NEARLY seven per cent of coastal tourism businesses have closed for good because of the coronavirus crisis – and the value of the industry could be almost halved.

Those were among the findings presented by to MPs by the Bournemouth-based National Coastal Tourism Academy, which says businesses could miss out on almost £8billion this year.

Samantha Richardson, director of the academy, told a parliamentary committee: “Assuming retail can reopen June 1 and hospitality businesses July 4, we forecast that the economic loss of coastal tourism spend in England for 2020 will be £7.96billion, and some analysts are predicting a loss of 20 to 25 percent in accommodation stock.

“Nearly 74 percent of businesses are temporarily closed and when they do open, most expect to operate at between 40 and 60 per cent capacity, squeezing profit margins further.

“The peak months of July and August are crucial to coastal businesses. This is when nearly 30 per cent generate more than half their annual turnover.

“We know that many businesses having survived the winter were in need of Easter bookings and the start of the summer season to recover,” she added.

But the academy says a weekly consumer tracker, run by the research consultancy BVA BDRC, suggests there is now strong demand for a break to the coast. The rural coast is the top choice, with seaside and harbour towns in the top five preferred options.

The academy says this revival in interest could provide an opportunity for the coast to attract new customers. It could also give businesses a chance to tackle the problem of “seasonality”, as they consider opening longer into the winter season to recoup losses.

Previous research by the academy found only 21 per cent of under-35s were interested in a coastal getaway.

The academy says camping and caravan sites, holiday and lodge parks and self-catering providers all look set to do well, recording increases in enquiries and bookings since lockdown restrictions were eased.

Appearing before the Department for Culture Media and Sport select inquiry, Ms Richardson made a series of recommendations to aid long-term recovery for coastal towns.

These included providing resorts with as much notice and guidance as possible before reopening, ongoing financial support for businesses and destinations and a minimum three-year recovery programme to help get the coastal tourism economy back to pre-pandemic levels.