Balppa’s chief executive knows a thing or two about rollercoasters and when 2021 looked like a rollercoaster and sounded like one, it certainly was one. Despite the twists and turns, Paul Kelly keeps his balance on a tough year for the sector – there’s more to come, he thinks, but there’s also plenty more to take heart from.
PAUL KELLY CHIEF EXECUTIVE BALPPA
Coinslot: A year that opened in lockdown, staggered through to reopening, via a supply chain crisis and ending with Omicron: how will you look back on 2021?
Paul Kelly: In our sector of the industry it’s always good to use the analogy of life being a rollercoaster.
This could be used for 2021 but hardly does justice to the year we all faced, no coaster has ever plumbed the depths of despair that members faced during that time.
Despite this, I would always look for the positives in situations and 2021 provided a number of those.
These included closer working together of members, better communication, shoulders to lean on and the sharing of some great ideas.
On the down side, it was real tough to see people in desperate situations, clinging on to their businesses and not getting answers from local authorities, tax offices, local MPs and numerous silent government departments.
We have always known that the government department we sit in (DCMS) is not one that wields a lot of influence but to experience that when we needed help was very frustrating.
They were not kept in the loop and couldn’t answer basic questions relating to the way we operate as attraction businesses. To take the positive from that scenario is to hope that we are now better understood and that the importance of our sector is clearer to those government departments that did seem to make all the decisions, namely the cabinet office and the treasury.
The latter part of 2021 was a success for the larger outdoor attractions and a lot of the indoor as well. Allowing our industry to operate on a risk assessment basis was something we lobbied for from day one. That is an important message that actually got through. It is interesting to see how business models have had to change to accommodate this brave new world and it looks like a number of attractions will retain some of those modifications as they bring a more consistent flow to the number of visitors attending their sites. This also helps with the shortage of labour and the supply chain issues.
So we have battled through 2021 and look ahead to 2022. Nobody is taking anything for granted as there will be more twists and turns to face. Rent debts, loan repayments, staff shortages and supply chain issues are almost a given, but some of that can be balanced with a strong public appetite for visiting UK attractions, better communication internally, with key government departments, higher public profile, just ask Paultons (Peppa Pig World), upgraded operating procedures and, if we can maintain business rates and VAT assistance, then the outlook for 2022 looks really promising.