Month: October 2021

Joint Annual Conference 15 Nov 21 speaker and content update plus latest on CSR and DMO review.

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The joint Tourism Alliance, Tourism Society and British Destinations’ annual conference, Rebuilding the UK Tourism Industry, to be held 10.00 am 15.00 at the Royal Over-seas League, London SW1A 1LR, followed by the Annual Tourism Industry Parliamentary reception 160.00 – 18.00 is now only two weeks away.

Last week the final programme was confirmed with the addition of World Travel and Tourism Council CEO and President, Julia Simpson speaking on the Prospects for International Tourism, complimenting the Ministers keynote on tourism recovery plans and Chairman Visit England’s on the DMO review and sessions on both climate change and VAT on tourism services.

On the DMO front we also now know from last week’s CSR announcements that, although DCMS was allocated additional funding for many parts of its portfolio, none of that was apparently earmarked by Treasury to specifically support the implementation of the de Bios independent England DMO review recommendations which, we understand, included an original aspiration/recommendation for up to £51m over the 3 years (c£17m pa). This reduces the potential options for implementation.

Now that we know that DCMS has not been allocated a specific sum (almost certainly asked for but potential not necessarily at the £17pa level?) to support the recommendation, the review can only be implemented in full, or in part, by finding funding for it during the internal DCMS dispersal and occasional reallocation process that will follow in the coming few weeks. By the 15th November the headline internal decisions on funding allocations may or may not have been made and regardless even if it has very little of the more complex finer details associated with will have been set in stone. It is therefore all the more important that destination and destination management interests are very well represented at the conference, where both Nigel Huddleston MP, Minister for Sport, Tourism, Heritage and Civil Society is giving the key note speak and Nick de Bios, Chairman Visit England, will be speaking about the robust, wide-ranging review he conducted independently of his VE or any other role.

The revised final programme has been uploaded to the booking platform being run on behalf of all three organisation by the Tourism Alliance. This can be accessed on our 2021 conference page on Briishdestinations.net from the main menu conference tab, or go direct to that page at: https://britishdestinations.net/annual-conference-19-march-2018/

Please support this event and take the opportunity to both hear what is being planned for the industry at a strategic level and to help us influence key individuals at both the conference and Parliamentary reception that follows. If you are attending the latter do please consider letting your local MP(s) know that, preferably indicating that you hope to meet or see them there. Invitation have been sent to all Parliamentary Offices but may not have been seen by the individual MPs themselves.

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ONS webinar travel and tourism statistics review

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Original message from ONS 26 October reads:

Good Morning,

The Office for National Statistics (ONS) are running a series of webinars for the travel and tourism statistics review. Earlier this month we launched a consultation as part of the review. The consultation seeks feedback on our proposed future approach of measuring travel and tourism in the UK.

The webinars will give us the opportunity to share further details on the consultation and answer any questions you may have about the consultation or how to respond.

The two webinar dates are as followed:

–         Tuesday 16th November 2021 – 2.30pm – 3.30pm

–         Tuesday 23rd November 2021 –  2.30pm – 3.30pm

If you would like to attend any of these events, please register your interest, stating which webinar you would like to attend using the email address : travel.and.tourism@ons.gov.uk

A link to the webinar and presentation materials will be sent out in advance of the call to those who have registered.

Please feel free to share this with your colleagues.

Many thanks

Elaine

Travel and Tourism Statistics

Office for National Statistics | Swyddfa Ystadegau Gwladol ++44 (0)1329 444593| Travel.and.Tourism@ons.gov.uk

Annual conference 15 November update

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With three weeks to go before the joint Tourism Alliance, Tourism Society and British Destinations Annual Conference at the Royal Over Seas League, London on Monday 15th November we have, between us, already secured strong bookings from a wide group of private sector business interests, academia and consulting and from public, private and public/private sector destination management, among others tourism industry interest groups. Bringing together the diverse memberships of these three representative trade and professional bodies is of course a USP of this annual event and one that all most unequally facilitates exceptionally wide cross sector fertilisation of views and opinion on key strategic tourism issues of the day. The outline is: 9.30 for 10 am to 3pm, followed by a Parliamentary Reception 4pm to 6pm in the Member’s Dining Room in the House of Commons,

For those in British Destinations membership, the programme looks at a number of key issues for destinations and destination management. However, for me, the opportunity to hear Nick De Bois speak about the destination review in England and to ask pertinent questions of him about his intent and the vision behind his recommendations to Government, is a golden opportunity. And especially so in what will be the period immediately after the headline CSR announcements are known and just as some of consequential detail will have, or will start to, emerge. If you are keen on better understanding and therefore being in a position to better influence the outcome of the review, then this is definitely the place be on the 15th November.

If you are able to attending the conference and then go on to the associated Parliamentary reception, it might also be an opportune time to ask your local MPs to try and attend this event, (their Parliamentary offices will have received an invitation). Newly refreshed and updates by the content of the day’s conference sessions, it would be a perfect time for you to discuss your views with them on the DMO review, and other key issues. If your own MPs aren’t in attendance, plenty of others will be there to for you to engage with.

More detail of the excellent range of speakers and topics, together with links to the booking platform are available on Britishdestinations.net under the conference menu tab, or go direct to the page at: https://britishdestinations.net/annual-conference-19-march-2018/

I am grateful to British Destinations’ event’s sponsor Quality in Tourism for their continued support for this and other member benefits and activities.

DMO review funding update

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I had the benefit of hearing a presentation on the DMO review from Nick De Bois, of asking a question on and getting a clear answer around what precisely the recommended financial ask of Government was and of then having a discussion with Nick at the fringes of yesterday’s TMI Annual Conference.  The key public message from Nick was that, despite next week’s expected headline CSR allocations announcement, it isn’t too late yet to influence them, nor critically to influence the detail internal departmental dispersal of funding thereafter and some of the key decisions on the shape of any implementation in the weeks that follow.

The point I made to Nick in the Q&As, and I may be wrong, is that the financial ask in the independent review recommendations wasn’t explicit enough to give clear understanding of his intent and therefore to gather unquestioned support for the full recommendations. If the scale of the funding ask doesn’t appear to match the scale of the aspiration, then what?

I accept that this perception might be as a result of my close involvement in half a dozen previous attempts at radical change, the revision, disbandment and on one occasion about face around national, regional and local tourism structures, sometime including but always impacting, usually negatively, on DMOs. I may just be reading too much or too little into what was written in the report or reading too much between the lines that isn’t there. Regardless, the point has now been made.  It wasn’t rejected by Nick and I and all those present were told, that if they thought it necessary to explain the funding recommendations, we were free to do so, particularly, if it helps encourage maximum lobbying of local MPs etc. for that funding ask in the days and weeks still available to us.

I should stress what follows is my personal interpretation of what Nick had to say yesterday about funding within his independent recommendations to DCMS and the Westminster Government. Recommendations that Government don’t have to accept, or that they can interpret or adjust as they see fit and/or chose to deliver in a differing or adjusted manner to that also recommended within the report.

Nick’s recommendation was for a figure of £17m pa for the life of the coming 3-year CSR funding cycle, or £51m in total. This was envisaged as being an additional sum to be made available to VB/VE via DCMS for use by VE, on top of the VB/VE DCMS allocations. Coincidentally, much the same figure, means and manner as the previous, initial 3 year Discover England Fund.

The basis of the £51m calculation is an estimate of something in the order of 17 tier one, or hub DMOs that between them would cover all of England. Each one getting the best part of a million per year to secure their core destination management functions and support (fund?) nationally agreed key activities in their partner tier two, local destination management organisations, across the combined geographic area of the hub and spoke’s DMO areas.  Tier three, mainly smaller, probably purely marketing focused bodies, just carry on as they see fit, unaffected and potentially unsupported by the activities of the tier one and two organisations. Albeit that this might not actually reflect the realities of the complex interrelationships already in existence? 

VE would be the administrative, accountable, commissioning body and, in Nick’s vision at least, would not top slice much (if any?) of the allocation, the role being resourced from within VE own core DCMS funding.

I also surmised that there is no certainty that DCMS have asked for the full £51m from Treasury, nor to be fair any that they have not.  Neither is there any certainty that Treasury will agree to allocate a the full £51m or potentially any lesser figure DCMS felt justified in asking for.  The only certainty is that absolute best we might expect is £51m over three years.

 I also suggested to Nick that the worst-case scenario might not be, getting nothing but getting something for three years or just long enough to start make meaningful change, only to lose some or all the funding together potentially with the new ways of working that we will inevitably have become reliant upon (the nub of why we are where we are, DMO wise now in my opinion). That is unfortunately the way of the world and of Government funding and policy decision making. Meanwhile, nothing ventured nothing gained; asking for nothing or asking for indefinite guaranteed funding isn’t really an option. Ultimately the new system created, whatever it is, will need by year three of each cycle to be in a position to justify its own existence. If it can’t then, if necessary, it must be prepared to adapt and sustain itself. Notwithstanding of course the core market failure argument that underpins much of Nick’s recommendations. DMO’s exist largely because there is a need for them to exist and it is a need that demonstrably can’t be sustained by the private sector acting alone.

What needs doing now? We should all now be lobbying for that upper figure as the sum needed to make the bulk of the existing English DMOs function in unison to deliver the Government’s wider national priorities.  Even if a lower sum is offered the £51m and the rational behind it should remain clearly in mind: something like, 17 similarly scaled bodies, delivering similar things in return for each getting an annual grant of c £1m to delivery agreed objective among and via their tier 2, spoke partners.  The final number of hubs, the comparative scale of each and variations in what each agree to deliver, may well adjust the division of funding between them. Nonetheless, 17@c£1m pa is a good rule of thumb for what the author of the recommendations envisioned and what we therefore should whole heartedly support.

There are any number of scenarios that may now play out and variations within each.  The obvious one is that perhaps DCMS asked for, or now gets less than £51m additional allocation from Treasury.  We can accept whatever the additional funds are and then focus on making the vision behind the recommendation work with less funding for each hub or perhaps fewer hubs, for example. Or, for a period of time at least, we can focus on lobbying DCMS to make up some or all of any shortfall between the £51m ask and whatever sum is received from Treasury and doing so from within the headline DCMS allocation made to cover the full DCMS portfolio (robbing Peter to pay Paul). Knowing what figure DCMS felt comfortable asking for, would be an extremely useful. However, even if it were less than £51m it shouldn’t be allowed to detract from lobbying for the full amount.

The second obvious scenario is perhaps Treasury making no additional allocation to DCMS to fund the recommendations.  We could just roll over and accept the recommendations are effectively dead, or at best postponed until the at least the next CSR round and perhaps look to deliver the changes in some other way with some other funding (what funding and particularly what funding that is going to deliver a consistent pan England approach?). Or we can lobby DCMS to fund some or all of the £51m, directly from within the DCMS portfolio headline allocations.  Again, robbing Peter to pay Paul but with even more danger of, robbing Peter to pay Peter.  I.E. taking some of the money out of the already overstretched VB/VE budgets and not all from other parts of the DCMS portfolio. 

We must be prepared to react quickly to any initial announcements about the funding for the implementation of the independent DMO review. Being ready, if necessary, to lobby DCMS for either: top up or full funding from within their own portfolio’s allocations in the critical weeks after the headline announcement and before the internal departmental dispersal agreements are finalised.  Essential the period in the early weeks of November and possibly longer?

There are of course other scenario and issues that might emerge, some over a longer period perhaps, that are at variance the recommendations. For example, far more or far fewer hubs than imagined, a differing role for VE and or greater need for top slicing of whatever funding is made available, all of which would adjust the cost, funding benefit ratio.  These are all things that need to be monitored and addressed, as and when necessary, probably only once the total funding figures are known.  Front and centre of mind must remain: what did the report recommend and what was the vision and intent.  Essentially, Nick has handed the report over and he has no formal role in the implementation. That is a matter for DCMS and VB/VE and I would suggest now a matter for the DMO community.  It is one that community needs, as far as possible, now to grip and help direct. I hope the information above helps others to get a grips, rather than confuses the issues further.

The last major review of Tourism structures in England made very clear recommendations for Visit England. Within, as I recall it no more than a few months, almost the exact opposite of those recommendations was agreed by DCMS and enacted shortly after.  That decision, at the very least, made an already difficult DMO environment in England, less sustainable. At worst it contributed directly to creating the progressively more chaotic “DMO” landscape.  The same landscape that Nick’s recommendations now aim try and give some unified structure to, whilst recreating a national unity of purpose in those areas and on those matters that have very real strategic, tactical and operation importance to all those working in tourism, leisure and the visitor economy across England.

There is still a narrowing window of opportunity to influence the key issue of funding and, dependant on the outcome of that, a wider window of opportunities to influence the all-important detail beyond that.  Please don’t waste these opportunities.

Where have all the coaches gone and does it really matter?

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Love them or loath them, and popular opinion typically tends polarize more toward the latter, the answer to the second part of the question, “where have all the coaches gone and does it really matter?” has to be a resounding yes it matters deeply.

The premise of the piece that follows is that as we move from the end of an unusually strong domestic summer season, towards a more normal shoulder months and off-season pattern, the absence of coach business is going to become far more apparent and consequently for many destinations, attractions and businesses far more problematic. Most obviously it will be a problem for hotels but also in turn for all the other businesses that knowingly or unknowingly rely on the trickle-down trade that hotel guests bring or from business from day trips.  This is only going to get worse as out bound domestic international travel opens up and we start to look towards a potentially more normal pre-pandemic style 2022 spring and summer season.

Why are leisure day trips and overnight coach group so important; what basic but critical functions does or did the coach trade perform for us?  In simple terms it fills and smooths the peaks and troughs of: hotels occupancy, underpins attraction visitor numbers and generates footfall and custom for all manner of businesses in places and, critically it does so at those times of day, days of the months and times of year when non-group leisure markets are at their weakest or non-existent. Yes, some of this “filling” is/was high volume and, often characterised as, low or very value. However, on reflection, it seldom if ever displaced better business but rather provided business where no other was available and none could easily or affordably be generated by other means.  The truth perhaps is that, you don’t really know what you have got until it has gone.

Day coach trips from home locations help fill destinations and individual attraction whilst provide footfall and potential for trade for other business.  Overnight trips and coach tours do much the same in the destination or destinations visited and places on route to, from and in between. They also filling, at scale, otherwise vacant bed spaces and generating a much-needed return on hotel infrastructure and staff coats when and wherever troughs would otherwise have appeared.

If a lack of coach business is really such a problem, then why has this not been highlighted more stringently nationally?  Probably because, thus far, it has been disguised by bigger issues or masked by other short-term positives.  A lack of coaches didn’t matter when hotels, attractions and many other businesses operating in the visitor economy were largely closed. It has also mattered a lot less than it would have otherwise done once we reopen this summer, because of a combination of pressure on normal capacity and a glut of individual domestic visitors in most, if not all domestic destinations.

There has been little mid-week and no notable weekend overnight capacity in most popular destinations and certainly no spare capacity on the scale needed to accommodate guest by the multiple coach load.  The notable exception of course being those remaining specialist group hotels, often owned and run by coach operators and tour companies themselves. These venues have tended to absorb much of what little business that there has been in the sector. Not unreasonable the vertically integrated coach and accommodation operators have filled their coaches and their hotel first in preference to seeking other suppliers.  Meanwhile the loss of any day trip traffic to destinations and historic and other attractions has been masked by the increased buzz of a captive domestic market for individual day trips and staying visits, travelling by other means (largely private cars). No one has had much reason to notice the lack of coaches or to feel any real negative impacts, at least not yet.

The strong main season is now behind us, we are towards the end of a more normal autumn shoulder period with an uncertain off-season fast looming.  Out bound domestic international travel is reopening fast and doing so in time for the last main school half-term holidays of this year. And yet there is absolutely no sign of any significant resumption of the coach tourism, the traditional key filler for many hotels and destinations through the Autumn Winter and the Spring month up to the start of the main 2022 season. What is more and I am right about where all the coaches have gone, then there may be very little prospect of a recovery anytime soon.

So, where have all the coaches gone?  In any past domestic crisis, the demand has dropped and the effected sector or sectors have simply hunkered down to await the return of demands and established patterns. Both the cause and solution have been demand led and in past that demand has always returned relatively quickly.  The ubiquitous nature of covid 19, it’s the length and scale have meant that it has impacted not only on demand but also on supply.  For example, as indicated earlier the normal patterns of hotel supply have been temporarily adjusted so coach companies can’t (couldn’t this summer) necessarily find bedspace in the quantities and at the price points required to service the slowly returning demand.  That position may well be changing.

Far more serious and potentially far more long lasting in this instance is a physical loss of coach capacity. Last year there were some significant, high-profile closures of major coach operators.  Some of the brands and their customer databases were then bought out by other operators but not their coach fleets.  Less obvious and less well known was the large number of closures of local and regional coach and tour operator, SMEs with a combined capacity much greater than that lost in the closure of the Specialist Leisure Group and David Urquhart Travel. 

It has taken over a year for British Destinations to get a credible estimate but one well-placed industry specialist has recently put the loss of coach capacity a result of 2020 at c 12k to 14k vehicles out of a total estimated UK coach fleet of c 30k used for all purposes (everything from daily school runs to long distance timetabled travel).  Some of those coaches will have or still could be taken back into service or used, for example, to replace older vehicles in existing fleets, at no net gain but by no means all of them. Even the most conservative guestimate suggests that several thousand leisure coaches have been removed from daily service and in all likelihood many more. 

Structural damage of that scale is bound to have profound implications, but getting anyone to take that loss of coach capacity seriously as a strategic tourism issue has and continues to be a struggle. Simplistically coaches = transport, transport = DfT and DfT have far bigger transport issues to address than the immediate and longer-term impacts of a structural hit on leisure coach capacity. DCMS and other department, who we might assume should be interest and are to differing degrees, have to defer to DfT.  DfT currently have, it seems, limited interest in leisure coach travel and even less still in tourism and the visitor economy which by the rules of the Westminster game are someone else’s problem, even if the causes and effects are very much in DfT’s own area of influence.

One of the many issues DfT is struggling with is a lack of qualified drivers for larger vehicles.  One of the consequences of this is that traditionally relatively poorly paid coach drivers are being poached to drive other vehicles (both big and small) at currently far more attractive rates.  Last week RHA (Road Haulage Association) estimated that there are now more than 5k driver vacancies in passenger transport, which includes coach and leisure coach drivers.  So not only do we have a situation where there are potentially 40% fewer coaches on the road than there were in 2019, it also seems we also have too few drivers to operate what remains of that much reduced fleet.

That lack of drivers is apparently already impacting on bread-and-butter, contract work like school runs but logically it must at some point serve to constrain current and restrict future growth in the coach-based day and staying leisure visits.  Driver shortages and competition to employ those that are available will not be resolved quickly. It may well become worse in the short-term as demand from other sectors increases in the run up to Christmas.   It is difficult to predict but one of the longer-term consequences of all of this may be a need for a permanent hike in coach driver pay rates and therefore a further change to the price sensitive dynamics of the group travel business model.

All in all, those destinations and those attractions and businesses that rely directly or indirectly on coach-based tourism, in or out of main season, now face a period of great uncertainty about the future nature of and rate of recovery within their domestic group travel, based business.  International inbound coach and coach enabled international travel within the UK is still all but non-existent. If and when it begins to recover many of the structural issue impacting on the domestic coach industry will almost certainly have an influence here too, especial where UK vehicles and UK drivers are used.

Is there any good news?  Yes, there is some good news or more accurately a short-term opportunity.  Those coach companies that are operating have had to review the rules of the game.  Many, particularly independents operators, have had to accept that, for the time being at least, the old rules no longer apply.  While they will still be looking for package content and product 6 plus month and often more away, as before, some are putting together and selling day and staying packages at as little as 6 weeks or less notice.  For those destinations and businesses that have group travel product to sell, even product this side of Christmas it isn’t too late to communicate that to operators and tour companies, and it certainly isn’t too late to be discussing early New Year opportunities and beyond.  Those who are aware of this and aren’t just assume it’s a closed book already, could benefit.  Whether this more fleet of foot, shorter notice approach will continue in to the new normality remains to be seen. If it does then it may be one of those still to be identified welcome leaps in operational practice brought on by the pandemic?

What is needs or can be done now?  It is very hard to see what can be done to correct the structural damage already caused by covid-19 within group coach leisure travel.  Coach companies aren’t going to operate, let alone buy more coaches until demand increases dramatically and demand isn’t going to increase dramatically until supply issues, including fewer coaches and drivers, resolves themself. It is all very chicken and egg. 

What can be done is to talk through the issues with accommodation provider and other businesses so that they can adapt plans to meet the likely business trends, rather than risk them sticking with the hope that the old patterns will magically return.  There is also a job to be done to make sure Government understand the problems other businesses are likely to experience as a direct consequence of limited coach capacity and therefore of more limited numbers of coach customs, regardless of any apparent return toward improved general consumer demand. 

Government needs to understand, if it doesn’t already, that recovery, or a return toward the old norms is not going to be simply or without setbacks and, in areas like the coach market where structural damage has occurred, not without considerable pain yet to come.   The more destinations that highlight any current and emerging issues, the more likely it is that DfT and critically other department in Westminster and in the devolved Governments will start taking the problems faced by leisure coach tourism and group travel seriously.  Potential even look to do something specific to ease problems encountered, whether that’s within the coach industry itself, or in the sectors effected by an absence of normal coach business.

Industry VAT Survey report, Job vacancy, group travel and more.

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1. The tourism industry survey on the impact of current VAT reductions and incremental increases back to 20% as now been published. Useful information to support any lobbying you may be conducting It should also be of interest to your own members and help demonstrate your efforts on their behalf through British Destinations and our membership of the Tourism Alliance. Find the short report via the “C-19 research” menu tab of Britishdestinations.net or go direct to the page containing this report and many more on matters pandemic related at:

https://britishdestinations.net/c19-research/

2. There is vacancy for a performing arts programmer based at Southport’s Atkinson offered at c£30.5 to £33.7 applications closing 8 Nov 21. Theatre and the performing arts have been hit hard during the last 18 plus months and this may well be the ideal post for someone currently in, out or returning to employment in this field. If its not for you, please consider circulating to appropriate colleagues. Find the details under “job vacancies +” menu tab or go direct to the page at: https://britishdestinations.net/jobs-vacancies/performing-arts-programmer-the-atkinson-southport-c-30-5k-to-33-7k-closing-8-nov-21/

3. RHA (Road Haulage Association) has expand its activities during the pandemic to include coaching. RHA have some 60 members in the coach leisure and general coach market and are happy to communicate information about new group travel developments, attractions and offers to them. Please send any specific details (rather than general travel trade circulars) to: Andrew Warrender a.warrender@rha.uk.net

4. And finally, please don’t forget to book into the joint Tourism Alliance, Tourism Society and British Destinations one day London conference followed by the Annual Industry Parliamentary reception on 15 November 2021. The event offers an excellent programme, a much needed opportunity to reengage with colleagues from a wide range of tourism interests and also to do your bit to help raise our industry’s profile again within Westminster. More under the conference 2021 menu tab or go direct to the page at: https://britishdestinations.net/annual-conference-19-march-2018/

New consultation on proposed future approaches to National travel and tourism statistics

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Last week ONS opened a consultation on their proposed future approaches to producing national travel and tourism statistics. The consolation which should be of critical interest to any user of ONS and other key national travel and tourism statistics closes on 21 December 2021.

Find the consultation link to the detail and documents under the “consultations” menu tab at Britishdestinations.net or go to our page direct at: https://britishdestinations.net/consultation-responses/open-consultations/ons-proposed-future-approaches-to-measuring-travel-and-tourism-statistics-closes-21-dec-21/