Month: May 2019

Three new reports added and some background news on IPS developments

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I have added 3 new reports to Britishdestinations.net. All relatively high level and none of them lend themselves to be easily summarised or to recommend a few key pages:

1. Town Centres Whats next?  Based on a survey of 250 towns and cities using 24 variables the Cushman & Wakefield’s Resilience Index has been updated with the government’s future High Street Fund in mind and has been designed to consider which locations have been more resilient and why in order to assess what needs to be done in future.  The 14-page report summarises the key findings. Regrettably as a commercial taster piece, it doesn’t contain the detail for all 250 towns surveyed but does reference both the top ten and some of the poorer performers. Nonetheless, some interesting information presented largely by type of town and some thoughts on headline responses to high street resilience. Cushman & Wakefield would clearly be happy to discuss the detail further with individual destinations.

2. Destination London: The Expansion of the Visitor Economy. Produced collaboratively by members of the Tourism and Events Research Group of the University of Westminster the book analyses how and why the expansion of the visitor economy is happening and what effect this is having on the city. Although somewhat academic in style, some or all of the 11 individual chapters will be of interest to destination mangers in other cities, while some chapters, for example, chapter 3 – Unplanned Expansions: Renting Private Homes to Tourism, or Chapter 10 – Event Takeover? The Commercialisation of London’s Parks will be of  interest to a wider destination management audience, potentially providing useful examples or supporting evidence for similar local concerns.

Access both reports via the Research & statistics by year page of Britishdestinations.net at:  https://britishdestinations.net/research-and-statistics/

3. Interest in holiday activities in Britain.  The latest edition of VisitBritain’s Foresight research is based on the results of an addition question sponsored by VB in the IPSOS survey in 2018 – 19: “If you went on holiday to Britain which of the following  activities would you most like to do?”. Respondents in 15 countries were asked to pick as many activities from a list of 35 as they wanted.  The survey has endeavoured to include some aspect of almost every destination type or an appropriate representative activity.  By its nature some destinations will find this report more useful than others.  This report can be found in the protected VistBritain page at: https://britishdestinations.net/members-area/content/visitbritain-november-2013-latest-edition-of-forsights-and-vb-trend-updates/  Members who have lost the password can email me for the detail.

At yesterday’s VisitBritain, British Tourism Industry Group meeting we were briefed on plans to revise the International Passenger Survey (IPS) results.  Not something that VB the other partner National Tourist Boards or ONS would wish to do unless absolutely necessary, the action has been triggered by obvious anomalies in the visitor figures for China.  The survey will be suspended for 3 month between September and October and adjustments applied.  New figures going forward and revised figures for past years will then be issued. Overall inbound visitor numbers across all markets are unlikely to increase but total value probably will.  Outbound UK resident numbers are also likely to increase, alongside the value.  Other than for those directly involved in producing local value and volume statistic this one to be aware of rather than for any specific action now.

We were also told that having paid for an increased  IPS sample size, the recent introduction of new technology used to collect the data had actually resulted in VB seeing a reduction in sample size.  This has had a corresponding impact on the confidence intervals, but primarily only for the regions and nations already represented by relatively smaller numbers of respondents.  For all other areas the impact would be negligible. This had been raised and ONS were addressing the issue to ensure the sample size was increased and maintained.

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Which? reports criticises major OTA’s

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Last week Which? published a report criticising the continuing use of, “dodgy practices” by major Online Travel Agents (OTAs) ahead of the summer season.  The report does, in the OTA’s defence, acknowledges that following a Competition and Marketing Authority (CMA) investigation concluded in early February 2019, the 6 major OTA’s directly involved in the original investigation still have until 1 September 2019 to comply.  The essence of the Which? report is that these OTA’s are acting too slowly to phase out the four main misleading promotional techniques widely used and, thus, holiday makers could be, “left out of pocket” if booking with them before 1 September 2019.  The report can be accessed via the “Sharing economy and OTAs” main menu tab or go direct to: https://britishdestinations.net/tourism-the-sharing-economy-and-its-wider-implications/

Earlier reports on the investigation and the findings can be found further down the same Britishdestinations.net page.  In considering the Which? report it is worth noting that:

CMA did not produce a finding on whether the sites breached the consumer protection law (only a court can do this), but as a result of its findings and the voluntary compliance of the six sites in question, the authority set out standards by which it will monitor their compliance:

  • The OTAs must make it clearer how hotels are ranked in search results and tell consumers when the results rankings have been affected by the amount of commission the hotel pays the site.
  • The OTAs cannot give a false impression of the availability or popularity of a search result or otherwise rush consumers into booking decisions based on incomplete information. For example, if a site shows that other consumers are looking at the same hotel, they must make it clear that those consumers may be searching for different dates.
  • The OTAs must be clearer about discounts and promote only deals that are available at that time, as well as use similar properties and price periods in comparisons. “For example, some sites were comparing a higher weekend room rate with a weekday rate or comparing the price of a luxury suite with a standard room.”
  • The OTAs must display all mandatory charges, including taxes, booking fees, or resort fees in the headline price. They may show such charges individually in a price breakdown, but the total cost must be shown up front.

If the OTAs breach the terms of the voluntary agreements, the CMA may opt to apply to the courts for an enforcement order.  Given these circumstances only time will tell whether the CMA findings are as definitive or its voluntary agreement approach as effective as many in the rest of tourism industry might have originally assumed.  It is also unclear, to me at least, what if any progress the CMA has made towards obtaining voluntary agreements from any other OTAs.  Ownership of different platforms by the same groups almost certainly complicate this; for example, several of the original six OTA’s involved in the CMA agreement are part of the same group, but not all of that group’s platforms are as yet included.

If nothing else the Which? report is extremely helpful in keeping the issue in the public eye and in doing so ensuring that the CMA are also alive to developments, or the lack of them, up to 1 September and critically beyond.  Instinct suggest to me that the February finding where not the end of the matter and that OTA’s and questionable marketing practice issues may have some way yet to run.

New report published – Public toilet provision hits the national headlines

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Perhaps not necessarily mainstream for the majority of member representative? This may be one to circulate to colleagues who may be directly responsible and to scan yourselves so you can find and reference it, next time the issue of public toilet provision raises its head, as I know it regularly does in almost every popular rural and built destinations of whatever type and size.

The Royal Society for Public Health’s report Taking the P*** – The Decline of the Great British Public Toilet, published today is proving some light relief in a sea of media coverage on Brexit and the associated intrigue.  As such it may well trigger some immediate local interest in what, for many, is a perennial argument around what needs to be provided, by whom, and at what cost, to whom.

The report may be useful in evidencing that this isn’t a simple issue or purely a problematic area for your destination(s) alone.  Depending on local circumstance, it may also prove helpful in supporting the current local policy position, or provide a new platform for the case for change, if either are needed.

At 15 pages it isn’t long but if pressed for time and you want the gist scan: Key Points and Call for Action on page 3, paragraphs 3.6 Funding and 3.7 Conclusions on page 12 and read the five conclusions boxes on page 13 and 14 (that’s pages 3 and 12 to 14 complete). The rest is of the report provides more context if and when it is needed.  I hope, that as intended, this helps busy colleagues keep abreast, without wasting too much valuable time and effort.

The report can be found as the latest item added to the page under the “Research and Statistic – by year”  main menu tab on Britishdestinations.net , also as a separate page from the drop-down menu under the adjoining “+” symbol or access it directly now at: https://britishdestinations.net/1194-2/content/taking-the-p-the-decline-of-the-great-british-public-toilet-2019/

The long-winded instruction in this last paragraph is there as much to remind you where the 150 plus major tourism, visitor economy and related reports now in the library are held. That said, if you are in need of a report on a particular issue and you genuinely can’t find it yourself in the library, or indeed elsewhere, then just ask me, as some but by no means all of you already do. We exist to assist members and if I can, I will.

Tourism and the visitor economy in the national news.

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Four items with my comments that impact on tourism the visitor economy and destination management and economic develop:

1. The demise of Jamie’s restaurant chain grabbed the headlines earlier in the week, with closures directly impacting on a number of popular destination Cities and towns. https://www.bbc.co.uk/news/business-48352026 .

Less high profile where reports over the weekend based on industry analysis that suggests that growth in the casual dining sector has not just stalled but the sector is now in decline: https://www.alixpartners.com/insights-impact/insights/market-growth-monitor/. A subsequent Sky News article covers both aspects and highlights some of the existing pressures and new trends that continue to impact on this significant sector; a sector than has seen an alarming cumulative number of its higher-profile players fail in the last 24 plus months; https://news.sky.com/story/is-britain-losing-its-appetite-for-casual-dining-11725658

Comment: The loss of any good quality product is always a blow to a destination. More worrying for me though is my firm belief that casual dining and, in particular, the larger groups have between them acted to take up much of the high street slack, in both terms of filling, often premium, premises and generating additional footfall.  I hope I am wrong but rather than compensating for falling retail demand, as I believe it has been doing, the casual dining sector could now be adding to the core problems of vacant prime, premises and of fewer reasons to visit, as popular consumer habit apparently shifts more towards fast food, drive through dining and third-party home delivery.

2. Thomas Cook, a stalwart of the UK travel industry, is fight back in an effort to convince customer of their liquidity, as news of its underlying financial difficulties looks set to unnerve customer confidence and damage trade for the key summer period, potentially making a difficult but recoverable situation far worse: https://www.bbc.co.uk/news/business-48336449 .

In common with other travel agents, travel companies and airlines it has experienced difficult trading conditions in the UK, prompted by a range of issues from Brexit uncertainties through to last year’s good main summer season UK weather: https://www.proactiveinvestors.co.uk/companies/news/216470/tui-shares-jump-as-morgan-stanley-ups-rating-after-share-price-tumble-216470.html . Unlike Ryanair and others facing headwinds https://www.bbc.co.uk/news/business-48332849 Thomas Cook has the additional burden of a particularly well-established bricks and mortar presence in the UK high street.  Last year it closed 21 stores and many more of its remaining 566 could now close depending, in part, on how the planned divestment of its own airline proceeds.

From the prospective of many UK destinations, the most immediate concerns shouldn’t necessarily be for Thomas Cook’s significant, largely outbound travel business but for its possible impact on the UK high street, as yet another ubiquitous British brand struggles with high fixed cost, compared the new and emerging online competitors. Alongside the recent news of Debenhams, Marks and Spencer and other big names it is alarming to hear again that Boots probably the most ubiquitous of all British high street brands is still struggling: http://www.execreview.com/2019/05/boots-profits-plunge-as-high-street-slump-hits-chemist-chain/ .

Comment: Radical changes are needed that makes existing retail more sustainable, that supports new sustainable business uses for surplus retail capacity and that helps repurpose parts of the traditional high streets to create new reason to visit and spend.  If nothing is done soon it isn’t that hard to imagine a scenario where significant number of built destinations of different types and scales will have little or nothing but empty units, discount shops, temporary traders, local services (nail bars, hair dressers etc.) and charity shops left to attract local residents, domestic day and domestic and international staying visitors.

A number of well-established destinations and, in particular, coastal destinations have successfully passed through a similar cycle of slow business decline and slow but steady recovery following the near fatal changes in UK holiday taking patterns from the mid-1970 onward. Having fought their way back over the last 25 plus years is not something they or indeed any other established and newer destination should have to face, particularly, if it can still be avoided by timely, strategic intervention.  A fairer system of business and sales taxation that didn’t serve to actively penalise traditional bricks and mortar based businesses would be a good starting point.

3. HMRC are apparently continuing to look at Uber’s historic VAT position. If successful and HMRC recover the estimated £1bn Uber have so far potentially avoided it would be a significant windfall for the UK Government. Whether the full amount could ever be recovered is an interesting question.  As is what the future impact of any finding in HMRC’s favour would be on the Uber business model; a model that currently deems the individual drivers, most earning below the VAT threshold, liable for any VAT due.  It is conceivable that even if Uber was liable for future VAT payments much if not all of it would be offset or recovered ultimately the bulk of it from the individual customer.  The change if anything would result in higher prices and a levelling of the competitive advantage that being an enabling platforms gives Uber over more traditional models. A bigger issue is whether a successful case against Uber would lead to changes to the tax and VAT position of other major GIG and sharing economy platforms in the UK: https://britishdestinations.net/tourism-the-sharing-economy-and-its-wider-implications/gig-economy/ .

Meanwhile there have been a number of articles in the UK press in the last week about consumer issues with either sharing accommodation and review platforms.  The underlying theme being that these platforms are keen to keep issues and problems in-house, thus, avoiding negative PR, public scrutiny and limiting the potential for calls to regulate to ensure adequate levels of consumer protection and safety. The online versions of the articles are subscription only so I have referenced open source, source reports on the following Britishestinations.net page:  https://britishdestinations.net/tourism-the-sharing-economy-and-its-wider-implications/

Comment:  The GIG and sharing economies are an established fact and are here to stay until the next generation of business disruptor appear.  They have gone from zero a decade ago to, in many cases, market domination and they have done so by ripping up the established rule book.  At some point Government, the consumer or both are going to call to re-establish a measure of control and if necessary regulation, to limit the excesses of the platforms, their business users and increasingly even the consumers themselves.  The issue is just how long can the platforms put that off for?  And consequentially just how big or how alarming the nature of the failings needs to be before public opinion forces appropriate Government reaction?

4. And finally…..  A head of EU regulation that bans and limits a wide range of single use items and packaging  across the EU from 2021 Defra announce restrictions on the sales of plastic straws (drinking and cotton bud) and a ban plastic stirrers from April 2020, Wales and Scotland are also considering their own positions on these and other single use plastics: https://www.bbc.co.uk/news/science-environment-48358002

Comment: It is still conceivable that the much wider EU restriction could still be adopted voluntarily or by regulation in the UK depending on either the timing or the nature of any withdrawal agreement reached between the EU and the UK. It is important to note the obvious but largely unstated that it’s the material of manufacture and not the items involved that are being restricted. So stand by to continue to deal with a rash of straw and stirrers in the waste and litter stream, just more sustainable, less environmentally damaging waxed paper and wooden ones. The reduction, capture and recycling of single use plastics has significant popular public support and therefore political appeal, so also stand by for much more around Return Deposit Schemes, reduced use of plastic packaging materials, the online driven switch of plastic and other packaging material from the commercial into the domestic waste streams and a raft of other much needed measures to reduce plastic usage and to switch more of its disposal from dumping or burning to reuse and recycling.

Single use plastics ban announced in England

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Following last month’s EU announcements of a sweeping restrictions and bans on a wide range of  single use plastics  across EU member states by 2021, Defra  announced yesterday its own initial plan to restrict the sale of plastic straws, plastic cotton bud sticks and ban plastic stirrers from April 2020 (consulted upon last October).  This is being heralded as the first such ban in Europe but it shouldn’t be confused with a full implementation of the much wider EU plans for 2021.  Scotland and Wales are considering their own approach to single use plastics; these are likely to be as stringent if not more so than yesterday’s plans announced for England. 

Depending on the final outcome, structure and time-frame of Brexit the UK may be compelled to implement the EU regulation in 2021, or the UK Government may adopt similar measures voluntarily because they choose to, or to comply with the agreed or voluntary terms of any withdrawal agreements reached.

What isn’t necessarily being made clear to the public in the media coverage of this issue is that what is being banned or restricted is the material of manufacture, not the items themselves.  Straws and stirrers are not being  restricted or banned just those made, largely for convenience or cost reasons of plastic. By 2020 in the UK’s case and 2021 across the rest of the EU manufacturers, supplier, retailers and customers will have ample time to source and adjust habits to alternatives, in the main paper or wood based.

These measures will not necessarily reduce issues for beach managers around waste management or littering but change them by simply make the items involved more biodegradable and in the case of beach and strandline litter, less noticeable, less visually offensive and less environmentally damaging.

 

UK Deposit Returns Schemes – should I be interested?

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I have recently responded to the Defra consultation seeking to establish the merits of introducing a deposit return scheme on single use drinks containers in England Wales and Northern Ireland.  This follow on from plans to develop a scheme in Scotland announced last year.  The Defra consultation was launched in mid-February and closed on 13 May.  In March Defra preempted the primary purpose of initial consultation by announcing plans to introduce a DRS,  potentially in late 2020, subject to the usual caveat of  the results of further, more detailed consultations.

I didn’t bother you all in February with what appeared to be a very open-ended set of ideas for a proposal that looked unlikely to get very far, or at least not very soon.  I don’t think I was necessarily wrong but in light of the late March announcement, I do now think that if you are not at least aware of the strategic issues and starting to thinking around possible local business and place based issues and impact then you need to before any formal consultations “later in the year”.  Even if you are not impacted directly most of  your local partner business could be and some might be in need of a bit of local leadership and direction on what is likely to be a set of truly cross cutting destination based issues.

To help explain why I think this is prudent I have added a briefing note to the page  on the RDS consultation, under the “Consultations” menu tab of Britishdestinations.net. Or go direct to that page at:

https://britishdestinations.net/consultation-responses/open-consultations/deposit-return-scheme-in-england-wales-and-northern-ireland-closed-13-may-2019/

Apologies if I am wrong about the strategic importance of this, or if it is something you are already addressing.

Colleague seeks advice, can you help?

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Do you know anything about land train operators or operations or know someone who does?  Latest request for assistance from a member to members can be accessed under the “Forum: ask questions get answers” menu tab or go to the page direct at:

https://britishdestinations.net/need-an-answer/land-train-operations-and-operators/