First day of the new Government and there is already speculation that the Johnson administration intend to make some radical changes to how things are done and to some of the seemingly fixed rules and views that have, in particular, directed Treasury investment for generations. If it is true then this represents a massive potential opportunity for UK tourism and especially for domestic tourism which we jointly need to grasp.
You will be aware that for the last three or four years we have been busy sowing seeds around a new way to view tourism’s economic effect and purpose; that of an economic redistributor that takes wealth, increasingly generated in a few major Cities and parts of England’s South East, and moves it to rural and more economically or physically remote locations, many of which have limited alternative economic strengths. Viewed in this way tourism becomes a powerful tool that Government can use to support many of those places left behind or struggling in some other way economically. Initially at least much can be done without the need for large scale capital programmes and investment.
The barrier we have been trying to overcome is the ingrained view in Treasury that tourism and domestic tourism, in particular, is a purely displacement activity and not simply in terms of the displacing tourism from one part of the UK to another. The Treasury view is that tourism is a displacement for economic activity per se; a pound not spent on tourism will be spent on something else, somewhere else in the economy and isn’t lost to it. In this the Treasury view there is no justification for public support or public funding for tourism management and development or for “tourism marketing” as it is usually, over simplistically represented at the centre. To do so is to disadvantage some other industry, service or activity, for no gain to HM Treasury.
It is for this reason that local authority spending on tourism has seldom been encourage by the Westminster Government. This is almost certainly, in large part, why England ultimately lost its independent Tourist Board and why VisitEngland within VisitBritain are now largely focused on managing international tourism within England with little or no role in domestic tourism support and development. It is also why the Home Nation’s strong domestic marketing efforts sometime appear to be resented in Westminster and it probably has much to do with past friction between the home nations in the international marketing sphere. Needless to say, the Treasury are also reluctant to accept that a domestic holiday taken in preference to an overseas holiday benefits the UK economy. The overseas industry is a UK earner, even if latterly it has come with a couple of eye wateringly large financial stings in the tail for UK tax papers. The fact that Treasury are fundamentally wrong about tourism, an activity where the consumer moves to the product to consume it and not the other way around, has until now never been successfully challenged.
If Government are now seriously considering changing the Treasury rules and conventions and, in particular as it has been suggested, those rules that demand relatively short-term return on any investments made, we have a once in a generation opportunity to change how tourism is viewed in the UK. If done correctly that could remove a raft a barrier and we might then see targeted investment in place making and capital projects that will drive more tourist to more British destinations and greater support for those organisations managing destinations and ultimately making them places well worth visiting and, thus, worth marketing as destinations. We need to be clear that we are not necessarily seeking any funding for marketing destinations as such but for the necessary support for those organisations and structure that facilitate joint local working among businesses and the public sector that build and maintain product and places worth selling domestically and internationally.
We will continue to press the argument national, in the meantime it would be extremely helpful and potentially timely if local destinations made similar noises about the benefits of viewing tourism as a tool of economic redistribution. If Government are truly receptive to new ideas and truly intent on taking action to rebalance the economy and redistribute wealth to all parts of the UK, as they appear to be saying, then here is an “over ready” means to help them achieve it.