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New research shows the scale of initial impact on Ashford's visitor economy from Covid-19

Published: 03/02/2022
Kent and Sussex railway train

Visit Kent’s latest Economic Impact Model for 2020 published recently shows the severe initial impact on Ashford’s visitor economy from the Covid-19 pandemic.

The borough saw a 52% drop in visitors overall compared to 2019, and a 58.4% decline in value.

Independent research commissioned by Kent’s official Destination Management Organisation has revealed that £8 million was spent on average in the local economy each month in 2020, as a direct result of the region’s tourism and hospitality industry (compared to £20 million on average in 2019).

The number of tourism jobs across the borough also showed a decrease of 35.5% between 2019 and 2020 to 3,937, accounting for 7% of total employment in Ashford last year, although the proportion of jobs lost as a result of the Covid-19 pandemic across the borough was 3.5% less than the county-wide figure.

These latest figures provide a detailed – and incredibly important –picture of the impact on Ashford’s tourism and hospitality sector from the arrival of the pandemic, which saw the first National Lockdown taking place from March 2020.

Using the industry-respected Cambridge Economic Impact Model, the study measured the volume and value of tourism within the county in 2020, and the effect of visits and visitor expenditure on the local economy.

While the tourism and hospitality picture was exceptionally challenging throughout the region in 2020, these latest findings do show that the borough’s visitor economy performed above the national average across several areas.

When looking at direct expenditure linked to trips, visitors proportionally spent 5% more on food and drink in Ashford in 2020 than they did in 2019 – which is a real testament to its ever increasing and exciting food and drink offering.

When looking specifically at trip purpose, the proportion of those travelling to visit friends and relatives overnight in Ashford during 2020 rose by 11% (up from 38% in 2019 to 49%).

This demonstrates the incredible influence that ongoing support from the borough’s residents – who acted as ambassadors for their region, welcoming friends, and family to experience it first-hand - had on local businesses during a hugely difficult year.

The advocacy of Kent’s locals is strengthened further by findings from a separate study conducted by Visit Kent into resident’s perceptions of the impact of tourism across the Garden of England. This research highlighted that 88% of those surveyed during the summer of 2020 supported tourism in their local area. The same study showed that 80% of respondents felt as though tourism can improve local investment and development opportunities, and 67% considered their local area to be a tourist destination.

These latest figures provide a detailed – and incredibly important - picture of the impact on Ashford’s tourism and hospitality sector from the arrival of the Covid-19 pandemic.

Cllr Gerry Clarkson CBE, Leader of Ashford Borough Council said “This was a challenging time for Ashford; with Covid unavoidably, along with the rest of the country, having a negative impact on our visitor economy. However there is still much to be positive about.

“We’re very proud of the ongoing support shown by residents acting as ambassadors for the borough and of the fact that our tourism businesses were so quick to adapt and be part of the Visit Britain’s ‘We’re Good to Go’ campaign.

“The funding available for our tourism and hospitality businesses from various Covid grant schemes in 2020 and the council’s investment in the Experience Interreg programme - aimed at creating new sustainable experiences for visitors – helped contributes to our 3.5% lower than the county average number of tourism jobs lost across the borough.

“In 2022 with the easing of restrictions underway we hope to welcome more visitors to Ashford and Tenterden; to rediscover the delights of new eateries at Elwick Place or our more established attractions such as the Kent & East Sussex Railway, to celebrate the Queen’s Platinum Jubilee with us, or base themselves at the new Hampton by Hilton Hotel to explore this beautiful part of the Garden of England.”

To access the full Ashford Tourism Economic Impact Study 2020 report, head to the Visit Kent business website

For more information about Ashford’s tourism, head to the Visit Ashford and Tenterden website


About Visit Kent

Visit Kent Ltd is the Destination Management Organisation for Kent (the Garden of England).

It is recognised as one of the country’s leading DMOs, targeting UK and overseas markets to raise Kent’s profile as a premier destination, improving quality and skills within the industry, and growing investment in tourism. Visit Kent is a public/private sector partnership supported by Kent County Council, Medway Council, district and borough councils, and the leading sector tourism businesses in Kent.

For further information head to the Visit Kent website or for business head to the head to the Visit Kent business website

About the Cambridge Economic Impact Model

The figures were derived using the Cambridge Economic Impact Model undertaken by Sergi Jarques at Destination Research on behalf of Visit Kent. The Cambridge Economic Impact Model is an industry respected tool for measuring the economic impact of tourism in a given area. It utilises information from national tourism surveys and regional/local data (e.g., accommodation stock, domestic and inbound trips) of the level of tourism activity within a given local area.

Please note that all figures in the research reports have been rounded, therefore there might be marginal discrepancies in subtotals and totals.

Is it estimated that 2,415 actual jobs are supported by Bluewater, raising the total employment in that area to 6,186, or 10% of all employment in Dartford. Whilst it contributes to Kent’s visitor economy, the shopping and retail nature of the destination must be taken into consideration.