National policy update

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I attended both the Tourism Alliance Board meeting and their afternoon policy briefing session in London yesterday.   Points of possible interest to colleagues that I took away from the meetings and conversations at the fringes include:

Sector Deal.  Negotiations with Government continue; it’s not over the line yet but with luck it could be and possibly even quite soon.  Skills, business visits and events and the creation of a number of “tourism zones” are now the key components.  Connectivity, one of the original pillars of the consultation with industry, appears to have diminished in its profile, if not disappeared entirely.  Previous assurances that any Tourism Sector Deal wouldn’t become the sole focus for future relationships between the Westminster Government and the tourism industry also appear to have weakened; there is now talk of the Sector Deal “replacing” the existing 5 point plan/ tourism strategy. It may be just a matter of semantics but nonetheless, it is a source of concern since the Sector Deal components alone don’t come anywhere near to addressing the full range of needs and the problems requiring government intervention within such a large and diverse “industry” as “tourism”.

The strategic objective remains to get the principles of a sector deal approved by Government and then deal with the fine detail during the subsequent negotiations which will inevitable follow between any headline approval and  the actual start date for implementation of any deal agreed.  In being persuaded to support this approach I sincerely hope that we don’t inadvertently find ourselves corralled and with a definitive Deal that doesn’t necessarily support the full range of the needs of much of our industry.

Forthcoming CSR. The Westminster Government has just started year 4 of the current 5 year financial cycle and, as confirmed by the PM in January, there will be a full Comprehensive Spending Review undertaken in 2019 designed to set departmental budgets for the next 5 year period commencing April 2020.  The CSR gives us a fleeting opportunity to help set priorities and shape national conditions for UK tourism up to 2025 and critically (if we broadly all agree) to press the case within that for adequate resource (at least the same and preferably more) for VisitBritain and, as currently constituted, for VisitEngland within VB.  We could of course also use this opportunity to seek to a return to a more (totally?) independently structured VE and/or for a return to a much stronger domestic, tourism development and a domestic marketing role for it, either within or without the current VB structure.

We do need to be mindful that the CSR negotiations are multi layered. There is a case to be made to DCMS about tourism.  There is then the case to be made to Treasury by DCMS regarding funding for their full portfolio of digital, culture, heritage, media, sport and tourism and then the subsequent negotiations, post the CSR announcements regarding who gets what from DCMS’s actually annual allocation and how they then prioritise the competing demands for the usually smaller amounts made available to them. The bigger the ask and the higher the associated cost, the less likely we are to get it.

In all of this I would also seek your agreement to lobby strongly for the protection, if not enhancement, of certain specific VB/VE roles and functions, most notably the collection, interpretation and presentation of national domestic, international tourism and day visitor research and statistics.  There are certain things that nationally  we can muddle through without or botch together.  We know this largely because successive budget cuts and reorganisations have forced us to do just that, off and on, over the last 25 plus years. However, the coordination, production of  timely, continuous, comparable national statistics isn’t one of those areas we can possible fudge and it is therefore an area that needs to be robustly defended.

GBTS/IPS data delays. There has apparently been a glitch with GBTS following the move to online data collection.  It seems likely that full 2017 year data and any outstanding late 2017 early 2018 monthly’s data sets may not now be published until July or later.  Similar issue may be developing with IPS as its collection has also recently moved online.  VB and its National Tourist Board partners are working with their contractors to rectify the problems at the earliest opportunity. Clearly getting the statistics correct and resolving any underlying collection or analysis issues, is far more important than getting the data published sooner, regardless.

I think we can be reassured that the problem is in very safe hands and is being dealt with, albeit that it does means that some national data and any local full year 2017 data, that is either partly derived from or calibrated with GBTS/IPS may now also be delayed.

Package Travel Regulation. The revised EU PTR comes into force in the UK and indeed across the rest of Europe in July of this year.  In essence it introduces a wider definition of what constitutes a package, introduces a new category of package covered by the regulation, the “Linked Travel Arrangements”, and it requires businesses to inform customers of whether or not the goods and services they are offering are protected by PTR.  Currently there is much that isn’t protected that customers might naturally assume is covered.

The regulation also clarifies that car hire is an item in its own right for the purposes of calculating whether two or more items are being sold together, which would then constitute a package.  This will bring a raft of mainly flight and car hire only deals under the regulation.  The regulation also brings dynamic packaging under its remit, making organisation that have previously argued that they are merely selling other people’s products on their behalf and collects money centrally in one payment responsible for the package and therefore now liable to comply with PTR.  Depending on the precise circumstance this could well affect several DMO sales models and those certain other information, sales and distribution businesses and services.

The new regulation also closes the loophole whereby payment for a package of items could be taken separately for each element without it being deemed a “package” by simply taking payment details once and then passing these details securely between each of the businesses involved.  A package will now be formed if a period of less than 24 hours lapse between each payment being taken for each of the component parts.  Some DMOs may operate sales and services on this basis?

Linked travel arrangements will almost certainly catch a number of DMOs, partner and local businesses.  LTA’s are deemed to have been made where items are bought and paid for separately but are clearly contingent on each other.  Thus, whilst it might be permissible to suggest to guests on your website that whilst they stay they might wish to book to play golf at a local course with no liability and without an LTA being formed, the same wouldn’t be true if the property advertised much the same arrangement as, “a golf weekend”. By inference staying at the premises and being able to play golf are contingent on each other’s availability.  Clearly there is a lot of potential scope for LTAs to be formed around destination events, cultural activities sport, arts programmes and even in carelessly framed general destination promotion and general partnership working.

Fortunately, LTA’s are less onerous in that there is no legal liability attached to the first party for the second party’s product or for an accidents and other events that may occur whilst with the second party (as there are with a true package).  You will, however, be required to clearly inform the customer that there is no protection offered via what is effectively a recommendation and, bizarrely perhaps, there is also a requirement to have insolvency insurance for your own business, in order to be legal able to offer an LTA product.  What the implications of having to have insolvency insurance are for DMOs I have yet to investigate.

The good news is that Government guidance on the new package travel regulation will be published in July, at about the same time the regulation comes in to effect.  Recognising that this is not ideal trading standards, who will be responsible for enforcing the new regulations have (or will be been instructed in England at least) to take a light touch approach to enforcing the regulation, some of which, in any case will, not be properly established without case-law being developed, a process that typically takes a number of years or more.  The underlying message for any organisation that isn’t already a major package travel operator and therefore already conversant with much of the PTR is, “don’t worry unduly”.   Nothing will happen overnight and what does eventually happen, will not be too onerous and commensurate with the scale of the operation being run i.e. small businesses doing small things to improve sales and customer experience are not the target of this regulation.  I do recognise that for DMO and especially any DMO that is based largely around a local authority department, there will be real tensions around knowingly having to ignore regulation, particularly if it is your own services that are technically in breach and where it is almost certainly part of your own wider organisation that is responsible for the local enforcement.

People 1st You may have heard that regrettably, People 1st the sector skills council for hospitality, passenger transport, travel and tourism in the UK went into administration in late April (pension liability rather than trading issues?).  Fortunately the Workforce Development Trust has now acquired key strategic elements of the skills and talent management organisation allowing People 1st to continue as a standalone organisation, enabling it to continue focusing on its key activities including apprenticeships, EQA, accreditation services and work in the devolved nations and international markets.  Unfortunately, it seems that the People 1st’s highly valued insights & opinion (research and statistics) prevision may have been lost in this process.

There is more but this is more than enough for one update…

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