CSR – VisitBritain and VisitEngland update

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The apparently good news of £40m Discover England Fund to boost tourism across England (over 3 years), plus an increase in the total budget available for the Greats Campaign to £60m (for the various agency and departmental participants), and no cuts in VB or VE’s current core budget was originally only slightly marred by the decision not to separate VB and VE, as had been recently recommended in the Triennial Review.  My immediate reaction to that was, “oh well the current arrangement isn’t really that bad and VB and VE have managed to rub along together since the 2009 British Tourism Framework Review recommended the reformation of an English Board after all, so where’s the problem?”.  The problem is that this assumed that, “not to separate”’ means: retain the current status quo in the VB VE structures and relationships, which apparently isn’t the case.

The Minister subsequently described the plan as, “….no longer separating VisitBritain and VisitEngland but are bringing them closer together”.   VB, the accountable body for VE, in its industry release then went much further suggesting perhaps, as I read it, that VE will revert to being an internal arm within, or indeed just a part of VB, as they were for a long  period in the 2000s, pre 2009:

“Changes to our governance arrangements will mean that VisitEngland will report into VisitBritain and the VisitEngland board will be an advisory body”.

“VisitBritain will have over-arching responsibility for setting the strategic framework and for driving growth in international leisure and business tourism, including the development of English tourism products that appeal to overseas markets. We will maintain distinct activities to develop and market English products through a dedicated plan and with a ring-fenced budget”.

Doubtless some national organisations and major businesses will be comfortable with VB the international marketing body under the direction of its 6/7 person (Chairman VE Ex officio) Board, that includes representative of the other home nations and London (but not the English regions) having, “responsibility for”, the international and domestic product development and international and domestic marketing of England, albeit “advised by the VE board”.  I am also certain that many others and, in particular, those that are as, or more reliant on the 80% domestic as opposed to the 20% international tourism markets will be alarmed in the extreme when they actually realise what lies behind the headline good news; a realisation that in our fragmented industry may take many months.  Moreover, the other home nations and indeed the wider English industry were never comfortable with VB having a dual and frankly conflicting international Britain v England domestic and international remit before (see attached 2009 BTF Review document), so why should they be any more comfortable with it now?

The apparent decision to reverse VE into VB isn’t just at odds with the recent recommendations of the Governments own internal independent Triennial review, it also flies in the face of the recommendations of VB’s own  2009 independent British Tourism Framework Review. The relevant highlights of both, which I urge you to read are accessible below. What they appear to be planning to do now is more or less precisely what that 2009 review recommended shouldn’t happen or be allowed to continue!  DCMS and by association VB, in my view, are not only going to, at best damage, if not destroy the internal, national down to local domestic and, by implication, international delivery structures in England, but they are going to do so in a manner that will  frankly make them look stupid, simply because they will be doing exactly what their own recent and relatively recent advice is telling them not to do.

Moreover, what is the point of giving the industry in England the funding it so badly needs to encourage growth whilst at the same time taking away the proven mechanism that can deliver it for them?  And all apparently to make some marginal administrative savings?  Or is it part of some dogmatic, doctrinal experiment in cutting  domestic tourism loose entirely in the  hope that market forces, the industry and local determination and local  devolution will take care of domestic tourism in England, whilst VB simply get on and manage, as they do best, the international marketing of England and Britain ?  Your guess is as good as mine.

In the absence of the Policy Director, Chair and Vice Chairman of the Tourism Alliance who are on leave, I have been asked to try and coordinate a short letter from the Tourism Alliance welcoming the headline news but questioning the rationale of the apparent decision to not to split VB and VE but instead to effectively remove it as an independent national board for England.  Given the nature and make-up of the Alliance that’s not that easily done. Having recently organised a high level industry letter to the Chancellor on the subject of VE, I am now also in the frame to organise a follow-up letter, this time directed to the Secretary of State DCMS on the above lines . If I can draw breath I will also try and do something from British Destinations  before week is out .  However, as final decision point is next week, somewhere around  8th/9th  December, I am also  minded to ask that individual British Destination members and anyone else who has concerns might like to write now expressing their own views, whatever they may be, to:

Rt Hon. John Whittingdale, OBE, MP, Secretary of State, Department for Culture, Media & Sport, 100, Parliament Street, London, SW1A 2BQ  secretary.statesoffice@culture.gov.uk

CCed to the Tourism  Minister

Tracey Crouch MP, Parliamentary Under Secretary of State, Department for Culture, Media & Sport 100, Parliament Street,  London, SW1A 2BQ minister-sportsandtourism@culture.gov.uk

For more pertinent information access the highlights of the 2009 British Tourism Framework and 2015 Triennial Reviews at: https://britishdestinations.net/599-2/content/summary-points-british-tourism-framework-and-triennial-reviews/

You can also respond to me with your thoughts at: peter.hampson@btconnect.com

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