Month: June 2022
Accommodation Registration in England, enlightening Parliamentary oral evidence session and new youth travel research published
1. Accommodation Registration in England. The long-awaited consultation or, as it transpires call for further evidence, on the development of an accommodation registration scheme in England has now been published with a 12 September 22 deadline for responses. Although a DCMS consultation about England, comment from other home nations and, in particular, Scotland and Northern Ireland where registration is now in force, is sought. Wales doesn’t get a specific mention but the consultation already ongoing there may be equally informative for England?
The online consultation consists of 13 main question areas including a catchall, anything we should have asked or you wish to comment on section. I would urge colleagues to consider responding and/or to pass details to other relevant agencies like the local fire service, licencing department etc. for their consideration. The consultation document contains a lot of detail. I would recommend it is read or scanned for now to get an understanding of DCMS’s starting position, of what’s required and to allow you time to assemble thoughts and critically any local evidence (anecdotal or more substantive) before any consideration of the response can be undertaken. Evidence of whatever type, where it is available, is going key to influencing the content of the next stage a consultation on the recommended options which will to follow (hopefully) later this year. The current consultation will be critical in dictating what option(s), if any, we will be given, so don’t miss the opportunity to shape them.
Initial observations from me include:
- I am surprised that electrical safety isn’t considered as essential, alongside Gas Safety Certification? The logic seems to be that it isn’t a legal requirement as such but that even the most rudimentary risk assessment would conclude that Electrical Installation Condition Reports and regular Portable Appliance Tests would be needed (not least because c 25% of all domestic fires are caused by electrical distribution or appliance faults). If this is the logic behind treating electrical safety as less critical than any other safety issue, then I think that is a heroic assumption on someone’s part and it is precisely why we need registration to ensure what logically we would hope should be happening, is actually happening. Hope, particularly when you are dealing with what by new circumstance is often now untrained, unsupervised, non-professional provision simply no longer cuts it.
- The narrative appears to imply that non-safety critical legislation like TV or PRS licensing are somehow potentially less importance. However, I would argue that they may be missing the key point in this area which is that the established, transparent accommodation sector, presumably justifiably, carries the burden and costs where applicable, of complying with all these rules and regulations, while the opaque or currently hidden new part of the sector may, or arguably, does not. It can’t be right that one set of businesses pays because they choose to trade openly, while another may not, simply because they currently operate below the public and regulatorily radar. If applying these regulations and licencing cost are justified then ensure it can be fairly applied to all. Alternatively, if they aren’t justified, then remove the requirement(s) entirely from the whole accommodation sector.
- Given my recent communications on the unintended consequences of short-term holiday letting on the housing market and in some areas, therefore by default, on the ability of the tourism workforce to both live and work in an ever-growing number of destinations, I would have liked to have seen more emphasis on this counterproductive issue in the DCMS narrative. The impact on the housing market in a small number of destinations is highlighted but not the “so what?”, specifically for tourism. Instinct also tells me that that the change from long to short-term let is a relatively new phenomenon and is only now just starting to impact on a much larger number of both rural and urban destinations. It may also have been highlighted by a concurrent combination of post Brexit and the emergence from Covid-19 inspired staff shortages, the combination of which now appear to be longer-term structural issues and not something that will fix itself if left well alone. If this is the case then self-inflicted impacts on “tourism” and not simply on the wider communities needs, to be evidenced by a much larger number of destinations raising it as a growing concern. If not, as I read the DCMS narrative, a critical, part of chicken and egg, tourism dimension of the bigger issue of hollowing out of communities, could be missed. If DCMS as the tourism sponsors department miss it, then what hope of DLUHC who control wider housing policy recognising, let alone dealing effectively the problem?
While you ponder whether you can or can’t respond directly, warn off others agencies and department and/or look to gather in more local evidence, I will give the consultation more thought, with the view to coming back to you all well before the deadline in order to prompt some more debate and discussion on where we would jointly like to see this heading. Currently I am firmly in the registration camp and leaning heavily away from light touch, as they describe it: ” ……. a similar model to the’ We’re good to go’, covid-19 industry standard”, and much more toward, again as they describe it, a “licencing scheme with physical checks of premises”. I suspect that somewhere between the two lies room for a robust registration scheme that isn’t a self-assessment scheme, totally open to abuse and bereft of any credible level of of external assessment and enforcement (or regulation as I think we all still tend call it!).
Need I remind you all that statutory registration has been on this Association’s radar since at least 1959, on the statute books but not yet enacted since 1969 and off and on the agenda, in some form or other every c10 to 15 years since then. This isn’t new, just a new, fleeting and for once serious opportunity of identifying who is providing what accommodation where and then having a fighting chance of ensuring they do it safely, legally and to an acceptable, modern standard. If registration is accepted in England, the chosen solution will almost certainly be with us in the form it is adopted for at least the next decade and in all likelihood much longer. In essence if it is going to happen, now is the time and we will then have to live with whatever we get for the foreseeable future, so nearly right isn’t really isn’t an acceptable option.
2. Select Committee Oral Evidence Session 21 June. For a master class in diplomacy and diplomatic, yet still enlighteningly frank responses, for a full and proper understanding of the typical barriers VB/VE now routinely labour under and a little more information and understanding of where the DMO review might or might not be heading, I would recommend you view the Parliamentary TV recording of the evidence given to the Digital Culture, Media and Sports Select Committee by Patricia Yates (then interim now hurrah) CEO VB/VE and Nick de Bois, Chair VE advisory board and author of the independent DMO review for England. The session is a little long but still well worth listening to, even if just play it in the background and focusing in when you hear one the numerous little strategic gems scattered throughout its c 85 minutes duration. A fantastic effort on behalf of both, responding honestly to some hard questioning but yet without being seen to overtly bite the hand that feeds. Parliamentlive.tv – Digital, Culture, Media and Sport Committee .
3. New youth travel research. I have added a YouGov piece: Travel report 2022: Youth of today, travel of tomorrow to the British Destinations research and statistics library. Some interesting insights on a generation who most of us don’t necessarily know that well, unless it is in the form of someone who lives or until recently lived upstairs and may occasionally visit for food, funding and laundry purposes. As with a number of recent reports I have reverted to using the research and statistic and not the separate “c-19” covid-19 specific menu tab: https://britishdestinations.net/research-and-statistics/
1. Colleagues will wish to join me in congratulating Patricia Yates on here appointment as the new CEO of VisitBritain and Visit England. Patricia will be well known to many of you through her work in various senior appointments with VisitBritain and latterly VisitBritain/VisitEngland. Doubtless like you, I am really looking forward to working with Patricia and supporting her and the VB/VE team to deliver the best possible outcomes for UK international and domestic tourism. More on Patricia’s appointment from VisitBritain Visit England at: https://elinkeu.clickdimensions.com/m/1/18389858/p1-b22173-c8db121305ff40f28f6d3eb32891998c/1/831/5a60674c-482a-41d3-9cda-0d89701edd36 .
2. Sods law, yet again within hours of me publishing a note on the housing market and the conflicting impacts on tourism (here) there is a suggestion in the Times that Michael Gove and the Levelling up Department may be proposing more relevant changes. It is reported that the proposal is to give new (and presumably existing?) regional mayors (adoptive powers ?) to limit short-term letting via an amendment to the Levelling up and Regeneration Bill currently going through Parliamentary process.
The proposed amendment would require those wishing to undertake short-term lettings to apply for planning permission (change of us?). Presumable the essence of the idea being that without prior planning permission for anything but very short, occasional short-term lets, the owner would be in breach of planning consent? As ever the devil will be in the detail, for example, will it apply retrospectively to properties already operating or claiming to operate in the short-term holiday market? What are the justifications for refusal, appeals prosses etc. ?
It is not clear yet if this is: a leak of firm plans, an informal testing of the potentially hot waters on the part of DLUHC (Department for Levelling up, Housing and Communities), a fishing trip on the part of the Times, or something else? Whatever it is, unless and until its confirmed, don’t bet your home on it happening just yet.
What is becoming clear to me by hour and not mentioned in my, as ever overlong piece on the issues, is that the current impacts of short-term lets on the availability of long-term lets, in particular, is becoming a political hot potato. Local voters aren’t happy and that for complex reasons that worries this Government at this particular time more than it would in normal times. To be brutally frank about it, in current political circumstances both the pace and the nature of any Government’s reaction will be drive as much if not more by how it might playout in influencing local voting preferences, often in more marginal places, than it will by any rational thoughts or arguments made, either for or against the idea of applying greater restrictions on short-term lets.
If you lean towards the tightening the rules and regulation then this a rare passing window of opportunity and the good news accompanying it is that there is significant anecdotal and more substantive evidence suggesting broad local resident support for robust action in many a tourist hot spot. If you lean towards a more market driven view, there a very real short-term passing threat here for owners of properties that are let. The accompanying good news is that rental property, second and holiday home owners are of course a voters too, but not necessarily always primarily in the places where second home ownership is perceived to be a major issue. It is worth noting that in our somewhat quirky voting system, in most instances second home owners can (or could if they wished) vote as many times as they have properties, provided they are not in the same constituency and the property is not let as someone else’s main residency from which they would vote, i.e. almost exclusively a longer-term lets. Even with that caveat in place, on balance popular genuinely local sentiment is more likely to outweigh and out vote any amount of contrived external voting preference.
3. Some minor corrections to my original note. There are several versions of DLUHC notifications for the Level up and regeneration Bill which use slightly different wording concerning powers to charge premium rates on empty and holiday homes. Yesterday I suggested the charges in England applied to empty homes and empty holiday homes, but only because I couldn’t be certain I had seen some comment to the contrary. Today I rediscovered the original quote: “Councils will also be able to double council tax on empty and second homes, ensuring everyone pays their fair share towards local services and boost levelling up”. I take this to mean that like in Wales the intent is to allow Council to charge a premium on occupied holiday homes where they feel it is justified.
The caveat in this case is that what is announced in the headlines for a proposed piece of legislation isn’t necessarily what always emerges when the Bill passes through multiple layers of Parliamentary process and scrutiny. It’s hard to believe that until very recently many Councils offered discount to holiday home owners to encourage them to come and to recognise a perceived lower level of local service usage. Indeed some may still do? This is a concession that predates alleged abuse of business and business rate status and separately the concurrent, exponential growth in second homes ownership of all types and for all purposes. It is also in large part, yet another instance of disruptive industries, utterly changing the prevailing circumstances, ultimately necessitating a review of the historic ground rules?
I always agonise of the selection of words to try and ensure nothing can be too easily misconstrued. For those who know me, no I haven’t moved to Keswick! I just failed to appreciate the potential importance of the inclusion of the word “former” in the sentence “my own home town of Keswick”. There is oddly a relevance to this in that I was born and brought up there. Unfortunately, like 95% plus of my peers and former school friends growing up there in the 60s and 70s, all but a hand full of whom left to find work, I couldn’t now reasonably afford to try return there to live. Nor perhaps at this precise moment, would it be appropriate, even in my most wistful moments, for my thoughts to turn toward buying a nice little holiday home there.
Another, off the cuff thought. For those of us in the industry in positions making the case for or against major such critical changes of legislation, should we not perhaps be asked to make a declaration of personal interest? After all, in the case of second and holiday homes at least, the statistics suggest it is people like me and of my age group plus and minus 10 years who are most likely to have a personal interest in the outcome. In my own case disappointingly for me I have nothing to declare here. Other than of course a genuine interest in getting the right balance between encouraging tourists, not inadvertently destroying or hollowing out the communities and places they come to visit, the creation and maintenance of viable visitor economies and ones that genuinely benefit and employ happy and content people, preferably wherever possible, from within the local community. That brings as back neatly to the old mantra that on reflections underpins what we need to achieve in the housing market tourism market debate: nice places to both live and work in are generally nice places to visit and vice versa.
The full press release detailing the proposed Levelling up and regeneration Bill, referenced above, can be found at: https://www.gov.uk/government/news/new-bill-to-level-up-the-nation
Brighton and Hove Council are the latest and largest English urban destination outside London to start considering if and how they could or should tackle a range of issues associated with the private rented sector and second and holiday home ownership. These include: the booming short-term let market, the lucrative shift from longer-term residential letting towards short-term holiday lets, the potentially inappropriate usage of residential accommodation for leisure purposes, the impacts on availability and affordability in the local housing markets and the knock-on impact that this might have on availability of local employees, especially in the service sector and, in particular within that, tourism and the visitor economy. It is latter concern I wish to focus on here.
Recently Whitby (North Yorkshire CC, Scarborough BC, Whitby TC) residents voted in favour of proposals to consider imposing primary residency restrictions on new build housing in the town. Similar restrictions are being discussed or have been applied in a number of usually smaller, rural town mainly in coastal destinations and National Parks, for example, St Ives in Cornwall and Keswick in Cumbria.
Primary resident restrictions are not without there own issues. For example, in my own place of birth and former home town of Keswick, I know of new houses bought by local families who have taken the opportunity retain their original homes and now let them in the lucrative holiday market. Not necessarily I would suggest within the spirit of the primary residency clause scheme? Equally there are studies that suggest that primary residency restrictions in places like St Ives act to limit local housing development and therefore only serve to reduce supply, increasing pressure on the existing property stock, albeit that this is arguably already be beyond the means of many local buyers? A failed challenge of the St Ives scheme has set some useful legal precedence (link below to article on both below).
Nationally there a number of associated changes underway. In England owners of short-term letting properties claiming and often then benefiting financially from business rate status will, from April 2023, have to actually prove they have met the existing minimum 70 days let, 140-day available criteria in the previous year (as they already have to do in London). The principle is a bit of a “no brainer” although the how, and how effectively that is to be enforced remains a bit fuzzy. Councils will also be able to adopt higher Council Tax rates (200% and rising annual) for properties including second and holiday homes left empty after one year (previously two). Although arguably genuinely empty houses aren’t necessarily the real problem? In Wales, having consulted on restrictions on second home ownership, significantly higher threshold for classification as a holiday letting business (182 let, 252 days available) and locally adoptive powers to charge higher Council Tax rates on occupied second and holiday homes (up to 300%), the Welsh Government have now adopted most of their original proposals, unchanged with effect from April 2023. Differing approaches also applied in Northern Ireland and Scotland (see link to Westminster briefing below).
Arguments continue to rage around whether second and holiday homes and the exponential growth in short-term holiday lets are generally a good or bad thing for tourism. At one extreme of the debate the arguments are all about the benefits that more accommodation for visitor and therefore, in theory at least, more tourists and tourism that this brings to local destinations. On the other extreme the arguments are about the reduction in local owner occupation and the numbers of properties available for long term let and therefore, in theory at least, less availability of affordable, owner occupier and or private rental sector housing for the local workforce essential to service those visitors and maintain a healthy visitor economy.
Depending on your viewpoint the goose and golden eggs being killed off by housing issues and/or by the growing action to alleviate them is either: an unfettered supply of accommodation for visitors or an adequately sized local workforce to service the needs of the visitor economy. The two opposing ends of the argument are reaching the point at which they may have become mutually exclusive in an ever-growing number of destinations. Whichever side of the argument you lean towards it is perhaps time that questions like those being asked in places like Brighton and Hove are also asked and answered more widely at both a locally and, more particularly in England, at a national level.
For a decade plus, British Destinations have been raising unfashionable concerns about how individuals were expected to both “live and work” in popular destinations and, in particular, in popular rural areas and urban honey pots where the housing market has become overheated. Not everyone in the industry has appreciated us raising such a potentially unpalatable truth and until recently Government has appeared relatively unconcerned. So, what’s changed?
Bluntly the arbitrary and sudden removal of a large, steady stream of often younger, relatively well-educated, usually single employees, willing to work, often as much for the experience as for the wages and to live in often cramped, sometimes substandard accommodation, either provided by the employers or found locally. Accommodation that is typically fine for a few months or a few years but not adequate for a sustainable long-term, normal life style. If we genuinely wish people to live and work in destinations, long-term then we need to address the genuine quality of the life offered and central to that is the place people physically live when not working.
While we were in the EU this, manifested itself as an apparent problem of skills shortages attributed to poor retention and high staff turnover. Now we are out of the EU it has been exposed for what it really was, inherent natural turnover, now manifesting itself as a chronic lack of staff trained or otherwise. The steady stream of new workers replacing the steady stream of workers heading home or moving on to more lucrative employment within the UK has largely dried up. It is worth noting that prior to relying heavily on EU workers, the industry relied instead on antipodeans on long, post university breaks (late 70s – 90s?), albeit at the time servicing a smaller, more seasonal UK tourism industry. Prior to that (50s – early 70s?) in an even more highly seasonal, school holiday focused industry, many popular destinations essentially exploited the availability of local students and school children (often very young). So how do we break the pattern if it isn’t to find yet another steady source of preferably good quality, low-cost labour willing to live (exist?) in the accommodation now typically available to them? The answer has surely to include ease of access to an acceptable quality accommodation and its relative affordability?
It would of course be remise at this point not to mention the other major affordability factor in the “live and work” equation; that of wages. Undoubtedly higher wage rates would be most welcome and assist the “live and work” balance. Unfortunately, the housing market is now so far out of kilter with the average tourism industry wage in most popular, let alone the real honeypot destinations, that it is almost inconceivable that wage levels alone are now the sole or even the main issue or answer to it.
The second major change is the relatively recent creation and subsequent growth in sharing economy platforms like Airbnb. They may not be solely responsible for the boom in the number of holiday properties now being let and the shift from long to short-term lets but they have at the very least helped shaped the conditions for it to happen and then proactively facilitated what is arguably an unsustainable level of growth. This is evidenced by similar issues and in many cases the robust actions taken to counter them by individual destinations, regions, states and countries across the globe. The UK are not alone in facing a range of housing issues that relate to a boom in short-term holiday lets and there are potentially useful lessons, for and against, to be learnt here. See our library of UK and international sharing economy press reports: here.
Meanwhile in England we continue to await the long-promised consultation on a potential statutory accommodation registration. Perhaps not the easiest call for an essentially deregulating leaning administration? Work on developing a potentially adoptive approach to registration or licensing scheme in Wales is progressing as part of a generally more robust stance on local housing issues, over tourism and local and nation tax on tourism being taken by the Welsh Government. Registration, essentially in its simplest form a central register of who is trading where, should at least help overcome one of the major issues of the sharing economy, the total lack of transparency and consequently an inability to identify, let alone trying to start adequately regulating the vastly expanded levels of provision.
Assuming, as I do, that the issues discussed above are going to become much more widely debated in many other destinations over the coming months, I would recommend having to hand the Westminster library, UK wide, briefing document on: Second home and holiday lets in rural communities, published in early January 2022. It is an excellent reference document on the main issues, recent activities and plans, less the most recent developments in England and Wales. It may not be something to read in full now but useful to know where to find if and when the issues raise their head locally:
Local coverage of the issues for Brighton & Hove can be accessed at:
and national coverage on the vote in Whitby:
Information on the scale of the issues faced in Keswick:
Lesson arising from St Ives legal challenge:
and one of a number of academic studies looking at the impact of the St Ives policy:
The direction of travel for a summer of potential transport problems has firmed up over the last week and it now entirely possible to predict the likely headline impacts for the coming critical school summer holiday period and the important shoulder months beyond that. There is also good reason to start looking forward to predict where some of the main means of domestic and international travel might be heading in 2023 and beyond.
1. Trains. The largest rail strike in 30 years is now going ahead this week, which is hardly surprising given the apparent impasse between Government, the train operators, Network Rail, the rail unions and a large (?) proportion of railway workers. In light of collapsed ticket revenue Government seems set on a significant reduction in total costs (subsidy) to be achieved by potentially radical changes to working practices and potential sweeping “modernisation”. The unions are seeking, among other things, a 10% pay rises and a commitment to no compulsorily redundances during this process. The two basic positions seem diametrically opposed. Meanwhile, Government, in England at least, take the view that the negotiations should take place between the rail companies and the workforces. This is despite the ongoing strategic review that Great British Railways are undertaking on Government’s behalf. That review is undoubtedly central to every aspect of the future cost reductions, changes to working practices and modernisation. The Government want (need) to radically reform the railway network’s operation; this looks and feels to me like their equivalent of a coal or steel industry moment.
The rail unions have already indicated an intent to continue to strike during “the summer” should their demands not be met. The current tone from the Secretary of State for Transport and the General Secretary of RMT, together with comments from rail companies suggests that we are long way from a negotiated settlement. Therefore, it would be prudent to assume that there could be further strikes, during the coming summer season; areas effected, nature, dates and length as yet unknown.
The only certainties are that the rail unions need to give a minimum of 14 days’ notice to employees and that the potential inclusion of Network Rail maintenance and signalling staff can and will result in closures even when the train operators and staff are not involved in the strike action. The Westminster Government is now proposing to bring in emergency legislation to allow the employment of agency staff. Although that legislation, if quickly enacted, would mitigate threatened strike action in a number of other professions, there is still some serious doubts as how it would impact on “safety critical” roles in the rail industry.
The significant impact of this week’s strike on the hospitality industry has been highlighted publicly and flag to Government. I was alarmed to note that comments made to date highlighted that this will be a particular problem for cities. From past experience there is a danger that the truism about cities, usually very well served by rail, could (will?) be misconstrued, as meaning that other place will either be largely unaffected or even benefit (as in: foot and mouth was a positive for everywhere outside rural areas, when it was anything but!). A very clear message needs to be sent out that any destination, urban or rural, on or served by the rail network will be significantly impacted by the current and any future rail strike. This is not simply a core or other city issue.
2. Air travel. After a very difficult half term holiday, plagued with delays, short notice cancellations and lost luggage, Government has directed and the airports, carriers and operators have also decided to reduce capacity during the main school summer holiday period, cancelling a significant number of flights. The numbers of passengers involved could be in the lower single millions (?), the full impact is yet to be quantified. Although deeply unsettling and inconvenient, the advanced warning should in theory mean that many of those already booked (well in advance) will simply be rescheduled and still travel, albeit not necessarily at the time, from the place or with the carrier they originally intended.
A combination of alarmingly poor PR and the reality of reduced total capacity will ensure that the estimated 80% (?) on 2019 levels of bookings will not, as feared by some in the domestic industry, rise further to match or exceed 2019 levels this summer. Given other pressures on the domestic industry this might be viewed as good news. However, the bottom line remains that regardless of the current difficulties vastly more Brits will still be taking a main summer holiday or staying trip abroad in 2022 than did in 2021. That has significant implications for the domestic market, particular a market that previously enjoyed last year’s staycation hike and is concurrently facing a raft of cost-of-living, supply price inflation and staffing cost related issues of its own.
Looking forward, do we jointly believe that: this year’s chaos will deter a full return to 2019 or higher levels of domestic overseas travel demand in 2023? That the airports and airlines will not have largely overcome the capacity problems they are facing now in the full year to come? Or that the continued financial problems faced by carriers this year will ultimately result in lower, overall capacity in 2023? Gut instinct suggest that both supply and demand side issues will have rectified themselves by the start of the 2023 main summer season and that in all likelihood we can look forward to a return to at least 2019, if not somewhat higher levels of outbound domestic travel for 2023.
3. Road transport. The steadily rise in fuel the costs, lest we forget predating the war in Ukraine, is unlikely to rapidly revert to 2021 or earlier levels. The additional pressure on the cost for oil on the international markets, exacerbated by the Ukrainian conflict and the embargo on Russian crude and processed fuels could conceivably get worse still. Whatever happens, record breaking fuel costs are here for the coming summer season and we should recognise and plan on managing the known impacts accordingly. It may seem a little early to call but it is highly likely that fuel prices will remain at or near these historically high levels possibly for a number of years to come. At least until either an international recession dramatically reduces demand, a bad idea all round, or until production and distribution from existing non-Russian suppliers and new fields are significantly increased. This feels very much like a medium-term prospect, not something that is going to be fixed in the next 12, 24 or possible 36 months?
In general, the known impacts are fewer and shorter journey for private cars, price pressures on group travel (coaches) and higher usage and hard to recover cost pressure on public services (bus). Historically fewer and shorter car journeys have benefited attractions and destinations nearer to major conurbations and, on the whole, disadvantaged those further away. That is of course needs to be heavily nuanced by purpose of the journey. Individuals may prioritise a longer duration, longer distance staying trips, over a number of shorter duration, shorter distance day trips? Nonetheless, fewer trips and shorter distances remains a good rule of thumb, equating, however you choose to look at it, to fewer visitor for whatever purpose and, by default, lower overall spend nationally. Local impacts will be driven entirely by local circumstance, proximity and markets which local destination managers are best placed to analyse, understand and act upon.
The fuel crisis should if nothing else focus minds on stimulating the take up of electric vehicles (EV). The percentage of new EVs to traditional fossil fuelled vehicles sold annually in the UK has increased dramatically, yet the total percentage in use in the UK remains a very low single figure. The recent unexpectedly decision to remove the £1.5k government subsidy on EVs costing less than £32k is unlikely to help. Meanwhile, meaningful progress on infrastructure development to support popular EV ownership remains poor to non-existent in most routine normal day to day situations. The challenge of addressing charging requirement in a popular urban tourist destination where car usage can range from a few tens on a wet, out of season Wednesday to many thousands on high days and holidays is as yet to be properly considered, let alone grasped at a national or, in many cases, even a local level. How the introduction of EVs impacts on major rural events or indeed on aspects of rural tourism in general, similarly need to be addressed now, before the potential problems become a reality.
The current and ongoing fossil fuel crisis doesn’t make the requirement to do something on EV more or less important, just, I would suggest, rather more urgent. There is even a slim chance that those who do grasp the challenges sooner, may just be in a position to reap some unexpectedly early benefits? The longer fossil fuel remains painfully expensive the more likely it is that there will be exponential growth in the total levels of EV ownership.
With regret it has been decided that in light of the rail strike on 21st, 23rd and 25th and the degree and timing of the significant disruption on the alternate non-strike days including the 22nd, that the joint Tourism Alliance, British Destinations and Tourism Society national tourism conference will now be postponed. Thoughts of attempting to shoehorn the rescheduled event into busy diaries before the start of the main school holiday period have been rejected in favour of date, yet to be confirm, in September/ October 2022. This delay will give all concerned due warning and therefore adequate opportunity to plan accordingly.
The conference will follow the same format at the same venue and, currently, will look in detail at much the same key issues, adjusted as necessary to reflect any major developments in those areas and/or address any critical new issues that appear on the immediate horizon in the coming months. I can’t help thinking already that the outcome of the ongoing GBR strategic rail review due to report later this year and the immediate direction of rail provision influenced by current events (or not?) might now just be one of those “new issues”! Existing bookings will be rolled forward, with refunds being made available for anyone unable to attend on the new date once it has been confirmed and announced.
More on the rational for the decision, the detail of the new plans, conference content and arrangements can be found on the Annual Conference 2022 main menu tab of Britishdestinations.net, or go direct to the page at: https://britishdestinations.net/annual-conference-19-march-2018/
I am also pleased to report our conference sponsor Quality in Tourism, as ever, remain fully supportive of the conference plans and more generally of the ongoing work of British Destinations and our strategic partners.
If you have any questions or, in particular, view on either the proposed content or days/weeks to be avoided when selecting the new date (any conflicting major regional or national events, etc.) then please let me know.
Sod’s Law, almost the moment I published yesterday’s sermon on perceived transport issue (here), Great British Railway (GBR) sent me, as one of 307 respondents, a link to the report detailing the responses to their recent consultation on their “whole industry strategic plan”.
Is important because, these responses will help inform the strategic proposals to be put to HMG later this year on the 5, 10 and 30- year strategic plan which, in current extraordinary circumstances, will almost certainly see some very big changes to the railway network and rail travel. The report and its influence on future direction is therefore of great importance to an industry, like ours, that is utterly dependant on transportation and the movement of people to and from the product to be consumed etc. You all know the script as well, if not better, than I do, but there is no harm in repeating it here and everywhere for the benefit of the vast majority on the fringes and beyond what we do, who may never of even have thought about, let alone, recognised such basic truths.
The report at 90 pages of largely tightly printed text is a big and time-consuming read. To assist colleagues the highlights and the shortcuts are:
1. First the disappointing news. Of the 307 respondents only two are identified as being “a tourism body”, us and the Tourism Management Institute. Clearly best efforts on our part to alert the wider industry didn’t work as well as I might have hoped. No matter because:
2. A significant number of the respondents were from Regional, local and combined authorities (41) which, judging by the list of respondents, have clear tourism, leisure, events, culture, arts and general visitor economy related comment to make. It is also likely that a good percentage of other general categories, like for example the 57 responding as individuals, would have responded from a “tourism” perspective or included it. I can be fairly confident that this is the case because, although not an overarching theme of the summary of responses, pretty much all the major concerns raised by British Destinations and, I assume by others, pertaining to our sector’s interests are feature somewhere in the report spread across around a dozen, often short but nonetheless important paragraphs.
3. The easiest way to tackle the report, in the first instance, is to use the search icon, noting as you do that the report uses differing terminology and with differing meaning to that we might routinely use (here).
Here’s what to look for:
Read “Next steps” page 85 and 86, either before or after searching for the words:
Tourism: appears only three times, in two important paragraph and once in the name of TMI in the list of respondence! Don’t be despondent, for tourism, read leisure.
Leisure: appear thirteen time in nine important paragraphs. Key point: Leisure travel is clearly the key phrase to use whenever referring to anything to do with visitor economy related travel and GBR.
Destination: once but linked to the word leisure above (leisure destination) so you have already seen it.
Hospitality: twice, once in importantly its own right and once as, “tourism and hospitality”, already seen above.
Entertainment: once, but in the context of, ” retail, entertainment, hospitality” already seen above.
Retail: six time, of which four appear alone and are not already picked up somewhere above.
Economy: Not unsurprising appears 28 times but never as Visitor Economy. Visitor and visit don’t feature anywhere in the report.
Other word, you might think of using but don’t need to are: Arts, appear numerous times but disappointing only as the word “parts”. Culture is in railway speak a custom, social behaviour or a way of doing things, not as we regard it a manifestation of human intellectual achievement. Similarly events are things, usually bad or unplanned, that happen, like poor weather, not things that in our world you travel to take part in for work, leisure or other purposes.
I may have missed some key term, just can’t think what though? You’re welcome to read the full report if you want; I tried and eventually gave up. In all seriousness, if you do find anything critical that I have missed then please let me know so I can inform everyone.
Tongue in cheek perhaps but I do now start to wonder how much of my comments on say culture and events didn’t quite register as well as they might have, for want of me being from another “culture”? Note to self: more care perhaps in use of language needed in future discussions with GBR and other rail interests?
It has not been a particularly good news week for any mainstream form of transport. As travel is intrinsically linked to the fortunes of the leisure and tourism industries this is more bad news for tourism in general and destinations (by definition the end point of a journey), in particular. It is especial worrying as it is occurring as we head into a potentially make or break, post covid, main summer season for many businesses, operators and for some destination management and marketing organisations.
If any policy makers ever doubted the critical relationship between the cost, ease and reliability of transport and travel to “tourism” they need look no further than the impact of travel bans, travel restrictions and/or public retinene to make journeys or use certain types of transport both during and subsequently after the recent pandemic. Travel, or the inability to do it, acts like switch or, more accurately, as a regulating valve that can adjust flows from anywhere between full on to closed off.
1. Road. Fuel price rises and current costs are today’s headline issue, including: news that some forecourt prices have gone above the £2 mark per litre for the first time (perhaps a good reason to consider flogging petrol by the pint but perhaps not by the gallon as this now would be approach £8!), and that at the national “average price” in the order £1.83 per litre, the cost of filling the tank of the “average car” is now over £100. These headlines in their own right will fuel a greater retinene to travel by private car in the dominant domestic market and, in particular, to travel further than absolutely necessary, particularly for discretionary purposes. There is little we ourselves can do about this PR disaster. From past much smaller fuel hike experience we do need to recognise there will be winners and losers, driven largely by perceived and real proximity of the destination product to larger conurbations and centres of population. There will also be socio-economic influences relating to discretionary, disposable income, as opposed necessarily to the totality of family income. What is important is the level of committed expenditure and by default that remaining for a myriad of discretionary activities. Again, experience suggest key markets like working families may be disproportionately affected by fuel price rises, as a part of a more general cost-of-living crisis?
Fuel costs are also a critical issue for day trip and staying group travel. We already believe that approaching 50% of the pre 2019 coach fleet (for all purposes) was taken off the road by coach operator failures, closures and restructuring. We also know that while coach travel has started to recover it has been a slow and painful process. Fuel price rises in the order that we are currently seeing will have a significant impact on coach borne travel and, in particular, for those operators who have and normal do organised and priced activities well in advance. For reference the average price of diesel in the UK a year ago was c 50p a litre lower than it is today and critically still c 40p lower in December 2021. Part of the problem isn’t simple scale but a combination of both the timing and pace of the increases.
For planning purpose, we all need to recognise that external influences could very easily see fuel prices being maintained at their current levels for sometime to come, or even to rise further. Even with radical Government fiscal intervention it is almost inconceivable that the price will drop rapidly, back towards the 2021 and pre 2019 sub £1.40 price levels. So, any hoped-for intervention will at best alleviate but not remove the fuel cost problems in their entirety. And yes, electric and hybrid car ownership has increased significantly and is therefore a new and largely unknown factor to add to the mix. However, at around 6% of new cars purchased annually and c 1% of the total on the roads, electric and hybrid vehicles ownership isn’t yet significant enough to make a marked difference (and will not be for some time to come). Even if electric vehicles were a major positive that would be of only limited help as the supporting infrastructure in and between most urban and rural destinations have yet to be addressed in any meaningful way.
2. Rail. This week’s news of the first of a potential series of national rail strikes later in June is bad news for both commuters and for business and leisure travel. The rail unions demand for higher wages and guarantees of fewer redundancies in what is likely to be a complex and very difficult post covid restructuring of the UK rail network is beyond our control. We can only hope that the threat of a strike, or the actuality of what is going to the biggest, widest industrial action in the railway’s history (21, 23, 25 June but effectively 21 to 26 June) will bring about a mutually agreeable resolution and avoid further action now or into and beyond the main summer season. If it goes ahead the June disruptions will of course be damaging to leisure and tourism in general and devastating to certain activities, for example, pre-planned and immovable major events that rely on public transport.
The threatened strike action, if nothing else, confirms our understanding that Great British Railways (GBR) who are working up their 5, 10, 30-year strategy for presentation to Government to be presented soon are between a rock and a hard place. Core income generated by commuter travel revenue collapsed during 2020 -21 pandemic and, due to radically changed and changing working pattern, shows no sign of returning to anywhere near historically high levels of 2019. HMG has burnt through eye watering sums of additional subsidy to keep the railway network operating and avoiding collapse from the beginning of 2020 to date. That additional funding is by necessity being withdrawn and GBR are now tasked with cutting their cloth to match both reduced pre covid, core Government subsidy and the realities of vastly reduced ticket income. Something major has to give and that is likely to include train services.
Again, there is not a lot we can do to influence GBR’s immediate negotiations. We can of course ensure HMG are aware how painful further stoppages in to and during the summer would be for tourism. Beyond that the threat of strike action is a timely reminder that all is not well within the UK rail industry and that we have a very short window of opportunity to ensure that the restructuring to come does not further disadvantage current, mainly off peak, leisure travel or stop new leisure travel opportunities being developed, at any time of the day or week. To this end it is important to understand that as a consequence of the closed-circuit nature of the railway system, any reductions in once profitable twice a day, 5 day a week commuter services will have potentially unintended consequences for currently off-peak travel, due among other thing to both timetabling and physical capacity issues. Rented rolling stock and skilled staff will almost certainly be let go and once let go, it can take many years; potentially up to a decade plus, to take on and train skilled staff and, particularly, to gain access to additional train units, if and when, as seems likely, climate crisis pressure, especially on car ownership and usage, begin to bite and rail demand grows once more.
3. Aviation. The unedifying arguments between HMG, airports and airlines about who is or isn’t responsible for UK air travel chaos reached new peak over the recent half term holiday, as we saw the unintended consequences of a rapid return to a reported 80% (?) of 2019 booking levels. Not all operators and airports are as badly impacted and not necessarily all of the time. Nonetheless, we are now told that problems will in all likelihood persist into the main school summer holiday period which is bound to effect large proportion of any international inbound and those domestic outbound travellers already booked to travel. It is also likely to have potentially serious, negative PR impact on those yet to commit to holiday and travel plans. We are already aware that the UK airline industry has some way to go before it fully recovers, despite the apparent 80% claim. The PR disaster, coming on top of increased fuel prices makes full recovery at best a more distant prospect.
Higher prices and the potential for longer term reduction in total capacity remain very much on the cards. Whether a rapid return in the domestic international outbound to 2019 levels and potentially continued year on year growth thereafter is, or is not in the domestic tourism industry’s best interests is a complex question best avoid for the time being. What is clearer is that any negative impacts on inbound international tourism are unwelcome, even if the bulk of those visitors, then continue to gravitate mainly to London and a relatively small number of core UK cities and historic towns. The sudden loss of international visitors at scale, inevitable means, genuine, unwelcome, short-term competition for loyal domestic custom between establish, mainly domestic facing destinations and the popular mixed domestic and international venues of which London is by some margin the largest.
The very public argument between HMG, airports and operators unfortunately coincided with the recent publication of the Government’s 10-point plan, “Flightpath to the Future” which sets out priorities and ambitions for the UK aviation and supporting industries for the next 10 years. The report has some very worthy objectives, although a little light on how these objectives will actually be achieved, with what; all of which doubtless will follow or become clearer in due course. In light of recent events, I was struck by the following key paragraph and the urgent need expedite its noble sentiment:
“Central to successfully delivering the ten point plan, and meeting our ambitions for the future of the sector, is recognising that it must be delivered in partnership. Whilst the pandemic has presented huge challenges for the sector, there are many positive lessons to be learned about the value of close collaboration between Government, industry, regulators, and other key partners. On that basis, alongside launching this strategic framework and ten point delivery plan, we will also be launching a new Aviation Council.”
The full report can be accessed via the DfT publications page. The few introductory sentences found there are worth reading for context. The summary of the ten point plan can then be found on page 9 to 11 of the full report, the gist of which, if your pressed for time, can be gleaned simply by reading the bold highlighted sentence in each of the ten sections. For those wishing, or needing to understand a little more, for example if you have a regional airport interest, the executive summary pages 4 to 8 pretty much does what an executive summary should do. The full 70 odd pages of text in the report will be of more interest for those in the aviation industry, or I suggest can safely be put aside by destination mangers for your summer holiday reading: https://www.gov.uk/government/publications/flightpath-to-the-future-a-strategic-framework-for-the-aviation-sector
For anyone needing to keep a handle on where the evolving, post Brexit mechanisms for future economic development and structural funding, both in England and in the devolved Nations might now be heading, it would prudent to take a look at today’s report by the Public Accounts Committee (PAC) on recent levelling up and associated funding awards.
As ever, any Parliamentary committees’ findings and their recommendations are just that; recommendations. HMG has two months in which to respond and that response could be to reject and do nothing about some or all of the 7 main areas highlighted by PAC. However, this committee, by the nature of its remit, is relatively influential. Its finding on this occasion do appear to have substance and it is therefore likely that HMG and the relevant department will have at the very least have to acknowledge some of the comment and implied criticism and make appropriate adjustments to what is a (the?) critical leaver in a (the?) key domestic policy area for the PM and the current administration. The happenstance timing of the publication is therefore also perhaps relevant, in that it is perhaps more likely than at any other time to excite Departmental and Cabinet Office level interest and hopefully elicit positive responses?
Given the nature of some of the comments made by the committee and expressed previously elsewhere regarding the potential motivation behind the selection for inclusion in some of the funding programmes (Towns Fund in particular) it should be stressed that PAC’s remit is to look at how public funding is spent and not why. Even with this caveat the report’s first conclusion and recommendations are very critical of a lack of transparency and therefore fairness in selection. The tone of committee’s press release is even more robust than the report itself in this respect.
Obviously, I (this) could have waited until HMG or more accurately in this case Department for Levelling Up, Housing and Communities (DLUHC) pronounce, probably near or on the 2-month deadline in late July early September. However, I am aware and indeed one of the report main findings is that: “There remains considerable uncertainty for Local Authorities around funding, structures and responsibilities for local economic growth”. On that basis alone, spreading the news now that the PAC have at least recognise the issues and Government will have at least to respond to it in some way is important and shouldn’t be delayed.
There are numerous different versions of the report available in both summary and full report form, from the PAC committee’s public/press release page. (here). Although the press release is worth a quick scan in itself, if only to get a feeling for the committee’s critical tone that is not fully reflected in the report itself, I would recommend that colleagues take time to look briefly at selected sections of the full report itself (see below).
If you are not sure how relevant the full report is to you, you need only scan the short summary and introduction paragraphs, pages 3 and 4 and read the dozen plus sentences containing the conclusion and recommendations, all highlighted in bold at the top and tail of the 7 individual sections, pages 5 to 7, to understand what the issues and the suggested remedies are. It’s a couple of minutes effort at most (here) and it has several advantages over reading the (longer) summary report in full.
If a specific area/issue is of particular importance to you or your destination, you can read the whole paragraph not just its top and tail. The complete detail behind each conclusion and associated recommendation can then also be easily found in the rest of the report which you will have to hand without the need to go looking for it elsewhere.
While it may not be unreasonable to assume that colleague working directly in economic development or with other close interests in the subject of future structural funding avenues will be aware of today’s report, I’d be inclined to suggest it is best not to assume and better to get word of something twice than not at all. Please consider circulating this note or your own version, internally and externally, as necessary.
My instinct is that, with everything else going on at the moment, this unintentionally well timed intervention by PAC may be rather more important than it might first appear and equally, very easily missed when set against the backdrop of the prevailing difficult domestic and international circumstances. I am therefore all the more keen to see the report widely circulated and hopefully, as a consequence, HMG encouraged to respond to it as positively as is possible.
After what has been undoubtedly a joyous Platinum Jubilee long weekend, we can be reasonably happy with the initially reports that suggest that, aside from so weather-related blips, most if not all domestic destinations have experienced a good to excellent long Bank Holiday. Hopefully more detailed reporting and some proper analysis of the results in due course will confirm the initial view and quantify the scale.
Very much on the home front the weekend brought the really good news that Kurt Janson Director of the Tourism Alliance had been awarded a richly deserved OBE in the Queens Jubilee Honours List. This news came in the same week that Kurt made public his intention to retire (it’s all in the timing!). Great news for him but sadly rather less so for all of us who have come to rely on Kurt to hold the fort in London and fight daily battles on our joint behalf. As a result of Kurt’s unexpected announcement, the Tourism Alliance Board will be looking at the manner and means of replacing his contracted services over the coming weeks and few months. With a late August retirement date looming, the Joint Annual Conference on 22 June will be the last guaranteed opportunity for many of Kurt’s colleagues to wish him well in person. So, apart from the excellent content and speakers, there is yet another good reason to book: more here.
Also of note is last week’s announcement of Bradford’s success in its bid to be City of Culture for 2025. Another well-deserved award. As one of British Destinations’ large City members Bradford’s good fortune gives us a new opportunity to look more closely at, and to share more information on, culture’s role in the visitor economy in the run up to, during and then after 2025.
Moving to less welcome news, the Jubilee Weekend and associated half term holiday served to further expose the serious capacity issues plaguing UK airports and air travel and reignited another round of pass the blame game parcel between HMG, the airports and carriers. It also served to make BA earlier and heavily criticised announcements, despite booming demand to cut schedule flights to 80% of pre 2019 levels from March to October 2022, seem rather more rational than it did at the time. It now looks and feel like, that before taking the brakes off international travel, HMG, the airports and carriers should have come up with a realistic, joint plan to better balance real capacity and the likely runaway demand? That is of course rather easier said than done, particularly given a history of stop start decisions making during 2020 and, in particular, during and right up to the end of 2021 and the increasingly desperate calls from the airline industry to do something, anything to restore confidence and demand during 2022. In retrospect it looks like a bit of an own goal all round.
Doubtless, things will improve (significantly?) before the hight of the summer school holiday peak period; a peak that many have already booked for, many of them prior to the rapidly escalating cost-of-living crisis becoming such an obvious issue. For those still sitting on the fence about their summer holiday plans the reported airport and air travel chaos, along side some Eurostar and ferry disruption, can only serve to make more, lean towards or even jump off on to the domestic side of the fence. Given that cost-of-living issues are now bound to supress some key domestic customer group’s summer day trip, short and longer stay plans this summer, any additional staycations generated by overseas travel uncertainties will not just be welcome but in truth much needed to fill some of the new gaps we are already able to confidently predict.
It is all too easy for the domestic industry to look at the issues for outbound domestic travel with a wry smile and write them off as being a generally good thing. Unfortunately, many of the assets involved and especially the airports and some but not all aircraft are shared with the inbound market. It is an assumption as yet, because we not actually asked or heard from colleagues in VB who have direct access and staff living and working in key markets but it is a reasonable guess that any international reporting of the real or perceived difficulties currently being experienced isn’t going to help the already shredded international inbound market recover, or at least recover quickly? The critical questions here is: is it being reported in our key markets, as doubtless it would be if these were normal time and large numbers of international leisure travellers were being negatively impacted?
Some destinations, who don’t receive large numbers of international visitor annually, might of course think, “so what if international inbound tourism isn’t recovering”? The so what, is of course that those UK destinations that would normally host international visitor at scale aren’t simply sitting on their hands but are working hard, and in London’s case marketing big to attract the domestic market as a direct replacement. That means traditional domestic destinations are not just having to compete with the resurgent draw of outbound international travel, wrestle with limiting effect of a new cost-of-living inspired downturns but also now dealing with a genuine case of short-term internal UK market displacement (something that in a properly functioning international inbound, domestic and domestic outbound market we would normally refute). All of this comes on top of price pressure on business related fuel, energy and raw materials and supply costs, plus the double-edged sword of staff shortages and increasing staff costs.
Subdued domestic outbound travel is in general good for the domestic market, but as with everything we have had to deal with in the last two years nothing is a single, linear process that simply and seamlessly diverts additional source of demand to unaffected additional source of supply. Added to this the huge range and different quality, standards and types of products available and the different types and needs of the consumer and it easy to see why it is never going to be a case of everyone in the domestic industry wins if fewer Brits go abroad.
Tonight, we will see the long talked about and long in its coming, vote of confidences. As we were discussing as long ago as last January vulnerable or wounded PMs and their administrations are more inclined, on occasion, to make poor but popular or avoid necessary but unpopular decisions, and by definition usually for all the wrong, long-term reasons. Arguably the air industry’s current difficulties are a potential example of the consequences of a hastily made, popular, policy announcement made at seemingly no notice and therefore probably with inadequate discussion and little or no thought to the practicalities and longer-term consequences?
Whatever the outcome of tonight’s vote and whether you agree or disagree with it, or the background to it, the PM and his administration will be at best vulnerable and worst mortally wounded. We will either retain this administration but arguably an administration with an even keener eye on the demands of maintaining popularity over necessary substance. Or, after a long period of debilitating uncertainty and inaction during the removal and replacement of the PM, we will get a different leadership of an essentially different administration A new administration in all likelihood intent on marking the change by doing things very differently, including potentially much that has already been set in train but is yet to be delivered upon (e.g. everything from delivering Brexit to levelling up). At best the latter will means much of 2022, including the critical main summer season will see little or no political and therefore little strategic and policy certainty. Whatever we get it will be running in parallel with an unprecedented cost-of-living crisis.
Whatever your politics and whatever your views on the background, popularity driven policy or political uncertainty or even a political vacuum, is just about the last things the tourism industry, needs as we approach the critical 4 month of what is supposed to be our first true full year of largely unaided recovery. The public tend to react to periods of major political and/or economic uncertainty by being more cautious, cutting back and hunkering down for the duration. The only thing that is absolutely certain before any vote is cast, is whatever happens now in respect of tourism it will be in the hands of the individual destinations to manage and mitigate. HMG aren’t going to ride to the rescue of the coming English domestic summer season and may not be in a position to do much for the rest of this year or beyond.
The devolved Governments may take a more proactive approach towards tourism (they usually do), but ultimately even that is limited by what Treasury make available to them. Treasury may (will) not be in a position to instigate any new financial measures for some time yet and any they do come up with in time aren’t realistically going to be aimed, directly at least, at either the demand or supply sides of tourism, leisure or the visitor economy. In the absence of anything else more constructive to do, it might be time to tweak and refine the summer marketing plans?