A hard-hitting report from the British Chambers of Commerce has opened up the debate about Government support for tourism. The BCC report, entitled Backing UK Tourism: Destination Recovery, calls for tourism policy to be removed from the Department for Culture, Media and Sport and placed in a big-hitting government department with a full-time minister.
The BCC argues that tourism is being short-changed within the Government, in spite of its standing as the UK’s fifth largest industry sector, employing 1.4 million people and generating revenues of £85bn. Further growth of the industry is being impeded by a lack of clear direction to the many public sector bodies that have a stake in its development.
Placing tourism within a heavyweight government department would bring the UK into line with several European partners in tackling tourism-related policy and legislation issues. In France, tourism minister Hervé Novelli serves within the Ministry of the Economy, Industry and Employment, at the heart of the French Government. In Germany, tourism is supported directly by the Federal Ministry of Economics and Labour, emphasising the central role played by tourism-related businesses in the economy and jobs market.
The BCC is the network of Chambers of Commerce across the UK, and speaks for 100,000 local businesses that employ over five million people nationally. Chief among the reforms it proposes is to place tourism under the remit of Lord Mandelson’s Department for Business, Innovation and Skills. The report says it is an anomaly that this newly-created department holds responsibility for other major sectors of the economy like aerospace, chemicals, construction, manufacturing, engineering and retail, but does not oversee the fifth largest sector of the economy, tourism.
“Tourism will play a key role in Britain’s future economy, but the industry needs stronger, clearer support from Government to reach its full potential,” said Adam Marshall, BCC’s Director of Policy. “This is a sector which can rapidly create jobs, even in the current economic conditions, yet it suffers from an extremely confused support structure. Ministers need to recognise the potential of the industry and make necessary reforms, which will help underpin the UK’s economic recovery.”
Grant Hearn, Chief Executive of Travelodge, who sponsored the report, said that the tourism industry needed heavyweight support within Government: “The challenge we must overcome is one of muddled policy decisions and a structure which causes confusion and indifference within the corridors of Whitehall.”
The report says the weight that the relatively small DCMS carries within Government on economic issues makes it difficult for the tourism sector to be considered an important industry within Whitehall. This is of critical importance when issues such as transport, planning, visas, migration, tax, environment and international trade are overseen by other departments.
“Britain’s tourism industry deserves the chance to unlock its full potential, and subsequently help drive the economy out of recession. In order to do so, the industry requires a more effective system of targeted support and a coordinated effort between government at all levels and the industry itself,” said David Frost, BCC Director General.
The recent inauguration of a cross-Whitehall tourism group, the Tourism Advisory Council, has been welcomed by Bob Cotton, chairman of the Tourism Alliance. Writing in his annual report he said it should be of benefit in the development of policy and legislation and take into account the needs of the tourism industry.
“One thing that doesn’t slow down during a recession is the promulgation of new legislation,” writes Cotton. “The maintenance of strong trade associations in this environment is especially important as we go into an election next year and there is considerable work to be done to ensure that the manifestos of the main parties reflect the needs of the tourism industry.”
Key issues for UK government ministers across the departmental structures include reducing taxation on incoming visitors, regulatory costs on businesses, skills training for the hospitality, travel and tourism workforce, and a review of funding for VisitBritain’s marketing functions. “And there continues to be uncertainty regarding the Government’s tourism strategy for the 2012 Olympics,” said Bob Cotton. “The Government’s approach to tourism support seems simply to be to develop a British City of Culture programme rather than truly resolve the lack of coordination between tourism marketing at the national, regional and local levels.”
The BCC report is available for download in full on the website www.britishchambers.org.uk
Tourism Alliance’s Annual Report 2009 is available at www.tourismalliance.com
by David Browne