Leaders in the West Midlands have called on the government to allow the area to become a national testbed for an early reopening of the tourism, hospitality and cultural sectors.
The request has been made in a letter to culture secretary Oliver Dowden, sent jointly by Mayor of the West Midlands Andy Street; Fiona Allan, chair of the West Midlands Tourism Board and chief executive of Birmingham Hippodrome; and Martin Sutherland, chair of the West Midlands Cultural Leadership Board and chief executive of Coventry City of Culture 2021.
Street said: "Our tourism, hospitality and cultural sector was the first to close under the lockdown and is likely to be the last to reopen. Even then it will have to operate at a much-reduced capacity.
"But we believe we have a unique opportunity to re-establish the sector as a key economic driver in the region's post-Covid-19 recovery, and we are asking government to pilot the West Midlands as the region where this sector opens up faster than in other areas. This way we can lead the way and help strike the right balance between safety and outputs, allowing other regions to follow suit."
An earlier than planned reopening under a pilot scheme, it is said, would provide "a much-needed boost" to the region's key visitor destinations such as Stratford-upon-Avon, Warwick and the National Exhibition Centre (NEC).
Allan said: "This region has incredible cultural assets, which attract visitors from around the country – including theatres, galleries, festivals, museums and heritage sites, not to mention our incredible food and beverage offer – and it is vital we find a way for these businesses to open as soon as possible.
"We need to be promoting our region as a visitor destination now or we may miss the opportunities afforded by both Coventry City of Culture in 2021 and the Commonwealth Games in 2022."
Paul Thandi, chief executive of the Birmingham-based NEC Group, added: "I fully support this approach from fellow business leaders. It aligns with the lobbying efforts we have made for the demonstration of how a quicker and safe return of controlled events can be achieved as a viable option for government.
"As the UK's largest live events business, the group has worked extensively to develop a comprehensive return to business blueprint. We have already approached government about piloting public events on behalf of the UK venue and live events industry, so are well placed to contribute to this West Midlands pilot.
"This could act as a real beacon of hope for our industry in the West Midlands but also nationally for the whole of the live events sector. One of us opens, we are all open."