Published: Thursday, 27th January 2022

We are continuing to invest in Medway's visitor economy and high streets to support recovery from the Coronavirus pandemic.

Visit Kent’s latest Economic Impact Model for 2020 published yesterday (26 January) shows the initial impact on Medway’s visitor economy from the COVID-19 pandemic, with a 53.7 per cent drop in visitors overall and a 64.1 per cent decrease in value compared to 2019.

The independent research commissioned by Visit Kent has revealed that £8million was spent on average in the local economy each month in 2020, as a direct result of the region’s tourism and hospitality industry compared to £23million on average in 2019.

Using the industry-respected Cambridge Economic Impact Model, the study measured the volume and value of tourism within the county in 2020, and the effect of visits and visitor expenditure on the local economy.

Before the pandemic, Medway was continuing to prove one of the most popular places in Kent to visit with the area’s visitor numbers, spend and jobs growing significantly. Visit Kent’s previous research found that in 2019 Medway attracted five million visits and the total value of Medway’s tourism was £360million alongside 7,000 jobs.

With the country in lockdown and facing significant restrictions through 2020 the impact of the pandemic on Medway’s visitor economy was inevitably going to be significant and reflects national trends. While the tourism and hospitality picture was exceptionally challenging across country, and the globe, in 2020, these latest findings do show that the county’s visitor economy performed above the national average across several areas.

As the country opened up again in 2021, we, working with local tourism destination partners, launched a major promotional campaign in 2021 to encourage local people and their families to visit many of the much loved destinations points in Medway as well as those lesser known attractions. The #WhoKnew campaign succeeded in attracting visitors to Medway through the summer, autumn and into winter and a summer event and exhibitions programme with local organisations was very popular.  The return of the much loved Dickensian Christmas Festival and Medway’s Christmas Market in Rochester proved a massive success, attracting bringing more than 200,000 visitors to the town, 50,000 more than in 2019.

We are committed to supporting the local visitor economy through 2022 showcasing the best of Medway and all it has to offer to visitors with an exciting programme of events and festivals, starting next month with Medway Light Nights and the launch of a new permanent exhibition celebrating the life of Charles Dickens, and it will run through the year with the English Festival, Sweeps Festival, Medway’s Gaming and Creative Festival and events to celebrate Her Majesty The Queen’s Platinum Jubilee.

We prioritised provision of financial support for local businesses through the pandemic distributing more than £114million government grants to businesses including more than £2million to support businesses in the hospitality, weddings and cultural/creative sectors.

We also received more than £245,000 from the government’s Welcome Back Fund which aims to encourage residents back to Medway’s high streets. The funding is being used in number of ways including innovative art installations and additional high street cleaning.

We received £14.4million from the government’s Levelling Up Fund which will be invested in three projects The Docking Station, The Brook Theatre and The Fitted Rigging House, to support the area’s flourishing creative sector and provide further opportunities for economic growth.

We are also continuing to invest heavily in its emerging city centre in Chatham. We received nearly £9.5million from the government’s Future High Streets Fund which will be invested into Chatham to further economic growth, increase housing and create more jobs and to provide a vibrant town centre experience.

In 2020 we were awarded £1.6million government funding to revitalise a section of the Star Hill to Sun Pier Conservation Area, which covers parts of Chatham and Rochester high streets, as part of Historic England’s High Street Heritage Action Zone Programme. We were also able to secure an additional £1.6million match funding from partners including the council itself, Nucleus Arts, Featherstones and the University of Kent. Around £200,000 of this funding is being used to restore the front of Chatham House, Grade II* listed Georgian mansion in Rochester, to its former glory. The funding will also be used to offer business support, grants and help promote vacant building opportunities, including a specific focus the St Bartholomew’s Waterworks building to create a “hub” for the Heritage Action Zone. This will increase economic activity in the area as well as employment opportunities, co-working spaces, boosting the local economy. This exciting programme will also include community events to increase footfall into the area and help to establish it as a destination in its own right.

The remaining funding will be used to create a development framework to guide future development in the area in a way which protects heritage and character whilst enabling sensitive sustainable growth and regeneration. This will include a highway accessibility and safety study to help improve safety and accessibility for pedestrians and cyclists which is hoped will attract more residents and visitors to the area and help revitalise the evening economy. The funding will also be used to create a re-use and re-vitalise buildings programme to offer business support, grants and help promote vacant building opportunities, including a specific focus the St Bartholomew’s Waterworks building to create a “hub” for the Heritage Action Zone. This will increase economic activity in the area as well as employment opportunities, co-working spaces, boosting the local economy. A local creative consortium has also been created to develop a cultural heritage and engagement programme to animate the area’s heritage story. This exciting programme will include community events which aim to increase footfall in the area and help provide an economically sustainable legacy of the area as a destination in its own right.

Medway has demonstrated our resilience

Leader of Medway Council, Cllr Alan Jarrett, said: “Medway, like every area across the country and indeed the world, was impacted by the Coronavirus pandemic, particularly in 2020, but we have demonstrated our resilience. Tourism in Medway was growing rapidly before the pandemic and we will continue to do all we can to support the tourism industry in Medway and ensure it bounces back even better than before. Although our visitor numbers did decrease by around 50 per cent in 2020, visitors took more than two million trips to the area which further proves how much of a unique and exciting place Medway is to visit. Our success securing Future High Streets and Levelling-Up funding demonstrates exactly the kind of measures which are needed to ensure true levelling-up across the country and we need continued long-term investment from government to support the recovery of our high streets.”

Spectacular festivals and events programme 

Cllr Howard Doe, Medway Council’s Portfolio Holder for Community Services, said: “We have a spectacular festivals and events programme which attracts residents and visitors from across the country. This was demonstrated last month when we welcomed 200,000 people to the Dickensian Christmas Festival and Medway’s Christmas Market in Rochester. We have a fantastic line up of events and activities planned for the year ahead starting next month with Medway Light Nights and the opening of a superb new permanent exhibition at the Guildhall Museum which celebrates the life of Charles Dickens. We will also be celebrating Her Majesty The Queen’s Platinum Jubilee and hosting a Medway Gaming and Creative Festival for the second year running.

“Medway’s rich cultural heritage and historic gems such as Rochester Castle, the finest and tallest Norman castle keep in the country, Rochester Cathedral, the second oldest cathedral in England, Chatham’s Historic Dockyard and Fort Amherst give visitors a fabulous experience to enjoy together with our superb range of museums and galleries. The fabulous country parks, riverside walks and the New England coastal path together with more than 80 miles of cycle paths provide superb opportunities to enjoy spectacular views, space,  fresh air and exercise. Medway truly is a great place to live, work, learn and visit.”

Visit Kent Chief Executive, Deirdre Wells OBE, said: “After a strong performance in 2019, our sector’s bold plans for 2020 were utterly disrupted by the Covid-19 crisis. This latest research is a stark demonstration of the direct impact on Medway’s brilliant tourism, leisure, and hospitality sector, which is one of the district’s biggest employers, and the life and soul of our high streets. The findings from 2020’s Economic Impact Study demonstrate exactly why our industry continues to need long-term support from central government, to enable a sustainable destination recovery.

“We are extremely grateful to our Kent residents who have shown unwavering levels of support to their local businesses throughout the Covid-19 pandemic. From eating out to help out and pledges of support, to venue visits with loved ones and switching up their shopping habits, the sense of pride throughout the county has kept our industry going through these unprecedented times.”

Medway also has fantastic connectivity with good motorway links and high-speed services to London.

Find out more about what Medway has to offer

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