Tourism UK Sector Deal application update

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At last week’s Tourism Alliance meeting we received a verbally update on the process for completing the development of an agreed tourism Sector Deal to be present to UK Government. This is a quick and dirty summary of that briefing, with some salient background points added to ensure you understand the broad direction of travel and can brief others locally if it proves necessary. It is largely my interpretation of events and may not concur fully with the views of others involved or those actually running the process.

Put simplistically, if the application is successful tourism will gain recognition as one of a number of different industry sectors that UK Government wish to actively support.  They will demonstrate that support by, among other things, attempting to shape future policies and strategic direction to help deliver the vision set out in our sector deal as, for example, they are already doing for the automotive industry whose first round deal looked to make the UK world automotive technology leaders (policies on electric vehicles from 2040, support for battery technology, driver-less cars etc.). That support may or may not include: earmarked funding for any particular sector deal or access to wider challenge funding to be made available to businesses within either a specified, or in a range of other industry sector deals.  I.e. funding may or may not be attached dependant on the deal struck and the sector involved.  Essentially if we are not recognised by the granting of a deal it follows that we will not automatically get the priority and attention accorded to others sectors that are;  it is a bit of a, “be in it to win it”, scenario.

As with the first round of the sector deals, successful bids are thought most likely to be announced only in the annual budget (because many have funding implications); unusually the next opportunity being the new Autumn Budget on 22nd November 2017.  Recent changes made to the Annual Budget and Annual Statement timetable from the Spring Budget 2017 onward (they have been swapped around) mean that if we now miss this November’s Budget, it could be up to a year to the next full Budget opportunity and therefore potentially up to a year before any new associated Sector Deal are announcements.  The view is that we can’t really afford to miss the current opportunity simply by not applying at all, or by putting it off to a later round, if indeed there are further rounds.  Hence the need for necessary haste to develop and present a single, “industry agreed”, tourism sector deal application now.

The output of a number of working strands which started in early May including: the Chairman VisitBritain’s discussions with industry figures, the 4 thematic industry working groups, (we participated in two and contributed comment to one), various English regional and Home Nation meetings held by VisitBritain (VB) and the online industry consultation responses, are all now being drawn together by VB.  These will be used to produce an options paper to be presented in late September to the Tourism Minister John Glen MP and the Tourism Industry Council for their decision on the content and form that the application will take.  That application will then go to Department for Business, Energy & Industrial Strategy (BEIS) for their consideration and hopefully onward to the Treasury for announcement in the Autumn Budget.

Timelines are tight, so although all the material that has been produced during the consultation will, we are told, be made available to interested parties to view after the content of the deal is agreed, there is no plan to consult further with those who have contributed thus far, including the four industry working groups.  Any deal is likely to be couched in terms of a number of high level ambitions. The deal is therefore not being presented in the form of a detailed tourism strategy, as some assume, nor is the detail of delivery likely to be set in concreate at any point soon.  Indeed these details are highly likely to form the basis for further industry negotiation and discussions once the form of any deal is approved.

Since his appointment as the new Minister of tourism in July John Glen has decided to streamline the Tourism Industry Council from c 26 members down to 12 and within that more select group of 12 broaden the exiting representation from individual, major private sector business interests.  The most notable addition, mentioned so far, being Airbnb.  It will be this new streamlined Tourism Industry Council (full membership yet to be officially announced?) that will consider the options paper at the end of this month.

Given that tourism sits outside BEIS an application from  DCMS and the Tourism Industry Council,  in open consultation with a lot of the industry via various mechanisms, probably has far more chance of being accepted than that made by any single trade body or loose coalition of tourism interests acting alone or together. It is conceivable but hopefully now highly unlikely, that others within the industry might still put forward an alternative, narrower  tourism, hospitality, leisure or visitor economy sector deal application to BEIS.  Although it has been discussed as a possibility I am hoping it is either a largely unfounded rumour, or that the VB facilitated application will now prove to be strong enough to prevail over any opposition.

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