21 September 2021

Dorset hospitality: reopening, recovery and resilience

Photo of Sara Uzzell, a hospitality professional and Dorset LEP Deputy Chair

Businesses in Dorset’s vital hospitality sector are calling for both immediate and long-term action to ensure sustainable recovery from the impact of the pandemic. As the government’s first ever hospitality strategy moves ahead, Sara Uzzell, Deputy Chair of Dorset LEP and a member of the Dorset Tourism Association, reflects on the sector’s challenges and the national and local plans to champion a return to growth.

Hospitality plays a crucial role in Dorset. Hotels, pubs, restaurants, tourist attractions and other leisure and travel operators together employ 33,000 people in our region and contribute £716 million to the economy each year.

But we are sailing in stormy seas. The past year and a half has been traumatic. Nationally and locally, hospitality is among the industries worst hit by the impact of the pandemic. Lockdown constraints effectively forced a shutdown for most of 2020 and more than 80% of staff in the sector were furloughed at some point.

The recent easing of restrictions, combined with staycation surges, limited overseas travel, a return to live sport, theatre and music, and a generally sunny summer have all renewed optimism. Some Dorset hotels have reported a bumper season with excellent rates of occupancy. 

But however welcome these factors and indicators are, it is clear the pandemic has exposed the acute fragility of the sector.

As hospitality begins to open up again, there are major recruitment challenges with employers struggling to fill vacancies to cope with their renewed custom.

According to our latest Labour Market Insight Report, demand for hospitality workers in Dorset during the second quarter of this year was the highest in the past decade, up by a factor of 14 compared with 2020 and 40% higher than in 2019. 

Government strategy

At a national level, the government has responded to concerns here and across the country by publishing the first ever Hospitality Strategy. It sets out 22 commitments to support the sector’s reopening and long-term recovery and resilience.

Centre stage is a £352 billion package of economic support to help ease businesses back into operating normally.

The strategy paper includes an important focus on workforce resilience. There are promises on vocational training and raising the profile of skills and careers in the sector. And businesses are being encouraged to participate in government programmes such as Help to Grow to improve digital and management skills in the workforce.

As well as the new Kickstart Scheme, the Department for Work and Pensions has partnered with trade association UKHospitality to develop a hospitality briefing pack to support conversations with both employers and jobseekers. For employers, the message is that Jobcentre Plus can support their search for staff to fill vacancies. For jobseekers, the pack highlights the range of exciting opportunities available in the sector.

Workforce skills

Locally, charitable housing association BCHA has launched a free ‘At Your Service’ programme to offer unemployed people living in Bournemouth, Christchurch and Poole the chance to return to work in tourism and hospitality.

At Your Service combines real hands-on experience with tailored support to get back on the career pathway.

Project Manager Val Jefferies says: “The programme gives hospitality and leisure businesses access to a trained and ready workforce which will enable them to plan expansion as the economy looks to bounce back.

“Participants will enter into meaningful employment with a sense of purpose and pride in being part of the regrowth of the local economy.

“At the same time, businesses are encouraged to offer short work trials or work experience placements before they commit to formal employment, to give them the confidence in potential staff.”


Training providers, schools and colleges all have a pivotal role to play in helping to address skills gaps in the sector, says Tim Seward, Chair of Bournemouth’s area hospitality association BAHA. “More than ever before it is important to work with schools and colleges to show that hospitality can be an amazing career with exciting potential.

“We work with both Bournemouth & Poole College and Bournemouth University on this. We have a young BAHA ambassador who goes into the college and university with me or the vice chair Jason Davies to speak about working in hotels.

“We’re also about to launch a Yellow Bus completely dedicated to highlighting the benefits of a career in hotels and hospitality to young people.”

Of his own industry experience, Tim says: “Hospitality has often been seen as an industry not to work in but I have had some of the best training and the most amazing times while working my way up the ladder from General Assistant to management. The industry needs to be seen as fun and exciting to work in.” 

Dorset LEP strategy

For Dorset LEP’s part, we recognise that addressing skills shortages in Dorset is crucial for the recovery of our hospitality sector.

We continue to support businesses while focusing on young people’s career skills and education.

Through the Dorset Skills Advisory Panel & Board, which brings together key stakeholders from business, local authorities and learning providers, we are actively shaping the future skills solutions required for the local economy to recover, aspire and thrive.

The shortage of people with the skills required by Dorset’s key sectors is well documented in our Dorset Local Skills Report and the research findings which support it. These link to key priority areas for the themes of Place, Recovery and Future as outlined in Dorset’s Skills Strategy.

Our immediate response to the pandemic included the introduction of new Labour Market Intelligence web resources. These provide businesses, careers advisors, job seekers and careers planners with sector specific updates in the form of interactive, easy to use, visual Key Industry dashboards, including the latest vacancies across Dorset.

The team at our business growth hub Dorset Gateway and Skills are working to address skills challenges with initiatives such as a Skills Brokerage advice service. Its aim is to provide struggling businesses with tailored action plans that address challenges from a skills perspective, such as looking at apprenticeships or knowledge transfer partnerships with one of Dorset’s universities.

Dorset Careers Hub, another arm of Dorset LEP’s provision in the county, works with over 75 schools, linking young people with enterprise advisors from key sector employers to improve access to career opportunities. The Hub has recently hosted successful hospitality virtual insight days and Careers Live events, and is now embarking on a campaign to raise awareness of the wide range of jobs and career paths available locally, nationally and globally within the hospitality sector.

Dorset Gateway has also been supporting hospitality employers directly through business relationship offers, crowdfunding support, scale-up advice and access to peer network support.  

It is critical to future-proof Dorset by providing the support needed to enable our people and businesses to regroup and rebuild through coordinated investment in business, skills and infrastructure.

In achieving a recovery that is sustainable both environmentally and economically, we will ensure the hospitality sector is well placed to reach its full potential and continue to be a key contributor to UK growth.

Paul Clarke, chairman of Bournemouth Coastal BID, whose levy payers include many hospitality businesses, sums up the view of most employers by saying: “Any assistance for the hospitality sector is welcome because it has suffered so much during the lockdowns and in our area it dominates the economy and helps to support many other businesses. We lost almost a whole summer in 2020 and it will take a lot of effort to recover.”

Paul’s views are shared by Tim Seward who lists some key differentiators that give the hospitality sector in Dorset a clear advantage over elsewhere: “We are seen as a tourist hotspot for all seasons due to our miles of golden sandy beaches, year-round events and the chance to breathe in the countryside and sea air. People see us as a place where they can unwind, somewhere to explore whatever the weather.”

The highs and lows of tourism and hospitality in the Dorset LEP area 2019-July 2021. The level of vacancies in the second quarter of this year marked a 27% increase on the first quarter. It was more than twice as high as those in the same period last year and 41% higher than in 2019. See more at Dorset LEP’s Interactive Tourism and Hospitality Dashboard.


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