Tourism issues in the news

Posted on Updated on

Aviation, Gig economy, vehicle controls, inland bathing water and Coronavirus:

1. Aviation. The Government’s rescue plans for Flybe which in essence involves deferring £100m plus of Air Passenger Duty (APD) owed to Government, to help ease cash flow during this the off-peak travel period have not only been criticised by the environmental lobby for sending out mixed messages about aviation and its environmental impacts but also, perhaps more surprisingly, by other major airline operators on the grounds of its impacts on competition. It may be over simplistic but this could suggest that the UK/European aviation is even more competitive and, by necessity, more cutthroat than perhaps many of us, not directly involved on a day to day basis in aviation would have presumed? The reaction may also have come as a bit of a surprise even to some in Government?

If it has come as a surprise, then it is even more likely to make Ministers think again about strongly hinted suggestions that APD on internal UK flights should now be reviewed and reduced, with a view to encourage internal, UK regional connectivity.  These early, possibly knee-jerk, potential solutions may have to be reassessed or dropped in light of the subsequent wider reactions? The alternative of reviewing and reducing ADP across the board for all flights, to and from all destinations seems even more fraught and perhaps even more so now given the industry’s own negative reaction to a well-meant offer of deferral on Flybe’s ADP payments.

Meanwhile, there is conflicting information about whether the demise of Flybe would result in the closure of certain regional airports and/or whether other carriers could, would or would not be willing to take on Flybe’s UK routes on a commercial basis. Clearly both the threat and, if it ever came to it, the reality of the loss, even briefly of internal UK flights and regional airport is an issue of serious concern for a wide range of interests at both end of all routes served by the regional airport network.

From a tourism prospective that is especially the case for the many more remote UK destinations and perhaps none more so than for some of our well-loved but vulnerable smaller Island destinations. The reality is that they generally have far fewer, much longer and more complex alternative means of moving people, the essential raw material of tourism a (in some instances the) vital socio-economic driver for their communities.

More on the industry’s position on the Flybe bailout at: https://simpleflying.com/why-are-britains-carriers-unhappy-with-flybes-rescue-deal/

2. Gig Economy. Birmingham have decided to delay their approval of a 5-year extension on Ubers licence until the outcome of the Uber appeal against Transport for London’s decision not to renew the licence in the Capital. That London appeal is going through the courts.  While it is Uber continues to operate in London, as they will also be allowed to do so in Birmingham, until the decision of the courts are known.  The speculation is that other Cities are likely to follow the TfL lead, so there is a lot riding for Uber on the outcome of this appeal.

And for balance today, Uber announce a potential ground breaking deal with Nissan to allow drivers in London to accesses all electric cars.  The stated aim is to ensure that all vehicles using the Uber App in London are all electric by 2025. A bold and commendable ambition, but one which I can’t help feeling is, on the face of it at least, currently at odds with the ongoing TfL Uber dispute about their fitness to hold a licence.  See articles on both at:

https://britishdestinations.net/tourism-the-sharing-economy-and-its-wider-implications/gig-economy/

3. Vehicle controls. Brighton and Hove have taken the first steps towards a potential fossil fuel car ban in their City centre by agreeing to commission a feasibility study. They are one of the first, if not the first, “traditional coastal resort” town/City to do so, joining popular inland destinations like Oxford and York in considering the need to limit vehicle emission.  They are doing so alongside a raft of other larger core Cities, including City destinations like Birmingham and Bristol, who may have a more urgently need to take robust action to start meeting their legally binding air quality and omissions targets.

For any destination of any type or size already blessed with a generally adequate rail, bus and other public transport infrastructure, curtailing private car usage is less of an immediate problem.  For those destinations not so well blessed, it is a more difficult economic conundrum, especially when one of their major industries, by its very nature, is utterly reliant on customers making a discretionary journey to the destination, before they can engage in any form of economic exchange with your business community.

However much of a conundrum it maybe, it is now more a matter of how long can destinations afford to put off addressing the problem of maintaining (creating?) the viable, sustainable means by which visitors can visit and not a question of whether there is a looming need to do something.  New and yet to emerge technology may still save the status quo, but waiting to see is a hell of a gamble.  More on the Brighton and Hove decision at:

https://www.bbc.co.uk/news/uk-england-sussex-51198491

4. Inland bathing waters. The Times continues to support campaigns around bathing and other water quality issues with a new focus on the state of many of England’s rivers. They are supporting a campaign group who have identified the previously, less than transparent fact that the designation of a body of water as a bathing water comes with greater obligation to meet and maintain standards and ultimately, if the risk to public health warrants it, greater investment in amongst other thing waste water treatment and management of storm overflow.

The catalyst for potential action in rivers and inland waters is in part the exponential growth in individual and competitive wild water swimming, alongside a perceived increased in casual leisure usage of rivers and lakes, during our apparently warmer summers.  The current EU and presumably future UK regulation demands that where the risk, based on the peak number of users in the May to September UK bathing season justifies it, the water should be regularly tested and bathers advised of its quality and where necessary when and in particular when not to “bath”.  The argument goes that if lots of people are bathing in these rivers they should be designated as bathing waters and, by default, that will mean more will have to be done to improve their quality or ban bathing.  Many years of experience on the coast shows that will there are elements of truth in that approach it tends to be way more complex and necessarily nuanced than that.

The campaign is fraught with difficulties not least because the local councils involved have to provide a range of facilities at a bathing water and actively manage it. If that is to happen the relevant Council has to see both a public health need and in constrained times, clear socio-economic merit in supporting, funding and managing the designation.  The process of designation and/or removal from the list on grounds of lack of usage have to be robustly evidence over a period of time.  It can’t be done on the basis of a large single event, nor on of a small number of regular users.  The number of users that would represent a public health risk in any given circumstance to justifying designation is not, as far as I am aware, actually even quantified.

The point of pointing this development out is to make inland destination manager aware that there is complex issue potentially looming for anyone with a major body of water that is attracting increased usage.  Based on the experience of their welcome and sometime less than welcome interventions over decades on coastal bathing water issues, the Times are unlikely to drop their objection to riverine pollution and support for wild water swimmers anytime soon. Just as they have consistently supported the work of Surfers Against Sewage and campaigned for what was much needed coastal water improvements, they are likely to routinely champion the cause of improved river quality until it is somehow achieved.  More at:

https://www.thetimes.co.uk/article/swimmers-on-way-to-a-dip-in-first-certified-clean-river-86563s3sv

5. Coronavirus. I have been loathed to mention this for fear of needlessly inflaming a worrying situation. However, the evidence seems to support the fact that this the second major avian to human virus transition in less than twenty years has the potential to seriously impact on world travel and by default on travel and tourism. Indeed, today those early warning signs have more or less been confirmed.  The situation and advise is changing hourly but hopefully this outbreak may not be as serious as previous incidents and the risk to human health in real terms, relatively small, albeit no risk can or should be deliberately played down.

The natural instinct in these circumstances is to assume that such incidents, if they impact on our industry, will do so primarily through the loss of international visitors.  There may even be a popular presumption that any disincentive among the domestic population to travel abroad will automatically serve to benefit the domestic tourism industry.  All the evidence from previous incident of this or of a vaguely similar nature, point to the fact that the damage to the UK tourism industry will come as much from a downturn in domestic tourism as it will from any, often higher profile and more immediately noticeable decline in international visitor numbers.

This is not an invitation to feed the fire, but a plea to make sure that internally destination managers and key local businesses are looking at the potential of a downturn as appropriate to you markets in both international and domestic tourism and doing the appropriate scenario planning.  Far more importantly, please also ensure that any industry response to Government management planning you are involved in makes the critical point that, although the initial cause and immediate focus of any impact may be on international travel, there is likely to be potential for even more significant damage to be done to the domestic industry and to places that are not heavily reliant on international visitors. If this does develop into a serious issue for tourism then the domestic tourism industry and the domestic market will need just much carefully considered PR and other support as the international markets.

I am happy to point you to the historic evidence base for this stance, if it is needed to support the argument you may need to make.

Latest news as at early Friday evening by way of illustration of the very serious potential for concern is at:

https://www.bbc.co.uk/news/uk-51232163

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