July at last! The peak season is upon us, and Dorset’s beaches – weather permitting – will be packed, the county’s hotels and B&Bs will be full to bursting, village pubs and cafes will be struggling to cope, and visitor attraction bosses will be briefing their staff on crowd control techniques.
So, as if county’s leisure industry didn’t have enough its corporate plate at the moment, now is the time to start thinking, not just about the shoulder season, but also about the bleak midwinter to come.
As the Christmas carol says, earth will stand hard as iron, frosty wind will make moan, and there is a tendency to think there is nothing anyone can do about it.
For the leisure industry, July and August are a no-brainer. Open for business, be nice to the customers, and laugh all the way to the bank. September’s OK, October can be a bit quiet, and November and December are all about Christmas shopping and Christmas itself.
Then, as night follows day, come January and February – the hospitality industry’s equivalent of the dead zone. A great many places will simply shut up shop, business bosses will head off to the Canaries or the Caribbean, and try to forget the seasonal slump.
It doesn’t have to be that way. There is plenty of scope to keep the customers coming, and the tills ticking over, even in the lean times.
The crucial point is that this does not apply merely to the hospitality and leisure sector – it applies to Dorset businesses in general.
All the facts, figures, records and research suggest that people want to get away in the post-Christmas period – they just need a reason (or an excuse) to do so. They want something to do.
Cookery lessons, flower-arranging advice, photography tips, bird-watching, origami, foraging for fungi – it really doesn’t matter. Put a weekend package together, publicise it well in advance, and they’ll come flocking. What’s more, they will pay good money to flock.
(A colleague of mine, on a Caribbean cruise, was astonished to see posters proclaiming “scarf-tying demonstrations”; the venue was packed with punters apparently eager to learn new knots.)
Hospitality industry entrepreneurs need to look no farther then their local high street. The butcher, the baker, the candlestick maker can all bring a weekend away to life, and will probably be grateful for the extra revenue they will accrue – at what is a slow time of year for all of us.
It works the other way, too. Estate agents, nail technicians, plumbers and portrait artists should all be plying their wares and wisdom through local hotels, restaurants, cafes and bars.
Summertime, and the living is easy. However, we shouldn’t lose sight of the fact that in six months’ time it will be a very different story.
Plan ahead now – in co-operation with your local business partners – and January and February may truly turn out to be a winter wonderland.