Covid -19 and other updates

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Three things, one covid-19 relate and two not as a reminder that there is life and critically for a trade body like ours, issues outside the pandemic and we need on keep on our radar. These are future UK public subsidy controls and adjustments to the GB Tourism Survey (GBTS).

 1. Yesterday’s announcement that the 19 July would now see the lifting of covid-19 restrictions in England was on the whole welcome news for the UK based leisure, tourism, hospitality and the visitor economy in general.  Businesses in England and doubtless those in the other Home Nation’s, can now look forward to the opportunity to trade at or near full capacity (or even above) during a full main summer season and do so to a larger than normal captive potential domestic audience, assuming other unforeseen limitations, like staff shortages permit.  However, you look at it that has to be regarded as good news for most of the domestic tourism industry.

The apparent removal of all covid-19 specific regulation and control, the new onus on personal responsibility, set against the PM’s statement of the reality that “we must find new ways of living with the virus” does of course present some real thorny challenges around policies, practices and management of consumers, employees and businesses, particularly for our tourism’s mainly service sector operations.

Some of these challenges have already been aired publicly. As businesses now look towards a firm date for full, unrestricted opening, other potential pitfalls will doubtless start emerging as business wrestle with both the theoretical and increasingly real-world experiences.  Covid-19 has not gone away, nor either have a raft of public health, consumer and employment laws, regulations, duties and responsibilities, all of which will now have to be adapted to the reality that we have to learn to live with covid-19 but now without the benefit of covid-19 specific rules, regulation and much of guidance we have recently enjoyed, or is it endured? There is likely to be a lot of trial and error and significant room for too much or too little from both consumers and businesses, based on their own interpretations and application of “personal responsibility”. 

As and when you identify any issues that might require formal or informal intervention, please let us know so we can discuss these with our strategic partners and where appropriate flag them with the Government(s).

2. Last week the Westminster Government released its response to its consultation on UK subsidy control and simultaneously tabled the Bill to begin enacting its chosen solution.  We have taken the view that although subsidy control, essentially the replacement for EU state aid rules, is about a much bigger piece than just tourism, tourism has been and hopefully will continue to be a major recipient of public funded support and subject to any new or adjusted controls on the use of public funding.  We therefore responded to the consultation raising a few general point and principles around the pressing need for support for tourism and, in particular, support for disadvantaged areas and pockets of deprivation which are often popular tourist areas and found within them.

Much of the Government’s consultation response and all most all the Bill deals with technical financial matters beyond my pay grade and frankly my mental agility. The detail, much of it still to emerge during the Bill’s progression, will be of interest to those closely involved in public finance and the funding of regeneration and redevelopment projects.  For the rest of us, there is at least one issue that should sound alarm bells for tourism and tourism-based regeneration.  In the last paragraph at page 43 of the consultation there is a seemingly innocuous statement: “…. a map proscribing disadvantaged areas is not required for the functioning of the regime. However, we will further consider whether any future UK map may be relevant…”. 

In our view the maps down to ward/ super input area level have been invaluable in helping levering financial support into many popular coastal, rural, urban and City destinations and have been particularly helpful in identifying island of need in otherwise largely affluent areas and thus in gaining recognition and support for problem areas that blighting the economic and commercial progression in otherwise successful communities.  It isn’t of course the physical maps, per say, that are important, although maps are wonderful tools for simplifying and illustrating complex situation, but the physical collection, maintenance and presentation of the fine grain economic data needed to produce the maps down to that level of small area, high detail in the first place. 

It is not of course a given that abandoning the mapping means a down grading of the complex and presumably expensive maintenance of data sets down to the level previously proscribed by the EU. However, it is not unreasonable suspicion that one could easily lead to the other and the loss of this important economic tool.  I would therefore urge colleagues to raise the concern with those directly involved in public finance, redevelopment etc. to help ensure that invaluable economic data, critical to tourism redevelopment, isn’t unintentionally lost in the rush to ditch EU related regulation or to “build back better”. 

In my opinion being able to identify deprivation down to ward /super input area level and, thus, being able to recognise it, wherever it exists, is absolutely critical if Government genuinely wish to deliver its levelling up agenda.  I am just not totally convinced that they have identified this for themselves yet.  I hope I am wrong, but just in case I am not I would like recruit members support in raising awareness of the potential issue when and wherever you can. If I am wrong there is no harm in raising it and if the suspicion has any foundation then it is well worth challenging.

See the consultation response and Bill detail via our consultation pages: https://britishdestinations.net/consultation-responses/open-consultations/beis-subsidy-control-consultation-closing-31-mar-31/

3.  ONS has apparent responded to concerns that recently announced changes to GB Tourism Survey (GBTS) methodology will result in a loss of comparability and trend data by agreeing to convert the previous ten years’ worth of data, using the new methodology to rework the old survey results.  This is good news in that we will have a new and apparently more accurate set of domestic statistics going forward and now a reliable means of contrasting and comparing domestic tourism performance down to regional level back to 2010 2011 (?).  It does mean of course that what we thought had happened in those adjusted 10 years may be somewhat different to what the new data will now tell us.  Nationally that should present too much of a problem as we are at least comparing apples with apples.  Relative scale and direction of travel of what are national estimates, is what is really important, not necessarily the exact quantum. 

I do, however, feel obliged to alert colleagues to these changes, not least because some of you will have been using commercial models locally that rely far more than others on aggregating regional GBTS and IPS data (IPS remains unchanged for the time being at least) than others.  I don’t know for certain but I suspect some of you may have, for example, policies and strategies, funding applications and funding mechanisms linked to performance and data sets that may in someway be informed to differing degrees by historic GBTS data.  At some point in the not-too-distant future some of the facts and figures you have been using as reference points may suddenly change to an as yet unknow degree.  That probably isn’t too big an issue, provided it is been identified in advance and measures, if any are needed to accommodate it, have been planned or taken. 

It is important to note that the changes to GBTS have been brought about as a result of concerns raised by the Home Nations Governments about the accuracy of the old methodology. ONS are responding to those concerns in a forthright and effective manner.  Meanwhile we of course are still unable to derive accurate local data directly from GBTS itself. Where GBTS is used to help directly or indirectly inform local value and volume estimates, we too may need to adjust our own data collection, models and methodologies to take account of the changes in GBTS.  Forewarned is forearmed.  As ever, if you come across any significant potential issues arising from these changes then please let me know so I can represent your concerns.

Please do share your thoughts and comments

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