I attended a meeting in Manchester last Friday (15 June) with the Shadow Tourism Minister Kevin Brennan MP and colleagues, mostly from Manchester and Liverpool City Regions and Lancashire, as part of an ongoing series of future tourism policy development roundtable discussions. The agenda included:
- Staff recruitment and retention
- Industrial strategy and regulation
- Business regulation
- Supporting communities and destinations
Although not specifically on the agenda as a separate item, the growing acceptance of the need for local tourism levies to fund increasing gaps in tourism and visitor economy support, especially among major Cities like Manchester and Liverpool was discussed.
In addition to partaking in the general debate I was also able to registered the following strategic policy points from our list of lobbying drip-feed issues:
- The call for tourism levies were in large part driven by drastic reductions in public funding for destination management, marketing, place making, regeneration and economic development and other key public realm service provision. Although perhaps not easily achieved, a Labour Government might reasonably be asked, as an alternative to a potentially contentious tourism tax, to look towards a return to a more appropriate levels of public funding relative to the importance of the visitor economy for key public service provision. I.e. a reapportionment of existing business and other tax revenue, rather than new “taxes”, for tax raising’s sake.
- Beyond the headline of staff training, the underlying and far more difficult issues around affordable accommodation in the training and especially staff retention debate, particularly within Cities and in popular rural tourism hotspots. I.e. the inability to be able to live and work, long-term in an industry that is often collocated with property hotspots. Others present reinforced this and added that public transport to work during often unsociable hours was also problem, even within major Cities. The shorter-term role of businesses providing good quality staff accommodation was also aired but it was acknowledged that this worthy aim doesn’t really address the longer-term “liveability” problems that probably rest more with affordable housing policies.
- The concept of celebrating the visitor economy as a training ground for key customer facing skills for other industries, thus, making turnover a positive recruitment tool rather than simply decrying high turnover and in doing so reinforcing negative perception about longer-term prospects within the industry.
- The need for better recognition and appropriate support for the domestic tourism market in England. Although c 80% to 20% on average nationally, the value and volume for many popular destinations once London and other honey pots were taken in to account was in usually in the very high 90% range. Current national policy is dismissive of the role of domestic tourism, focusing any support available largely on attracting international tourists. The domestic and international tourism infrastructure are often one in the same thing and under-investing domestically has downstream consequences for international tourism as well as core domestic tourism.
- The perceived need for an independent English Tourist Board with a broad remit for supporting English tourism, including domestic marketing and product development.
- The need to rein in on the worst excesses of the online, sharing and gig economies, to ensure fairness and appropriate application of regulation for all businesses and adequate levels of safety and physical and financial protection for the customers.
I was not able to properly air:
- Potential concerns that funding for the current levels of international (IPS), domestic and outbound (GBTS) and day trip national research might be seen as an area for easy post BREXIT saving, given that the current levels have been protected to a large degree by statutory Eurostat requirements. There is no evidence to suggest that this is planned but the retention of the current national statistic is of such importance that preemptive action is justifiable.
- Nor was I able to register the idea that Treasury’s ingrained view that domestic tourism is an economic displacement activity and therefore not worthy of publicly funded support might be changed by wider Government being encouraged to regard tourism and the visitor economy as a distributor of economic wealth, economic activity and employment. In an increasingly polarised economy how else might economic benefit be easily distributed from hotspots, like London and the SE and the UK’s cities, to economic cold spots like the SW, the Lake or Peak Districts, most coastal communities and other popular but economically isolated communities? A relatively simple change in Treasury’s position on the economic role and function of domestic tourism would allow some very different policy approaches to be applied by the UK Government, particularly within England (the devolved Governments already have a different position and attitude towards the value of domestic tourism and the need to support it).
I briefly raised these issues after the meeting closed and was asked to provide an email note on the these and any other issues that had not been aired, which I will now do.