Month: April 2022
You are hopefully aware that from 19 April over a million advanced, off-peak tickets are being offered at discounts of up to 50% on eligible journeys across many but not all routes for single journeys made between 25 April and 27 May 2022. Most but not all train operators are participation, some with slightly differing terms and conditions.
Since the public launch on 19th April the offer has been given some good one-off coverage in most mainstream national and some regional channels and is heavily promoted in the train operating company websites, social media channels and most (all?) ticket sales platform. The stated aim of the national initiative, as I read it, is to encourage the return to rail travel. On that basis it probably right to focus the promotion towards existing rail users and towards rail specific channels that those users are, or would previously be linked into, rather than trying to generate additional promotion through other associated routes to market, like destination marketing?
I was personally taken unaware by the announcement. Having got over my initial embarrassment about that on 19 April I have since struggled to find others in similar positions who were aware before the event. I am also now struggling to find any significant reference to the Great British Rail Sale in any specific non-rail tourism or destination based promotional activity, at any level. I now suspect the two are not unrelated?
If I am right and the potential opportunity to piggyback on this offer hasn’t been taken, presumable because there was insufficient warning or knowledge of it, then we might be well advised to jointly evidence that and then make that known in the right places. In normal circumstance I would be concerned. However, following Great British Railways’ recent “industry consultation”, recommendations on the 5-10-30 year strategic direction for rail in the UK, and critically for tourism and leisure, the future priorities within that for different usages are being worked up, for presentation and consideration by HMG later in the year. It is therefore not unreasonable to suggest that future of UK rail and leisure rail travel’s part within it, is now at a critical juncture and will be for much of the rest of this year.
It might not happen but it would be a disaster, if for want of a little effort now, the tourism industry’s apparent lack of proactive engagement in a major national off-peak, essentially therefore leisure travel promotion, was somehow misconstrued, either by those formulating recommendations, or as importantly, by those who will soon consider and pronounce on them. Once set, the strategy will have profound implications for the means and ease of travel (by any means) around the UK and by default the prospects for tourism in a rapidly changing environment for all forms of public and private transport.
My premise is that had the UK tourism industry had a little more warning of an off-peak offer (albeit for a short should month period) some or all destinations would have considered using it as a tool to generate greater awareness of rail as a travel option and directly increase sales among existing and new leisure rail users.
The first stage is to ask as many of you as possible to confirm or deny that: you were or were not aware, that you have or have not promoted the availability of the offers? If you didn’t promote it why and/or what would have helped you do so? If timelines are a factor, then an indication of what realistic advance warning looks like would also be useful. In fairness to all, if you couldn’t or wouldn’t have been able to exploit this, or a similar offer in future, then please indicate that and why. In this way I will then have something more than just my instincts to act on.
Given that there is still just under a month for the offer to run it is conceivable that some destination may still have the opportunity to do something via social media and other more flexible, less time sensitive channels? If that is an opportunity you are already pursuing or will now (as a consequence of my note?) consider, then please let me know, as that would strength the case I will hope to make.
If my assessment is correct and I can evidence that we didn’t jointly know or know in enough time, then I will make sure that is sufficiently widely known. I should stress that I am already aware that presenting this as a potential criticism of a very welcome initiative would be totally counterproductive. The intended approach would be: “great initiative, we fully understand why advanced warning couldn’t be given in the circumstance, however, just wanted to make it clear that given x to y warning, some/many/all destinations that are well-served by rail would in future jointly or separately add the following value”.
I am also viewing this as a welcome potential opportunity to reiterate to those that need to hear it, the critical importance of rail to leisure and tourism and mutual future opportunities for growth in both, if the rail strategy is correctly framed to foster it.
I look forward to receiving your comments.
Details of the UK Shared Prosperity Fund (UKSPF), including the indicative amounts available to each “place” and the timetable for awards October 2022 to March 2025 have now been published (13 April 22).
UKSPF recognises that there are pockets of need everywhere and, therefore, every administrative area down to district authorities have been given access to funding on a non-competitive basis. That said there are of course broad based but relatively strict criteria that must be meet in an assessed, application process that runs from now to 1 August (formal submission window, 30 Jun 1 Aug 22) to gain full access the totals available to each place.
Mayoral Combined Authorities, (MCA) and Combined Authorities (CA) in England will act as lead for their constituent authorities (tables at the end of funding annexes show how their allocations are reached and presumably their indicative indicative share of the funding?). There are special arrangements for those authorities the process of moving to combined authority status. Arrangement for England, Scotland Wales and Northern Ireland are broadly similar and detailed in separate documents. In Wales for example there are 4 regional leads: North, Mid, South West/Swansea Bay and South East/Cardiff Capital Region.
There is a lot of detail, some of it open to interpretation, contained in the main documents and key confirmatory information scattered across a number of annexes and supporting documents. An initial trawl of this material suggests that there are, significant potential for capital and revenue investment into visitor economy related areas including: culture, tourism, leisure, public realm and sense of place. There is even specific mention of support for visitor promotion (including administration and destination management?). It will be down to each “place” to decide if and how that potential for “tourism” is fulfilled within a plethora of other competing demands.
There are references to a parallel funding scheme Multiply, aimed at improving functional numeracy in the UK. This funding will be channelled in England via MCA’s and second tier authorities. There are some obvious opportunities within this for tourism sectors.
The timescales are tight, the demand on internal and external professional expertise to produce several hundred detailed applications, concurrently in a 4/5-month window will be a challenge. The benefits for tourism in general and for tourism in individual destination will, as ever, depend largely on the priority that is already accorded to tourism in any particular authority, MCA or CA and, critically, the quality of the schemes or projects and the cases for a tourism component made in the coming few weeks and couple of months at best. Minds, if not already made up, at local, MCA or CA levels will need to be very soon, if the application process and timetables are to be met.
I will continue to delve into the detail and if there is anything of significant to report, let you know. Please let me know if you are or become aware of any issues arising, or there is any central research or investigation required to assist you as a group. If destination managers would value an opportunity to discuss and/or share local plans in the next month or so in order to inform or help influence local debate and allocations, then I will happy to arrange it.
While waiting for the publication of the consultation on statutory registration of accommodation provision in England, I thought I would share with colleagues my most recent exposure to the absurdities and contradictions of the current enforcement of accommodation related regulation within in England.
I don’t want to pre judge the long awaited DCMS consultation. However, we are anticipating a, “here’s what we think the option, or options should be” appropriate. We are also expecting whatever is proposed to lean towards a very light touch, industry guided (i.e., providers), low-cost option. Given what we are learning much more over time about some of the longer-term consequences of well-intended, light touch regulation, there is perhaps a real danger it may turn out to be a bit of an unwelcome faff for the majority of good operators and utterly ineffectual against the small but dangerous and highly damaging minority of cowboys, rogues and rotter’s.
Having waited over 50 years for the original 1969 provision to be enacted, 60 since we have our first record of it being proposed, a damp squid of a solution now would be a totally wasted opportunity. Especially if you accept that history clearly suggests that whatever is or isn’t adopted now, will not then be adjust or revisited for at least 10 years and probably much, much longer.
So, what else has just happened? HMG have recently decided that potential endangering, if not accidentally killing refugees fleeing conflict Ukraine in the well-intended rush of human kindness to house as many as possible as quickly as possible can’t possibly be countenanced. Consequently, and quite rightly, all those wishing to offer either rooms or full properties under the Homes for Ukraine scheme are being advised on what the minimum standards they must achieve are and, critically, what mandatory safety provisions must be met including: current gas safe certification, smoke or fire alarms and CO monitors where appropriate.
Quite rightly in turn, local authorities, as the delivery bodies in England, are mandated and critically enabled, via the provision of the basic information on who what and where, to check that these minimum safety standards are being reached, before they accept owners into the scheme. Delays in obtaining gas safe certificates and/or a reluctance on the part of some potential hosts to pay for the necessary inspections and alarms etc., is causing additional delays. In some quarters it is also generating some fairly predictable disquiet about, “red tape” and “jobsworth officialdom” arguably from among those who would be equally vocal about any failures to enforce and who would probably be first in line to demand the take away the job of the “jobsworth”.
Meanwhile, the self-same properties can be readily let commercially and internationally promoted as holiday accommodation to a Ukrainian or indeed any other visitors with nothing more arduous than the completion of a simple self-assessment, online form. Failure to declare a critical piece of safety information will at worst, dependant on the platform used, result in the icon for that item being crossed through on the list of facilities. The platforms promoting this accommodation take absolutely no responsibility or will not accept any liability for the owner’s failure to meet any mandated legal, regulatory or other standard. There is currently also no practical way for local authorities or other statutory bodies, like the fire service, to identifying where properties are being commercially let or by whom on such platforms, unless they care to individually book them to obtain their address detail. Therefore regulators and enforcement agencies have no realistic means of checking that matters like planning regulations, health, food hygiene, fire, gas or electrical safety standards are being adequately addressed.
It seems to me to be a little absurd that at this point in time apparently one part of HMG with a responsibility for housing can in an international crisis, readily and rightly recognise that potentially taking any risk that might effectively “kill with kindness” can’t possibly be countenanced. While another with the longstanding responsibility for tourism continues to procrastinate about allowing many of the same risks but on a vastly larger scale and all in the name of commercial gain and the perceived need to promote new disruptive technologies, regardless of the increasingly obvious and real risk this approach fosters.
Surely it is well past time to protect the lives and wellbeing of consumers, paying or otherwise, and in doing so protect the reputation of all parts the UK tourism accommodation industry? I look forward to seeing DCMS’s hopefully robust and practical proposals to achieve just that.