VisitBritain Sector Deal Conference 18 September 2019

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I attended the Sector Deal conference held in Birmingham. Although well attended, there were relatively few British Destination members present.  This note is intended to give you an idea of the key point you may have missed, presented in the order of the conference sessions.

As a reminder of the highlights of what the Deal sets out to achieve: https://www.visitbritain.org/tourism-sector-deal-highlights and the detail behind that see: https://www.gov.uk/government/publications/tourism-sector-deal/tourism-sector-deal

Keynote- Given by the very recently appointed Tourism Minister Helen Whately, who replaced Rebecca Pow (24 May – 11 Sep 19) on her moved to DEFRA.  An open and enthusiastic introduction from a Minister who is clearly keen to learn and, currently looking to undertake visits. The Minister confirmed the commitment to deliver the Tourism Deal, the importance of being one of less than a dozen industries given a Deal from the c 70 that applied. She also expressed a view that there was a need talk the Deal up and get information about the Deal and its importance out to the wider industry.

Beyond the immediate opportunity to get a Ministerial visit, if you have a story to tell (contact DCMS), the key point was the confirmation that the development of criteria, the biding process and implementation for Tourism Zones would now be shifted (6 to 12 months?) to the right from late 2019 -2020 into 2020 – 2021, following the announcement of a one off, single year Comprehensive Spending Review settlement for the financial year 2020 -21. This would give additional time for DCMS, destinations and their partners to develop their plans and, presumably, for DCMS to make the case for funding for the zones in the next 3-year round, that would now need to be negotiated and announced during 2020.  More on the tourism zones later.  The other strands of the Deal would continue to be progressed as planned.

Tourism Data Hub – The Deal envisaged the development of hub to facilitate the sharing of the vast amount of commercial and other “big data” now held across tourism and other industries.  The opportunities and the potential to enrich understanding are vast, as illustrated by a presentation on tracking movement patterns by mobile telephone users and discussions on the use of other data from bank transactions to social media usage. There was also much discussion around the incentives for commercial companies to share commercially valuable data, the cost, the level of detail and nature of access likely to be permitted, privacy, permissible usage and merging with other data set, for example weather information.  A big opportunity but perhaps still a number of major hurdles yet to be overcome, which may take some time to achieve?

Accessibility- Aim to make the UK the most accessible international destination, for the widest possible range of disabled people.  A presentation was given on the scale and range of domestic and international opportunities to increase engagement from both the industry and this major market segment.  Key points included the opportunity to address a wide range of disabilities, accessibility wasn’t simply about physical accessibility, for example, wheel chair access.  The UK was already a relatively accessible destination but there was much more to do, including improving the information to both businesses and to potential customers. See VB’s current b2b tools via: https://britishdestinations.net/accessible-tourism/

Local Industrial Strategies- The Mayor of the West Midlands gave an informative presentation on their regional Industry Strategy and the importance of tourism within it.  During Q & As, it was said that although not a prerequisite, having tourism within the local Industry Strategy might be advantageous when engaging in the Tourism Sector Deal and in particular for any Tourism Zone bids (demonstrating local commitment and joint priority?). For most the strategy will now already be set and they will either have the advantage, or need to work around the potential disadvantage.

Business events – An International Business Events Action Plan has been developed and is now being implemented. There was some financial support available via VB and soft support from DCMS, for example Ministerial letters to organisers.  Reduce seasonality was a key objective.  In Q & As VB indicated that there were opportunities to host smaller events below 250 delegates for those destinations not on the established international circuit. (contact VB).  See the plan (exec summary page 6) at: https://assets.publishing.service.gov.uk/government/uploads/system/uploads/attachment_data/file/812894/2305-G_International_Business_Events__1_.pdf

Skills – A Board of industry experts had been formed to lead the skills agenda, chaired by Grant Hearn, former CEO of Travelodge.  Plans include a £1m employers’ funded recruitment and retention campaign.  Targets include 30k apprenticeships per year by 2025 and mentoring for 10k of those in employment.

Tourism Zones – Largely a Q & A session the developing plans to create up to 5 Tourism Zones in England or, subject to devolved Government agreements, in the UK, were outlined and discussed. Although the decision to delay the development of the criteria, bidding and implementation means that potential bidders will not have access to detailed criteria immediately, we believe that the individual sector deal strands and the criteria within them already point towards the essence of what a good bid should, as a minimum, include.

In Q & As it was said that very small and very large area bids were unlikely to find favour, but no usable definition of upper and lower size were given. There may be potential to raise the upper target of 5 zones, if a case for doing so emerged during future development discussions.  Treasury views on domestic displacement are likely to hold some sway, therefore framing bids around international market benefits probably would be advisable? Given the known levels of interest, managing the expectations of those who failed to obtain zone status were recognised by DCMS.  However, the process of developing partnerships and the bids themselves was seen as having immediate and longer-term benefit.  Those making bids may be well advised to consider how they manage local expectation and shape their bids to deriving maximum benefit, regardless of the outcome.

If destinations are hitting specific barriers to developing local ideas, due to a lack of a specific detailed criteria, then we would recommend that they should consider contacting DCMS for initial direction, or ask us to do so on their behalf, especially if it’s on a point likely to be of general interest that we can then share with all members.

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