Tourism chiefs are targeting mobile phone-friendly travel booking sites such as Expedia and Airbnb to try to attract overseas and staycation visitors to Sussex.
They are particularly keen to boost the number of business guests and other overnight visitors – as opposed to day-trippers – because they tend to spend more.
But Sussex needs a fresh identity and its tourism sector needs a digital transformation, political and business leaders were told yesterday.
The scale of the challenge was spelt out to the Greater Brighton Economic Board by Donna Chisholm, assistant director for culture, tourism and sport at Brighton and Hove City Council.
She told a virtual meeting of the board that strategic work was under way to support tourism across Sussex as the economy recovered from the coronavirus pandemic.
This included efforts to create a stronger identity as well as a single voice for Sussex and its attractions – in the way that Cornwall and Kent had managed.
And the drive to boost international and domestic bookings meant working “at a deep level” with online platforms such as Expedia and Airbnb to offer not just a place to stay but entire holidays.
Other market leaders such as Booking.com and Lastminute.com are in their sights, with more people turning to dot-com digital booking platforms on their phones as they looked to plan their next break.
Tourism in Sussex should focus on quality not quantity, she said, or value rather than volume, with overnight visitors accounting for 11 per cent of tourists but half the spend.
Visitors from overseas made up just 2 per cent of visitors to Sussex but spent 19 per cent of the income derived from tourism.
In contrast, the share of “day visitors” – about 55 million a year to the county – accounted for about £2 billion of spending.
The sector employed about 80,000 people before the covid pandemic and was worth £4 billion to £5 billion a year to the local economy.
She said: “We can’t assume this is going to return. We can’t assume that the tourism sector and the visitor economy more widely is going to bounce back.
“There has been quite significant damage done to it – and the world is changing rapidly.
“We must help the sector to recover … into the winter and into next spring is particularly important, beyond the staycation summer.”