Tourism businesses in Liverpool face uncertainty after tier-three restrictions were imposed on October 14.
Attractions remain open and tours to the city continue to be offered online despite Liverpool being in the country’s highest possible local Covid-19 alert category.
The advice is not to travel into or out of anywhere categorised as a tier three "very high alert level area," however, it is not illegal to do so.
National Museums Liverpool, which runs the International Slavery Museum, Museum of Liverpool and World Museum, attracted more than three million visitors in 2019. Footfall during September 2020 reached just 17 per cent of the previous year’s level. The museums remain open from Wednesday to Sunday with visitors required to book their entry time online.
“We believe that the accessibility of arts venues as a source of mental stimulation and wellbeing is more important than ever," said Lucy Hodson of National Museums Liverpool.
"Although the measures we’ve put in place to ensure people’s safety mean that visits aren’t entirely back to normal, a lot of thought and planning has gone into making sure visitors enjoy their experience with us as much as possible," she added.
"Visiting now is an opportunity to appreciate our venues with more tranquillity, and to benefit from the escapism that arts and culture offers."
Philip Olivier, who played Tim O’Leary in Channel 4 television series Brookside, is now the managing director of Liverpool City Sights.
Since reopening in July, his company has been operating hop-on, hop-off bus tours from Thursday to Sunday, cleaning buses between tours. The frequency of tours was further reduced – to Saturdays and Sundays only – following the introduction of the tier three restrictions.
“Tourism has made this city great. It’s been on an upward trend for the past five years; not only because of the history and all of the attractions but also the businesses and what they offer,” he said.
Even in recent days his company has had enquiries about tours from people from outside of Liverpool.
Mr Olivier called for greater clarity from the Government and criticises the terminology being used.
“They’re advising people not to travel to tier three areas, but they should simply tell people not to," he said.
"They should lock us down and help us by giving funding. They’re strangling us and we’ve got next to no revenue coming in.”
He fears that he’ll have to make tough decisions regarding staffing at the end of October, although he’s reluctant to lose team members, especially as Christmas approaches.
Peter Rosenfeld, the managing director of BusyBus, a Cheshire-based tour company, is also frustrated by the current situation. Under normal circumstances his company offers tours to the Lake District from Liverpool but this week cancelled all departures from the city and refunded customers.
“Government guidance to the tourism industry is non-existent. I feel confused and angry. We are in a pandemic where strong leadership and a clearly defined strategy is required for businesses to buy into and comply for the good of everyone,” says Mr Rosenfeld.
David Wade-Smith is the chairman of Liverpool Downtown in Business, an organisation whose membership encompasses more than 900 businesses from the West Midlands and north of England.
He acknowledges that businesses within the tourism and hospitality sectors are having to operate with reduced capacities to comply with guidelines to achieve Covid-19 security. He questions the potential effectiveness of lockdowns for businesses within those sectors.
“Of course, having restricted access has an impact on anything related to attractions. In terms of cities like Liverpool or Manchester – any centre of commerce that has a dependency on hospitality, retail, bars and restaurants – it's going to hurt them particularly badly,” he says.
“We have to look ahead… there’ll be a massive release of energy and interest in visiting cities such as Liverpool post-Covid,” adds Mr Wade-Smith.
He cites the example of China, whose Mid-Autumn Festival – which took place this year in early-October – resulted in a spike in people visiting venues and attractions in cities.
In recent years, visitor economies have become central to the quality of life in cities across the United Kingdom.
“Great places to visit also make great places to live and work. The beneficiaries are people who live in the cities. This is a setback to that momentum but I think it’ll return. The future of Liverpool looks like 2019, which was the most successful year yet,” says Mr Wade-Smith. He wants to see employment safeguarded to support a return to last year’s visitor levels.
In the meantime, the cities such as Liverpool, which rely on their visitor economies, look set to suffer during lockdowns.