Month: August 2019

Headwinds for international travel to the UK

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The recently published provisional International Passenger Survey (IPS) figures for April and May show a decline of 8% and 6% by volume and 14% and 1% by value respectively on the same periods in 2018, The 2018 figures where themselves down on the equivalent period in 2017, a record year. The nature of the survey and the range of influences on international tourism make it unwise to draw any firm conclusions from results for any single month.  However, the more robust indicator of the cumulative, year to date figures up to and including  May also shows a 3% decline in volume and 6% in value against  2018 which suggests that international inbound tourism to the UK is in decline and has been since the end of 2017.

Outbound UK resident volume was down 4% in April and static for May but spend was up 11% and then down 3%.  The ONS release includes multiple caveats relating to all of what are, provisional figures. They also point out that they are working to correct an identified imbalances (errors?) which, once corrected, will be retrospectively applied to previous year’s data.  The imbalance is said to relate only to tourism and not to  migration and other key Government statistics derived from IPS.

We don’t usually drawer your attention to the ONS monthly results updates, that are issued around a quarter in arrears.  However, on this occasion the downturn in UK inbound tourism figures is being picked up in the national press as an issue, Brexit or otherwise related  Today’s Times coverage can be accessed at:

The ONS release that prompted the coverage is at:

The following  direct quote from the update may be useful when arguing the case for why it is not only important to attract overseas visitors but also to work  tirelessly to retain even more of the domestic market than we already do:

“UK residents consistently make more visits abroad than foreign residents make to the UK. The total amount spent by UK residents during visits abroad is also higher than the total spent by foreign residents visiting the UK. The numbers of visits and the amounts spent vary through the year, with more in the summer. This is the case both for UK residents and overseas residents. However, UK residents show a much sharper peak both in visits and expenditure during the month of August, which is traditionally the only complete month of the UK school summer holidays”.

For those around long enough to remember this is what Victor Middleton coined “the Leaky bucket syndrome”. One method of keeping a leaking bucket topped up is to run around  pouring in more water (visitor) . The other, and they are not mutually exclusive, is to take action to fix some of the leaks (encourage more residents to holiday at home).  Since Victor first used the analogy of a leaking bucket the policy direction has wavered towards and away from supporting the domestic market. Currently, in England at least, topping up the bucket appears to be the Westminster Governments’ only real tourism priority.




Sustainable Tourism Inquiry – Incorrect closing date given

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I was doing some initial work on the Environmental Audit Committee inquiry into “sustainable tourism, the impacts of tourism and travel on the environment and how these can be reduced”, when I noticed that the closing date for written submissions of 19 September, that I original gave out, was wrong.  The correct date is 13 September 2019.

The wording of the call for evidence tends to suggests that the committees interests lean more towards UK outbound and international inbound tourism. (informing the Government’s forthcoming aviation policy is specifically referenced). There is very limited reference to domestic tourism, despite it accounting for c 80% by value and volume of tourism activity within the UK itself  and, therefore, having significant environmental impacts that will need to be carefully managed if the sector is to continue to flourish and contribute to reducing the totality of the UK’s tourism environmental impact and carbon footprint.

The introductory notes also highlight the importance of good tourism management in delivering the economic and social benefits of tourism, while minimising the environmental and other negative impact that can accompany mass tourism.  Destination management and the increasing issues of undertaking it are of course dear to all our member’s hearts.

Combined these two openings represent an opportunity to raise the role of a successful domestic tourism industry in reducing the UK’s holistic tourism related environmental impact worldwide. It also allows us to articulate the need for strong well supported destination management in the UK to ensure the UK, among other things, achieves the ambitious, sustainable, zero carbon targets that are being considered and which are likely to be set for the industry in the next few years.

Some destination may wish to highlight to the Committee what they are already doing in this respect, or use the inquiry as vehicle to raise awareness around other key concerns. For example, the importance of primarily domestic focused  popular UK destinations and the pressures around funding and maintaining appropriate levels of management  in local point or larger area destinations.  I will look to try to do the same in the British Destinations’ response.

The consultation detail has now  moved down to the third item in the “Consultations” drop-down menu, or go direct to the page at:


Tourism Sector Deal Broadband Competition bids closing 27 Sep 19

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DCMS have launched a Sector Deal related broadband competition, with the intent of awarding £250k in  average grants of c £30k  (+ or — as necessary) to venue of 400 plus seats, who have hosted at least one international conference in the last calendar year (from 15 August 19) and are bidding to host or are hosting at least one other international event in the coming calendar year (defined as at least 30% international delegates, + 50% preferred) and who wish to up grade to 1 Gbps full fibre broadband connections.

There are restriction on EU grant received in previous years. Although not a prerequisite preference will be given to projects will to match funding up to 50%. The bidding document also discusses the option for local business and residents to access the full fibre network, and claim up to £2,500 and £500 respectively against installation costs of a gigabit capable connection via mechanism of the gigabit voucher scheme; again preference goes to those demonstrating the capacity and a preparedness to stimulate local demand to participate .

I am assuming, because its DCMS scheme it is England only (?) but I am aware that negotiations about the Sector Deal which is potentially a UK wide concept continue. If it is open to other Home Nations I will let you know.

Clearly any destination with its own public, private or public/private sector  venue or venues may want to look at this interesting new funding opportunity. Bids close 27 September 2019.

More precis detail at:

The bidding form is at:  note apparently it has to be completed in a single session.



Visit Britain Sector Deal Conference 18 September 2019

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In conversation with colleagues it appears that not everyone that might have an interest in the sector deal and, in particular, in the emerging tourism zones proposals, is aware of the VisitBritain conference on the Tourism Sector Deal to be held on 18 September, timings and (I presume London?) venue TBC.  Reading the announcement  below, I’m not 100% clear from it what the level of detail that the event will go into.  Future announcements on the conference may make that clearer.  If not, I’ll ask the question and let you all know the answer in due course.

The original hold the date email notification reads:

Wednesday 18 September 2019

Venue to be confirmed 

Following the Government’s announcement of a Tourism Sector Deal in June, I am delighted to invite you to a conference to find out more about the deal, how it will be implemented, and how you can get involved.

Key speakers from the industry and government will be discussing the major themes of the Tourism Sector deal, including: the tourism data hub, accessibility, business visits and events and tourism zones. The sessions will include a mixture of panel discussions, presentations and opportunities for questions from the audience. We will also be running a skills session and a Sector Deal Q&A.

Please save the date – 18 September 2019.  More details to follow shortly.

I look forward to welcoming you to the conference.

Steve Ridgway CBE,

British Tourist Authority



New research added.

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A new ONS report on the Migrant labour force in the tourism industry has been added to our research and statistics library.  Main points can be found at page 2:

The headline will be of interest to all; the full report may be of interest locally but is more likely to be of direct interest to those needing to lobby, nationally in support of the case for continued access to EU and overseas tourism workers.

MacDonalds “strawgate” – a lessons for destinations?

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Thankfully nothing to worry about, it’s one of their new paper straws! Is “Strawgate” and all the faff about paper or plastic straws serving to obscuring the real problems here?

Introduction. Member’s reaction to my flag waving around the potential introduction of a Deposit Return Scheme (DRS) suggests that some (many?) destinations are already wrestling with the design and implementation of their own single use item free policies, mostly aimed towards, or exclusively at, single use plastics.  In many cases these are being adopted as part of Council wide schemes applicable to all publicly owned venues, (offices, schools, theatres etc.) any commercial activities undertaken on public land (concessions ice cream vans etc.) and for publicly facilitated events on or sometimes off public land, where Councils obviously have a much greater ability to rapidly influence or regulate via their own procurement policies, commercial contracts and local agreements. Not all will be formulated with the visitor economy foremost in mind.

In almost every destination there will also be plenty of examples of private sector initiatives involving big, national corporate players, like MacDonalds, through to local SME and micro businesses.  Looking at all these public and private sector developments in the round the broad theory seems to present few problems, the intent is always unquestionable well-meant but the policy direction and effective implementation can, it seems, be fraught. Other than in a few very small locations, I don’t sense that there are too many coordinated, holistic destination wide, “single use” strategies in place yet, but that’s hardly surprising, given the scale of such an undertaking in a destination of any size and, thus, complexity.

To help those who may now have to engage in planning for issues like a future DRS, or are already engaged in delivering local single use item policies, I thought it useful to expand on the cautionary tale of the McDonalds straw. A tale of a big UK and international brand that is, among a host of others big businesses, trying to deal with a huge physical and PR problem in the most cost-effective, efficient and least business disruptive way.  As MacDonalds are a big, ubiquitous national player, the tale can useful be used to illustrate that “recycling”, often an ill-defined catch-all phrase, isn’t ever a simple process, that even the most seemingly sensible actions can have conflicting consequences and that these conflicts can and will be misrepresented, especially when viewed through the typically, overly simplistic prism of public perception and popular media incited debate.

The note is intended as another thought piece designed to: stimulate debate, if it is needed, to evidence that your apparently local problems are by no means localised and to help inform or defend local approaches and actions, if that is needed, as I know it often can be when dealing with such potentially contentious issues across a wide body of local opinion.

Strawgate. Until late summer 2018 MacDonalds apparently distributed 1.8m plastic straws a day in the UK and Ireland, made of a recyclable plastic.  Almost all plastics are recyclable, but some types of plastics and all manner of items made from different plastics aren’t necessarily recycled at any scale, largely due to practical or economic considerations. Last September in response to news of a planned, future UK ban on plastic straws and drinks stirrers and in the face of a wave of “Blue Planet” inspired popular public concern, MacDonalds announced an immediate, voluntarily changed to a new card-based straw.  A proactive response that overnight eliminated a vast number of single use plastic items and a move that, at the time, could hardly be faulted.  Other major fast food outlet and casual dining companies did or have since done the same. Had it not then been for customer complaints about milkshakes and soggy straws the tale would have ended there. MacDonalds would have achieved a significant PR coup, simply by doing something that in all likelihood they would have been compelled to do in a year or two and, in the process, acquiring a strongly evidenced defence for its environmental policy credentials.

In May 2019 after customer complaints about soggy thin straws, MacDonalds decided to introduce a thicker version.  All was well until late July (?) when the national press (the Sun) got hold of internal memo instructing staff to dispose of the new thicker straws in the in-store general waste (that is incinerated) and not the recycling bins (that will go for further mechanical and/or manual sorting to extract recyclable materials and remove non-recyclable or non-economical viable recyclables for alternative disposal).  It is far from clear from press coverage, the degree to which in-store staff actively sort the rubbish that customers are encouraged to put in to the in-store bins, or whether this was just a simple instruction to staff when, for example, clearing tables to try and avoid putting the new thicker straws in the recycling stream? I suspect it is the latter.

Whatever the detail behind the instruction, the implication is clear: the thicker straws aren’t currently being targeted for recycling and are therefore not being recycled; but what isn’t clear is whether the thin card or the earlier plastic straws, that presumably previously went in the recycling bins, actually went forward to be sorted for eventual recycling or for sorting for alternative disposal? A recycling bin is only ever a first, albeit a critical step in a series of sorting processes for potential recycling; it is not a guarantee of it.  Both MacDonalds and the press are understandably silent on all of these fascinating technicalities, as they probably don’t add much to a good, simple, popular press yarn and they would only serve to keep the story going, thus, helping dig the PR, Pooh trap* even deeper for MacDonalds.

The headline press stories falling from the leaked instruction are essential that: MacDonalds, in the pursuit of good environmental PR, has replaced 1.8m recyclable plastic straws used a day with 1.8m paper-based straw that now have to be incinerated, rather than recycled, as (presumably) all the plastic ones previously were.  Taken at face value, that does sound pretty dumb.

MacDonalds initial response, that the thicker straws were “not recyclable”, prompted the straw’s manufactures to leap to their product’s defence; pointing out that they are entirely recyclable, if only MacDonalds’ waste management contract and their processing methods were set up to recover and recycle them.  MacDonalds then had to agreed that the issue was their recovery process and that they would now working to address this.  In doing so, they hinted that the straw’s thickness somehow hindered recovery but they still don’t confirm or deny that in future, once recovered, they will be recycled; however you choose to define “recycled” (returned to a raw material and reused in new production, composted, burnt to produce energy, etc.?).

Unless and until the supply and waste management chains are legally obliged to recover and recycle everything that can be, the problem with all technically recyclable items will remain whether it is practically and financially viable to do so. The only real remaining influence, and the one presumably now exercising minds at MacDonalds’ headquarters, being public perception and the impact that has on the brand.  To the extent that it will almost certainly forces some improvement in “recycling” and a more genuinely inclusive, future environmental strategy at MacDonalds , while also give other big corporates cause to pause for thought, the press coverage has to be welcomed, even if some of the facts and conclusions are questionable.

Straws in the wind. It is all very bad PR for MacDonalds and, to my mind, all largely irrelevant to the actual issues, they and we all face around: our reliance on plastics, the prevalence of single use items whatever they are made of, the genuine concern amongst a growing percentage of the public about plastics in particular, recycling in general and the obvious need for some ill-defined, someone to do an equally ill-defined something to eradicate it, preferable tomorrow. Sadly, the popular public concern is not always backed with a detailed understanding of the competing complexities and, thus, their immediate concerns can often be tackled by well-intended but half-hearted action: like for example, swopping billions of plastic for paper straws?

Whether intentionally or not such headline activities do, at least in the short term, serve to obscure bigger issues for example: paper isn’t an impact neutral product, it uses a raw material that has to be produced and moved, the straw still has to be manufactured and while paper straws might not endure for anything like as long in the environment, hundreds of millions of them will still end up littering our towns, countryside, coast, rivers, lakes and the sea. In their case slowly rotting away, rather than break down into ever smaller plastic pieces like their predecessors. In this example paper, beats plastic, but surely far fewer straws in the environment in the first-place always trumps both? Way more importantly than fretting about straws though, is the realisation that almost all the 1.8m straws distributed by MacDonalds a day (a figure I find still find hard to believe) are currently accompanied by a single use plastic lid and a disposable paper or plastic cup,  Each containing far more raw material and having far greater potential environmental impacts than the humble little straws themselves.

The problem I perceive isn’t the large percentage of straws (lids, cups, cardboard cup carrying trays, happy meal boxes, burger wrappers, napkins, sauce sachets, uneaten food, etc.) captured on-site in MacDonalds. That is surely their commercial and PR problem and one that is already entirely within their control, not least because they are capturing a relatively limited range of item and doing so in huge and, therefore, more commercially viable quantities.  In-house waste is also far more easily identified, corralled and, thus, can and is already to a degree more easily regulated and checked.  The real issue for destinations has to be the very large but unquantified number of straws and the much else besides that never sees the inside of a MacDonald’s bin but goes out the door and ends up, at best, in the public waste system and, at worst, dumped into the local environment.

By changing the material, MacDonalds have altered the cumulative environmental impact of billions of straws that have and will continue to enter the wider environment and that, even if recovered, have a very limited chance of ever being recycled. So, while MacDonalds deserve a pat on the back, it has also to be said that they haven’t begun to really address the environmental and economic impacts of a significant proportion of the huge quantities of single use items, used to underpin their very successful business model.  If anyone doubts this is true, I suggest they take a walk or cycle ride along any road, track or path almost anywhere in the UK and play a game of spot the discarded MacDonalds branded packaging.  It’s depressingly easily done.

What MacDonalds and their peers haven’t done in responding to growing public anxieties about plastic, is tackle the core issues, like why is it is apparent necessary to use 1.8m straws a day in the first place?  Nor does it seem that are they actively trying to do much to help to reduce the impact of the vast amount of waste of all types that goes out the door in the hands of customers?  To that extent introducing card straws may have been a bit of a PR smoke screen?  Highlighting your positive policy on straws and then unfortunately having to defending your in-house waste management process and policies does nothing to deal with the far great scale and quantity of all the other single use packaging and containers used. It does absolutely nothing to help public authorities and private land and property owners to handle the vast quantities of waste, either properly disposed of into the public waste stream or improperly dropped and discarded as litter.  Until on-the-go focused private enterprise is compelled to do more to reduce and recover the biproduct of their trade, we are going to have an ever-increasing problem, despite all manner of apparently well intended environmental policies and actions that have and will continue to be implemented in the future.

Sadly, while a lot of the public may be genuinely concerned about single use items, a lot also love the convenience they offer.  Consequently, there is currently no sign that explosion in the growth in single use, usage is slowing, let alone there being an overall reduction and eventual reversal.  Radical reduction should always be the gold standard we aim for; meanwhile reality suggests that for the foreseeable future, the solution probably lies in far greater and more effective recycling of the ever-greater quantities of the single use items consumed.  An effective UK wide DRS for plastic bottles, metal cans, glass bottles, cartons and, hopefully, paper and plastic cups would, in such pessimistic circumstances, seem like a very good first step on the road towards far greater physical waste and environmental recovery.  I know that this will have significant implications for business, but on balance I think the need to get a grip on waste and the direct and indirect benefits of doing so in destinations far outweighs the business penalties. Do the majority of destination management interests agree?  I know quite a few do, which has informed my evolving views but a wider reality check amongst other destination members may still be needed?

What lessons, if any?  Having spoken to colleagues in various destinations we, like MacDonalds, are all in danger of being drawn into applying an over simplest approach to single use plastic and other material reduction and recycling.  We may also be in danger of trying to do the right things but potentially for the wrong reasons, for example to be seen to be doing something to appease popular public reaction, regardless of how effective it really might be.  Simply replacing single use items with other single use items made of arguably more sustainable material, as witnessed in the tale of the MacDonalds’ straw, is only a partial answer. As is collecting plastics to recycle without ensuring that there is a seamless and sustainable pathway to a viable reuse; out of sight may be out of mind but for how much longer is that sustainable?   Focusing on a single small item like the humble straws, whilst trying to turn a blind eye to its all too obvious big brothers the cups and lids that accompany them isn’t a long-term strategy either.  In practice, it is also always worth bearing in mind that nothing is truly recyclable unless and until if it is actually is recycled.

I accept entirely the argument at destination level that starting somewhere and taking small steps, tackle what’s easiest first, may be the most, possibly the only, practical way forward. However, unless we ensure that it’s a planned series of small steps, one discernibly following on from the other, destinations will not individually or jointly be in a position to evidence to the public that we have or are making any really meaningful progress.  My best guess is that in the next couple of years some of the seemingly cutting-edge policies being introduced in destinations now, will start to look a little weak in both their detail and practical application.  The hope has to be that in the meantime, unlike MacDonalds, destinations and destination management interests will avoid falling headfirst in to PR Pooh traps*, and especially those that arise from well-intended, but potentially on the hoof policy making decisions around what are complex and evolving strategic issues.


*A hole you dig yourself, then inadvertently fall and trap yourself in.

Deposit Return Schemes and Destinations update

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Efforts continue to try and highlight that the almost inevitable introduction of a Deposit Return Scheme (DRS) for many or all types of drinks containers could be far more problematic than they might first appear, especially, for those places like popular destinations, major towns and Cities where, “on the go”, drinks containers are distributed in quantity from a wide variety of outlets.  Nothing much has changed since my last flag waving exercise, other than of course the Secretary of State, The Prime Minister and much of the rest of the Cabinet.  These changes could mean that an DRS isn’t adopted quite as soon or to the same degree as it might have done under Michael Gove’s leadership at Defra. However, that’s supposition not supported by any declared changes in policy direction that I am aware of.

Personally, and professionally, I still have no doubt that a DRS is needed to help stem a tide of disposable, single use items of all types and materials and not just in tourism and leisure.  So why am I still nervous about the impending introduction of a DRS and its potential impacts on the visitor economy and place making? In short, the more I look at the problem the more I realise just how easy it could be to get this badly wrong, either in an effort to appease public concern, or because of a reluctance to burden business or more likely a fudged mashup somewhere between the two.  The harder I look, the more I am forced to conclude that the better a DRS is for recycling and waste management the worse it is likely to be for business interests and vice versa. I also believe that destinations need the DRS to work well in both areas; hence my concern and desire to get others to understand and articulate it.

What looks from outside like a simple linear, one dimensional issue of collecting together and “recycling” more of what we use, is in practice far from simple. It is a multi-dimensional, dynamic, self-competing set of problems involving among other things: encouragement for reduction/discouragement of use, initial capture, recovery and centralisation, transportation (at every stage), sorting, resorting, cleaning and storage (at various stages), identification and maintenance of viable markets for a wide variety of different materials collected, conveniently located reprocessing and remanufacture facilities, sufficient processing and remanufacturing capacity and, ultimately, a viable market for both the recycled new raw materials and for any new products, produced with them. If any step in that long process faulters then the whole DRS and other parallel recycling models, effectively starts to fail. What’s the point of recycling if it isn’t then recycled?

UK capacity and the continued viability of exporting recycled or recyclable plastics, in particular, are already questionable areas and that is before we endeavour to capture and process far more plastic, glass, paper and metal containers through a UK based DRS.  Moreover, we are not operating in isolation.  Other developed countries are also trying to recycle far more, while developing nations are increasingly resisting the import of other nation’s waste, including recyclables, some (much?) of which have previously proved to be too contaminated for viable use and ended up being dumped, buried or burnt, totally defeating the original intent.

To add to these practicalities, a workable DRS also involves putting a not insubstantial, artificial monitory value in the UK on literally billions of otherwise, individually worthless items, produced in both the UK and abroad. The best estimates puts the UK’s annual consumption of plastic single use bottles, alone at 13bn, making an all-in scheme for plastic bottle a £1.3bn affair assuming a modest 10p deposit, and that’s before you start considering some or all of the other billions of glass, metal and card drinks containers and potentially paper and plastic drinks cups also in annual circulation that are potential subject to the DRS.  The financial scale will almost certainly necessitate some form of rigorous control across the supply and recovery chains from the point that it is eventually decided to apply the deposit to the point where it is decided to stop  redeeming it and the items are deemed to have returned to their waste value only. Conceivably the deposit could be left as a simple transaction between the retailer and customer only, at which point it starts to beg questions around how does that approach act to influence critical improvements in recycling within the waste chain from the retailer back to remanufacturing?  Getting more of the empties back in to the hands of some or all of the original retailers is surely only the first step in a very long chain of events?

Where it is decided that the extra value starts and ends and whether that value is applied to all identical containers or just those sold in certain circumstance, radically changes the nature and/or impact of the scheme.  How that value is identified, for example, via different bar coding will also impact on manufacturing, distribution and wholesales practices.  Does the beer bottle bought at the supermarket attract the same treatment as an apparently identical bottle bought and usually but not always consumed in a pub or restaurant? If it doesn’t then what are the implications of that major exemption and many potential others for setting up an otherwise seamless national scheme?  Giving individually worthless items an artificial value opens up the potential for all manner and scale of enterprise, some of it, potential undesirable, like individuals “bin dipping”. It could very easily negatively alter the financial modelling underpinning existing public and other recycling operations (or, if so designed, strengthen them?).  Moreover, if the financial aspects of the chosen scheme are not absolutely water tight, it could present multiple opportunities for abuse at any or all levels, from individuals making pocket money, to multi-million-pound fraud.

Understanding how the whole DRS process will work from start to finish and how it holistically impacts on our local business partners and their customer, and on the public services and public space is more than just important.  Unless we proactively influence the shape and detail of the scheme and its processes well beyond those that directly involve our retailer, their customer and the public services and public realm we could be gifted a solution, that doesn’t meet the peculiarities and typically scale of our destinations major industry’s needs.

The scale of the DRS undertaking itself means that a national, one size fits all approach is the most likely outcome, and such approaches seldom sit well with a transient visitor heavy economy.   For example, a system that charges a deposit at all points of sale but is predominantly redeemable at major, usually out of town, supermarkets (a strongly hinted at option) may work for many communities and for local residents but it would hardly meet the needs of the visitors, the visitor economy and their predominantly on the go consumption.  Unless of course it is viewed as a new form of visitor, environmental tax? A tax that Councils try, as best they can, to collect via public litter bins and the drinks container deposited in them in quantity for want of any convenient refund provision.  This assumes that the scheme includes provision for Councils and/or other organisations a mechanism for claim back the deposit without taking the empties back to the retail refund points themselves!

How this might all work in practice and what options there are for other enterprising activities that might emerge to intercept or recover containers from the public waste stream before the Council can benefit are endless.  The involvement of private enterprise, officially approved or otherwise, in itself may be no bad thing? However, simply allowing the market to dictate how the DRS functions in anyone location, doesn’t auger well for the provision of good quality environmental management and place making, especially in those places that have to maintain a good environment and environmental standards in order to attract and maintain visitor volumes.

Over the summer Defra should be working towards the production of various major environmental consultations including that on the introduction of an DRS in England Wales and Northern Ireland (Scotland are working on their own scheme).  Whether, the change of Secretary of State will make any difference to the nature style and timing remains to be seen.  Michael Gove appeared to be extremely pro the concept, keen to introduce it next year and he publicly professed a personal preference for widest possible application of an DRS for all types of containers, of all materials and of all sizes (the “all-in” approach). His successor’s views aren’t yet so clear, nor is the impact on Defra’s workloads and priorities of the Cabinet’s renew focus on preparing for Brexit and/or a no deal Brexit on 31 October 2019.

I hope the note, if a little long, is still a useful thought piece.  Another will follow shortly that aims to illustrate that seemingly good ideas around single use plastics and environmental policy issues are a potential minefield. A minefield, that I understand, an increasing number of destination managers are being invited to venture into in the pursuit of local environmental, quick wins that demonstrate responsive local policy making.

MacDonalds and their decision to replace plastic straws with a paper-based alternative (along with many other corporate players) is, I think, a really good example of the law of unintended consequence and of a potential worrying trend towards, what in practice can be smokescreen, headline environmental policies that don’t necessarily address root causes and that can intentionally or unintentionally leave a range of other potentially far bigger problems unresolved.  If MacDonalds’ well-intentioned actions can backfire and leave them publicly  exposed, then so can most, if not all other’s well intended actions.  More detail to follow.

Interrail pass decision reversed

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By the time you had received and read my comments on the Rail Delivery Groups announcements on leaving the European Interrail scheme the RDG had reversed their decision.  By late yesterday afternoon they had renegotiated with their European partners and announced, initially via Twitter, that both the Interrail pass for EU citizens and EUrail pass for non-EU citizens will be honoured across the UK network and not dropped in January 2020 as originally planned. Whether those two passes are still to be merged, which appears to have been the catalyst for RDGs withdrawal, hasn’t been specified, but that’s and the commercial implications for the UK’s own international visitor BritRail pass is I think mainly an issue for them and not for UK tourism?

I would like to be able to claim that this was one of our quickest successes to date but that might be stretching belief too far.  At the very least I can be confident that I was correct in my assessment that this was a very bad idea and one that that needed to be opposed, regardless of the prospects and practicalities of gaining a success.

I am still very surprised at both the about face and, in particularly, how quickly it was performed. Pure speculation but the speed and apparent ease does suggest that there may be more to this than initially meets the eye?  For example, I did hint at my concern that the decision may have been made without the full knowledge of Government, who have a complex relationship with the RDG around who influences and sets what rail fares when and where.  I somehow doubt that the public, rail user organisations and travel and tourism interests’ “strong reaction” alone was sufficient to change the direction in under 24 hours, however ill-conceived the original decision may have been. On the other hand, RDG now say they never wanted to leave the scheme in the first place, but that doesn’t appear to be the line or the tone being used to present their decision two days ago.

Apologies, if in my enthusiasm, to get to grips with an issue that I firmly believed would have had negatively impacted on UK tourism I have unnecessarily set hares running locally.

More at:

UK to leave the Interrail pass scheme.

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I am seeking member’s views on the announcement that the UK will be leaving the EU wide Interrail scheme from January 2020.

This is not Brexit related but appears to be a commercial decision by the Rail Delivery Group, who represent the UK train operators and is designed to protect the BritRail pass following the decision by the Dutch administered Interrail scheme to merge its EU citizen only interrail pass with its non- EU citizen Eurail pass.  RDG say that this move conflicts with its own BritRail pass also aimed at non-EU citizens.

From January EU and UK Interrail ticket holders will be able to travel around the rest of Europe by train as before but only in the UK on Eurostar trains to Ashford, Ebsfleet or London.  Travel, within the rest of the UK (less Northern Ireland that is covered by an all-Ireland agreement) will need to be paid for in the normal manner.  RDG appear to be suggesting that the availability to EU and non-EU citizens of the BritRail pass, which they quote as “being supported by VB” makes this a none issue for tourism.  I don’t think I necessarily agree, albeit currently without access to usage figures or any directly rail related statistics.

I find it improbably that those buying an Interrail pass giving free travel anywhere in Europe, but only to London in the UK will view Britain as an attractive destination as it would have been before UK wide travel was stopped.

Those using the Interrail pass to come to either Ashford, Ebbsfleet or London as part of a wider European tour are unlikely to want to buy the BritRail pass or individual tickets to go much beyond London, compounding the international tourist dispersal issues that both the Discover England Fund and latterly the Tourism Sector Deal profess to want to address.

There may well be good commercial or practical reason for RDG to make this decision, but I need to be convinced that it is in the UK best interests and that it fits with the wider aims of the UK Government’s tourism policy.  It really couldn’t have come at a worse time given Brexit and its negative impacts on EU attitudes to travel to the UK.

I am assuming that Government departments have sanctioned this decision, having first considered all the implications?  Whether or not they have, I do believe that it needs to be challenged regardless of whether RDG have the option or opportunity to change their minds. Do you agree?

More at:

Superbreaks, Late Rooms and Malvern Travel Technology cease trading

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Yesterday’s announcement of the sudden closure of the Malvern Groups business which include: UK and European City break specialists Superbreaks Mini-holidays, the online room agents Late Rooms and Malvern Travel Technology may have come as a surprise, albeit that PWC have been trying to find buyers for the business, or businesses, ever since 49% group shareholders, Cox & King, the luxury and India travel specialist, defaulted on loans a month ago.

Most media coverage has focused on the impact on holiday makers currently on holiday or booked to go with Superbreaks and those with a hotel booking for a future date with Late Rooms. Generally, the view seems to be that most holiday purchases from Superbreaks (or at least the money paid out in advance) will be protected and hotel room bookings honoured as Late Rooms worked on a commission model paid back to them by the venue rather than taking full payments themselves. That will be some reassurance for customers but not for the c 250 staff in Manchester and York now the businesses have ceased trading. A fire sale of some or all of the businesses and therefore potential future trading of course could still be on the cards?

What is happening now and in future to businesses using Malvern Travel Technology technical support systems to power their businesses has yet to be publicly aired. It is difficult to get a handle on just who and what were reliant on their technology and to what degree that will now impact on other tourism and travel businesses.

Understanding precisely why the Malvern Group has collapsed and understanding that sooner rather than later is important because in the absence of hard fact it will be easy to assume that it has been driven by depressed demand from customers in businesses that operate to a significant degree in the UK market. It could be that, but equally it could be down to a range of issues from: a failings in the business model to growing competition from new platforms operating in the market, or it could be purely down to the problems of cash flow caused by Cox & Kings’ financial problems; problems that are not largely UK domestic but UK outbound related.

Meanwhile, the public will see and read headlines and draw their own, potentially ill-informed, conclusions about the state of the UK tourism and travel markets.  Coming on top of recent mixed messaging and indeed the mixed reality of UK’s recent weather that is not necessarily good news for the remaining key summer weeks in the equally key UK domestic holiday market.

One of the more business orientated media article publish yesterday can be accessed at: