Bacta’s John White: FECs are the centerpiece of seaside-onomics

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As the government begins to take more of an interest in coastal communities and FOBTs are finally set to leave the agenda, CEO of Bacta John White explains that now is the time to sell the Great British seaside – and remind everyone what makes it so special.

While there’s no escaping the fact that the weather is the “preeminent driver of business for seaside operators”, John White, CEO of Bacta, explained that the coast’s overall economic situation provides the context – and often a ceiling – to any potential success.

For Britain’s coastal communities, this fact has become a national issue,so much so that the House of Lords has launched a Select Committee on Regenerating Seaside Towns and Communities. Bacta has been encouraging this move for some time,andWhite believes the committee will address many of the pertinent issues affecting trade on the seafront.

“Car parking was one of the things that they want to look at, as well as transport to seaside towns via road and rail, which are two key local issues that Bacta lobbies on,” he said. “It’s interesting to see how the debate, while not concerning amusements directly,is focussing on the economic activity that takes place in coastal communities.Of course,FECs are very much part and parcel of that – and very often one of the sole economic activities taking place of the seaside, which really emphasises their importance.”

Without that activity, White only had to look as far as Hastings Pier to find an example of the consequences.

“Pier’s constantly need to be looked after, and the economic activity – largely in the form of amusements – that takes place generates money for the owners of those piers to keep them going, without them they go bust,”he continued. “Without attractions there is no way to generate income, and nobody wants to be charged to walk on a pier.”

White added that every extra pound spent traveling to and parking at the coast is a pound not invested in the coastal economy, which can escalate into a sizeable portion of a consumers leisure spend when paired with a poor economic climate.With this in mind, he believes Bacta need to sell the seaside, and the amusements industry, more effectively.

“It will certainly be easier to do in a post-FOBT world, as the FOBT debate has made gambling and machines toxic, and even some of the benign equipment you find at the seaside gets wrapped up in that,” he commented. “The average holidaymaker isn’t inclined to look at evidence regarding social responsibility,and so it’s not difficult for them to draw a line from the horrors of B2s, and say if that’s gambling, we need to ban all gambling – all the while not realising they are banning the 2p pusher, which they likely very much enjoy playing with no issues whatsoever.”

It will be up to Bacta to re-educate any consumers that have become concerned by the media storm surrounding FOBTs, and White believes the best way to achieve that is not only to sell the iconic character of the Great British seaside, but also to remind the public that its survival depends on the vibrancy of the seaside sector.

“Our strategy post-FOBTs will be about re-establishing that narrative about what the seaside means to the British culture,” he concluded, “along with the narrative that explains the economic importance of the seaside sector to the country’s much-loved coastline.”

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