Can tourism keep UK pubs afloat?

By Robert Mann contact

- Last updated on GMT

Tourism boom: tourism has been labelled as a 'major factor' in keeping pubs afloat
Tourism boom: tourism has been labelled as a 'major factor' in keeping pubs afloat
Pubs across the UK will continue to do well if they broaden their appeal to customers and tap into tourism, is the message from the British Beer & Pub Association.

According to a recent report compiled by the Office for National Statistics (ONS), almost one quarter of British pubs have vanished in the past decade – with an estimated 18 still closing for good each week.

The Morning Advertiser ​reported last year about the ONS Economies of Ale​ report​ which shockingly revealed that there are 11,000 fewer pubs and bars nationwide than before the 2008 recession. 

Market awareness

To tackle the problem, Brigid Simmonds, chief executive of the British Beer & Pub Association, says pubs need to broaden their appeal to customers and to understand their local market.

“Despite the cost pressures they face, many pubs continue to do well by innovating and looking to broaden their appeal to customers,” Simmonds said.

“Be it by growing and improving their food offer, increasing the range of low and no-alcohol drinks they serve, or offering rooms for people to stay in; good pubs are doing well.”

And with more and more consumers opting for cheap supermarket booze at home, Simmonds believes that publicans can combat the issue by catering well for tourists. 

“With as many as half of the tourists who come to the UK each year visiting a local – and when asked, naming pubs as third on the list of places they most want to visit – pubs in popular tourist locations certainly get an added boost,” Simmonds added.

Tourism importance

Paul Waterson, of the Scottish Licensed Trade Association, echoed Simmonds thoughts and said a “major factor" behind the growth of a pub lies with how well pubs cater to tourism. 

“Thousands of pubs have closed over the past number of years, but the highlands and islands have bucked that trend,” said Waterson.

“I think it is down to the pubs being well run and catering for the customer, but also a huge increase in the number of tourists coming to that area who are then well catered for in the pubs and bars in the area.”

A recent study carried out by the ONS revealed that, surprisingly, in the Scottish highlands, there are 14% more pubs than there were a decade ago.

Tourism is the highlands’ most important industry, with provisional figures for last year suggesting almost 6.5m visitors came to the area.

The highlands joins places such as Ceredigion in Wales and English seaside resorts Scarborough, Blackpool and Brighton in bucking the trend of decline.

Taking a stand

In recent years, small independent pubs have borne the brunt of the decline, disappearing in droves as large commercial chain venues continue to grow in number.

Taking a stand against a UK-wide trend of pub and bar closures is musician Bruce McGregor. 

He recently opened a new bar in Inverness, the cultural capital of the Scottish highlands, and says he was told by dozens that he was an "idiot" for trying to open such a business against a national decline in pubs.

"Another reason was that there were so many tourists coming to Inverness," added McGregor.

"We were blown away by the numbers of tourists we saw last year – Americans, Germans, Spaniards and French."

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