Nestled in one of the most picturesque areas of south Devon, Torbay is home to little more than 135,000 people year-round, but the population typically doubles come summertime as holidaymakers arrive. Not so this year, as the coronavirus pandemic forced bed and breakfasts, restaurants, pubs and shops to close their doors, just on the cusp of the vital tourist season.
Now, even as lockdown restrictions begin to ease, Torbay’s residents and business owners are facing the possibility that the disruption caused by Covid-19 will have a far more permanent impact on the region, potentially costing thousands of jobs.
“If we don’t have much – or maybe any – of a summer, then we’ve had three winters in a row,” said Alan Denby, director of economic strategy at the Torbay Economic Development Company.
“A lot of our visitor accommodation is family-owned and family-managed, and there are still questions about how they will survive. There is a real risk that around 30% of tourism businesses could fail.”
Swithin Long, council cabinet member for economic regeneration, tourism and housing, told HuffPost UK that the pandemic “could potentially have a devastating effect.”
More than 16,500 workers in the region – approximately 34% of the workforce – were furloughed when hotels, restaurants and tourist attractions shut their doors at the height of the pandemic. Some of those jobs have already been lost, and as the furlough scheme tapers off throughout the autumn, there are fears that thousands more could face redundancy.
“Forecasts of job losses might be a bit premature,” Long said, “but a worst-case scenario could involve 18,000 jobs.”
Those job losses would be a capstone to the hardship that many Torbay residents were already facing even before the pandemic. Despite Torbay’s reputation as the English Riviera, tourism to the region has been declining in recent years, and the impact of the 2008 recession is still felt more than a decade on. In 2018,...