Great British Railways’ Whole Industry Strategy Call for evidence

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Great British Railways launched a call for evidence on 9 December running for 8 weeks until 4 February, sadly to my mind of which at least 3 or more are largely written off to the needs of the festive season. The “whole industry strategic plan” that will evolve from this initial evidence gathering process is to be considered by Ministers in late 2022 and be implemented sometime thereafter. The Strategy will be the first of its kind and scale in at least 30 years, setting the direction for rail transportation in Britain for at least the next 30 years, with waypoints (my description) 5 and 10 years out.

I have not yet had time to absorb the full detail or to think through the full implications and critically the opportunities. However, you don’t need to be a genius to know that the railways are currently important to many and vital to some leisure and business tourism and will in all likelihood, given mounting pressures on other forms of transport, set to become an even more important consideration, in a diverse, widely spread and often remote, geographically and economically isolated industry, that is totally reliant on the fundamental truth that its consumers travel to the product and not the other way round. No travel = no tourism.

It is probably also worth remembering the well-establish view that the tourism industry currently come at best a very distant second to mid-week commuter travel. That is of course largely due to the current strategic railway priorities. Recent events have thrown established travel patterns and immovable certainties in to doubt and caused some at the centre to question firmly established policies. This represents a golden opportunity to argue for a new and very different approaches for the purposes of recreation, leisure and associated wellbeing.

In the circumstance it would be remiss of the tourism industry, as a whole and for individual destinations, either reliant upon existing rail service now or in dire need of new and/or improved services to survive changing travel and transport patterns in future, not to take this opportunity to say so in the next eight weeks.

Based on a very quick scan the opportunities to make general “big handful” points around the need and opportunities that rail brings to say relatively remote coastal or rural destination towns and areas, or say to the increasing reliance the visitor economies of many towns and certainly Cities of any size have on rail connectivity, probably lie within question 3, long-term economic growth and question 4, levelling up and connectivity. Specific detailed tourism related issues for individual destinations probably fall into the same two question responses. You can of course judge whether question 1, 2 and 5 around: meeting (rail) customer needs, financial sustainability (for the rail network) or delivering environmental sustainability offer a better opportunity to make your point of view known. For my part, I often ignore the online option and submitting a narrative or part narrative response to some consultation questions and then giving answers to all the key questions I think they need to consider but didn’t necessarily ask.

I don’t think I have any choice but to do an Association response, so any general thought and more detailed contributions to aid me in this would be appreciated by the end of January. Meanwhile, wherever possible, I would ask others to consider putting in their own tourism flavoured responses, however short and to the point. Tourism is an outlier within the DfT’s agenda and not, as far as I am aware, currently that high on the new Great British Railways’ list of go to industries. If I am right about this, then past experience suggests that the unexpected weight of numbers commenting in a similar vein can makes as much, if not more of an impression than the reasoned voices of a few trade bodies representing the views of many.

My gut instinct is that this call for evidence and any consultation falling out of it in 2022 are, for once, of truly strategic importance to both the domestic and inbound international tourism and deserves to be addressed as such. I hope you would agree and react accordingly: Whole Industry Strategic Plan | Great British Railways Transition Team (gbrtt.co.uk)

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