volunteers to create amateur trails around the forests. The Government blockage on this front has to be cleared, there has to be an appetite for some serious creativity here as we have a ‘God Given’ Isle for a cycling offering.
To begin with, the holidaying cyclist loves a challenge. It’s in a rider’s DNA.
We have it here on a plate. A challenging 105 mile coastal route with electronic check-ins will bring the bikers over in big numbers. Make a £25 charge per cyclist to use purpose built tracks that can be shared with walkers easily. Completion earns a certificate and a treasurable memento. All fully integrated with an online platform which displays great stories, adventures and imagery with the rest of the World.
The attraction of a dramatic cliff top ride interlinked with castles, the Great Laxey Wheel, attractive harbours, coves and beaches. It could be one of the most irresistible rides in the World of cycle tourism.
The cost incurred for creating a cycle way wouldn’t be that great. We have the natural resources in abundance. A truly bold move by our political masters to integrate the trail building with parole and probation offices. Ex prisoners being constructive will put the Island on the map, allaying the farce of a TV ‘Mockumentry’ that ridiculed our attitude to justice. I’d like to see our ‘reformed’ trail builders rewarded appropriately and supplied with a free bike for good work!
We’ve suffered years of excuses for not engaging with those trapped in the ‘offending cycle’ in this way. I can’t see many trapped in the justice process turning down a chance of being involved if conditions were right. This would be a wonderful news item for a restorative program.
Potential ‘Bucket List’ Cycle Tour
The Coastal Cycle Route may take 3 or 4 days to complete. Admittedly, clever use of our buses and trains to cater for cyclists will have to be facilitated. Bus companies around Europe manage to accommodate bikes, our Manx transport service needs to modernise in attitude. The idea of having log cabins themed in the style of a Tholtan interspersed along the route is an exciting though. It really couldn’t be that difficult to do and add a new dimension to the Isle of Man adventure. Technology would be able to protect and manage such sites. Charging points for electric bikes wouldn’t be asking too much.
Our ‘ACE CARD’ is the Snaefell Mountain Railway. Creation of cycles routes from the summit stretching in different directions across the Island will offer our visitors a unique experience. The trails will be graded like ski runs in difficulty. A tram ride up the Mountain, refreshments at the cafe followed by a choice of rides. Take a moment to dwell on the endless possibilities and muse on what a message it would send. The UK winter ski market is well over 1.5m holiday makers. Design this right and we could capture 2% of that market for a summer adventure.
River runs also appeal greatly, cyclists love riding adjacent to open water. Every possible reservoir and river could house a bike path where appropriate. The Sulby Valley, Silverburn and around the Capital would entice the cyclist and reduce time on busy roads.
Our approach to creating cycleways could be classed as one farce followed by another. Appointment of an enthusiastic politician to supervise this simple concept of keeping safe, getting healthy and making cycling more fun isn’t rocket science. Our Manx Government has demonstrated an antagonistic resistance to cycling for many years. It’s quite bewildering.
There is very little to change on this front, we have 8 friendly courses with great views and challenges. By the time C19 has run out, anybody with a passion for golf will want to make up on lost time. I’m predicting that this 2nd half of summer 2020 could be the busiest ever if we get the green light.
In addition to the golfing platter, we have on our shores old golf courses hidden in landscapes and I’d love to see these reactivated.
The Victorians loved their golf and in the late 1800’s, the Island enjoyed around 1m visitors per year. Clubs appeared right across the Island as Morris and Braid were on a designing spree. It would have been hickories galore and a course set in the magnificence of Bradda Head would have superseded many for views. I’m lucky to have seen the links in some form in the 1990’s when sheep kept the grass down. Armed with a 7 iron, it was possible to play a few of the holes. In golf addict terms, the excitement was akin to the discovery of a secret garden. Highly enjoyable and I wonder if one day, it could be unwrapped from the gorse and hay?
Potentially, the greatest Island golf course is held in suspended animation. Glen Truan at Bride was the dream of a farming family. Two brothers who set about carving an incredible track through their land. Natural dunes, water and greens set in perfect bowls. There is even a lighthouse and a view out to Scotland. It’s a Carnoustie or Muirfield in waiting.
Set in the purest of links landscape, it holds the foundation of a major GB course is set in the North of the Island. If this was situated in Scotland, it would have been made into a top class course. Visitors from all over the World would find it irresistible. The planet hosts around 250 pure links courses
The sandy area contains all the component parts for a classic links. Some may say that it’s a blessing that Donald Trump never discovered the Isle of Man. However, the Trump treatment delivered to Turnberry and up in Aberdeen would have transformed or Manx golf showcase for ever. There is even an airport close by and that is one which rarely sees the fog and mist suffered in the South.
Perhaps one day, the course at Glen Truan will be discovered by a golf lover with plenty of cash.
If you’ve made it this far on the post, thank you and I hope you enjoyed the read! It’s testing times for anybody in the tourism trade at present and as an Island, we have a potential advantage ahead.
If anybody has £30 billion spare, take a look at this idea….