Tourist Accommodation Retention Supplementary Planning Document

2 Background and Context


2.1 Eastbourne is one of the largest providers of tourist accommodation in the South East outside London, and has the 26th highest supply of hotel rooms in the country. However it is important that a seaside resort like Eastbourne has the right quality and quantity of tourist accommodation because if this is not right, visitors are unlikely to return.

2.2 In 2014, around 707,000 visitors stayed overnight in Eastbourne, staying for an average of just under three nights each. The majority of overnight stays were from domestic visitors (92%). Overnight visitors spent £167.8 million in Eastbourne, equating to approximately £237 each. This compares to approximately £29 each for day trippers. This demonstrates how important overnight stays and tourist accommodation is for the local economy.

2.3 Eastbourne has approximately 250 accommodation establishments (including hotels, guest houses, Bed & Breakfast and self-catering lets) with a total of around 3,500 rooms. 63% of Eastbourne's hotels are independent establishments, which is second only to Blackpool across the country.

2.4 In Eastbourne, a number of hotels are located immediately adjacent to the seafront, with the areas immediately behind the seafront being a mixture of residential and tourist accommodation. Many of the properties in this area were initially built as residential properties, which means that there is pressure to convert the buildings used as tourist accommodation back into residential. It is important to recognise that in such areas, residential and tourism uses can co-exist and that one use does not necessarily have to dominate.

2.5 Visitor Research conducted in 2012 indicated that accommodation usage in Eastbourne varies significantly by trip type and age of visitor. Hotels are more popular for those on a repeat visit, for couples, and older visitors, whilst B&B establishments have greater appeal amongst first time visitors, especially the under 35s.

2.6 The Tourist Accommodation Study identifies that there has been a notable change in holiday behaviour amongst British residents since 2008, with the 'staycation' phenomenon emerging in response to the economic recession. However, trends are showing that consumers are increasingly enjoying taking multiple trips throughout the year rather than waiting for a single 'big' holiday. This has resulted in the average stay becoming shorter, with the average domestic holiday-taker being older and more affluent.

2.7 Overall, the volume of holiday trips to seaside destinations has declined over recent years, and for the first time has been overtaken by trips to city destinations, which have been increasing along with rural breaks. The decline in seaside trips can be explained by the fact that, although seaside resorts have under-utilised capacity and readily available tourism infrastructure, it is often not up to the quality and standard that modern-day visitors expect.


2.8 The current policy position relating to the retention of Tourist Accommodation is defined in the Eastbourne Borough Plan 2001-2011, which was adopted in 2003. This designates an area known as the Tourist Accommodation Area, which represents what is considered to be the area where visitors would most expect to find visitor accommodation. Within the Tourist Accommodation Area, applications that would result in the loss of tourist accommodation would only be permitted if it can be demonstrated that the tourist accommodation is unviable.

2.9 A Local Plan review is currently taking place, and this will allow new planning policies relating to tourist accommodation to be put in place. However it is unlikely that this will be adopted until around 2020.

2.10 Therefore, this SPD will provide direction on how the existing policy should be interpreted and implemented in light of changes in the tourism market and current trends. The success of this SPD will influence the creation of new policies for tourist accommodation for the new Eastbourne Local Plan.

Definition of Tourist Accommodation

2.11 For planning purposes, tourist accommodation is not precisely defined. However, in Eastbourne for the purposes of this policy, Tourist Accommodation is defined as:

An establishment that has a room, or rooms, to rent for a fixed period generally no greater than three months. This accommodation is not the renter's primary residence and the renter generally contributes to the revenue of the town, is not registered to vote in the town and is not a burden on local social services.



Retaining an appropriate amount of accommodation

2.12 It is essential that Eastbourne retains sufficient bedspaces to form a critical mass of accommodation that maintains the town's reputation as a tourist destination. More important though is that the tourist accommodation stock remains fit for purpose and meets the requirements of current and future visitors to the town.

2.13 In addition, within the Tourist Accommodation Area, the availability of sites for hotel development is very limited, and there is pressure from competing higher value uses, particularly residential. As such, hotel sites relinquished to other uses are unlikely to be replaced by new hotel development. It is therefore important that viable hotels are retained to provide opportunities for new entrants to the tourist accommodation market that offer differentiated and distinct products that would enhance the destination's overall competitiveness.


Rebalancing the tourist accommodation stock to meet market demands

2.14 Eastbourne has a large concentration of smaller independent two and three-star hotels, a significant proportion of which previously catered for the coaching market. Consequently, some of the smaller independent hotels towards the lower end of the quality spectrum are increasingly struggling to compete as they cannot offer the quality of accommodation that visitors expect.

2.15 In order to compete in a difficult and challenging market, these establishments often lower their prices to attract custom. This drives other accommodation providers to reconsider their pricing. This ultimately drives down the average room rate and occupancy levels, particularly during the low season, and means that owners are unable to continue to invest in the maintenance and upkeep of the property resulting in a downward spiral of poorer quality accommodation.

2.16 This has implications on how visitors perceive Eastbourne in terms of the quality of their visit and the likelihood of them returning or providing recommendations, and also on how investors perceive Eastbourne. This restricts the ability of the town to diversify the tourist accommodation offer attract a broader range of visitors to Eastbourne thereby enhancing the destination's overall competitiveness.

2.17 It is therefore considered that a reduction in this accommodation stock is required to ensure that it should help stimulate investment in better quality accommodation appealing to a broader range of visitors.

2.18 Therefore, there needs to be a rebalancing of the tourist accommodation supply with future emphasis on quality rather than quantity. This can be achieved by allowing obsolete accommodation in secondary locations to exit the market, thereby allowing average room rates to increase and a tourist accommodation provider to invest in increasing the quality of their offer. This in turn will allow Eastbourne's tourist accommodation to develop more organically and in turn appeal to and attract new markets.


Protecting the character of the seafront

2.19 The hotels fronting the seafront, from the Western Lawns down to Treasure Island, gives the seafront a locally significant character that makes a particular contribution to the town as a destination.

2.20 The importance of well-maintained hotel façades is crucial to the character and appearance of the seafront, and also these locations are where tourist accommodation will be most viable due to the sea views.

2.21 The provision of Houses in Multiple Occupancy (HMOs) is a significant threat to the attractiveness of the seafront. The presence of HMOs in the prime tourist areas does not portray a positive image of the destination, and could adversely impact the visitor experience. Therefore Borough Plan Policy HO14, which restricts Houses in Multiple Occupation being created from tourist accommodation within the Tourist Accommodation Area, should still be applied. Eastbourne Borough Council will be developing a policy to manage HMOs throughout the rest of the town through the new Local Plan.


A clear and consistent policy

2.22 In order for the SPD to be effective, it needs to be easily understood and applied consistently.

2.23 Policies also need to allow for an element of sensitivity as to how they are implemented in order to reflect changing circumstances. It is important that planning policy does not seek to attempt to perpetuate outdated forms of tourist accommodation for which there is no longer a market.

2.24 It is also important that there is regular monitoring of changes in occupancy levels and room rates in order to understand how successful the policy is. This would also create a robust evidence base against which to compare the performance of an individual accommodation establishment.


Encourage owners to run their businesses appropriately

2.25 The SPD should make a distinction between those establishments that are no longer viable, and those that have not been run and managed effectively.

2.26 The increasing demands for housing puts pressure on lower value uses to convert, meaning that a hotel could be worth significantly more than its business value if it becomes available for residential development. This could tempt some hotel owners to seek to sell for residential conversion instead of selling the hotel as a going concern. This does not necessarily mean that such hotels are no longer commercially viable or would not find buyers if they were put onto the market as tourist accommodation.

2.27 Providing a strong policy that provides clarity in terms of what should or should not be submitted to accompany an application will remove unrealistic expectations and provide encouragement to operators to make a success of their businesses. It will also assist in requiring that the premises are marketed at more realistic prices that would allow the purchase of a going concern.