Observer column: 18 October 2019
Last week, the Hastings Council cabinet agreed to advertise Cornwallis Street car park for a potential hotel development, after we were approached by a national hotel chain who are interested in building a new 80-bed hotel there. This car park was earmarked for housing development in our Local Plan, but for only ten homes, because of flood risk. So the idea of a hotel there seems worth investigating. This is not, however, the only interest in new hotel building in Hastings at the moment - there are others wanting to bring new hotels to town.
Tourism is still the biggest economic sector in Hastings. But as an industry, it tends to be dominated by low-paid, seasonal jobs. This is especially true in Hastings; most visitors come for the day and don't stay overnight. Lack of hotel accommodation, and a lack of choice of hotels, is one reason for this. Bournemouth has 23,000 serviced bed spaces.Brighton has 13,000. Eastbourne has 7,000. But Hastings has fewer than 1,000. And that doesn't appear to mean that resorts such as Brighton and Bournemouth have too many hotel rooms - figures from this July show that in UK seaside towns, an average 87% of hotel rooms were occupied.
That's not surprising, perhaps, as figures also show an increase in the numbers UK residents holidaying in the UK and not going abroad - in part because of concerns about air travel and its contribution to climate change.
In Hastings, we've seen a growth in self-catering accommodation, with more holiday cottages appearing, and the growth, albeit controversial, of Airbnb. A growth in self-catering accommodation is good for the tourism economy, and this area is doing well. Holiday cottage owners in Hastings report bookings for a week or a fortnight extending all year round. But unregulated growth in residential houses being converted to holiday cottages means fewer homes available for people to live in, which can destroy the local community, as has happened in some Cornish villages. It's not well regulated either, with no requirement for planning permission for holiday homes, and no inspection regime. While there are fire safety and other requirements for self-catering accommodation, neither the council nor anyone else has powers to enforce these. Better regulation and control is needed, but bringing people to Hastings for longer stays certainly helps to boost the tourism economy.
Hotel accommodation is typically for shorter stays - typically 1-4 nights. But holiday patterns are changing. Fewer people, especially young people, now book a week or fortnight 'summer holiday' well in advance. People are now more likely to book last minute short breaks, either instead of or in addition to a 'main' holiday. And that's where hotels come in, and the recent growth in new hotel accommodation, especially in seaside resorts. Outside London, the number of hotel rooms is growing by more than 10,000 a year, a level of growth that's predicted to continue despite Brexit, as it's driven mostly by UK visitors rather than overseas visitors.
With these changing patterns in the way people go on holiday, and where they want to stay, we need to be sure that Hastings is well-placed to take advantage of it. And with fewer than a thousand serviced bed spaces, we really aren't at the moment. So the council will be encouraging new hotel developments here wherever we can.
Council Leader's column