Autumn Statement, DCMS Ministers and our Annual Conference deadline.
(Para two corrected on 5 Nov)
1. The unprecedented events of recent months and weeks have left many of us in a state of disbelief and bewilderment as we struggle to keep track of changing direction and to predict the likely consequences for: tourism, leisure hospitality and the wider visitor economy. Not until the new, new PM’s and his relatively new Chancellor reveal their new economic vision and means of achieving it, via the Autumn Statement, now pushed back to the 17 November, will we begin to get a true handle on where it all leaves us, as we accelerate toward the critical retail, leisure and hospitality festive season, pass through it into the typically lacklustre first quarter of the calendar year and start then heading in to and through a brand new 2023/24 tourism season, before starting that rolling cycle all over again. I make no apology for, yet again, saying that the only thing that is really now still in doubt is how deep and for how long the financial crisis will impact on the disposable income and discretionary spending of domestic residents. Spending that underpins pretty much everything that happens within “tourism” and fuels much of the UK’s destination-based tourism, leisure, hospitality and visitor economy in general. You probably don’t need or, in some cases, want me to say this but the prospects are bleak by any measure, historic or otherwise. The only bit of optimism I can offer at this point, is to say that with luck and a good wind, it may not be as truly bleak as it might have been had there not been a number of significant fiscal and policy U-turns performed in very short order. If yesterday’s Bank of England’s rate rise and their accompanying forecast for the economy are anything to go by, even that little bit of optimism can’t be guaranteed; at least not until the politicians have pronounced and critically the markets have considered and reacted to the Autumn Statement.
There has ever been a better or more opportune time for the Westminster Government to review and revise the Treasury mantra that domestic tourism support is essentially a wasteful economic displacement activity (any and all economic activity not simply displacing tourism) and therefore not really worthy of public support and investment. If domestic tourism is not adequately encouraged, properly supported and, where appropriate, promoted at the higher national generic (holiday in England as the other home nations consistently do) and larger destination level (visit Cornwall, Cumbria, Liverpool, Blackpool, Scarborough, Windsor, Bradford etc.) the resulting loss of tourism product and tourism infrastructure in the coming 12 months or more will not only damage the c80% by value and volume of domestic day and staying activity but seriously damage the short, medium and long-term prospects for the recovery of the c20% staying international tourism, so beloved of HMG as export/import earner. If the current administration don’t feel able to embrace an different mindset around the role of domestic tourism then perhaps it is a good time to start exploring the concept of a step change in approach with others major political parties?
The alternative of celebrating the possibility that international tourism might just improve from some markets to some places off the back of an economic downturn feels too much like asking Turkey’s to join us in celebrating Christmas. It’s an argument born of desperation. Not least because, despite best efforts, international tourism touches relatively few destinations at anything like a comparable level to that of the bread-and-butter, domestic market. The two coexist everywhere and, more often than not, live off the same infrastructure, product and promises. We lose sight of the fact that the domestic market came and general still comes first, sustains more, endures longer, is less fickle and is far more easily reached and is potentially far more malleable, at our peril. Lose international tourism and you still have the domestic market (as witnessed post Covid-19). Lose the domestic market and in a relatively short timescale most destinations will have little or nothing or at least little or nothing worth coming for, wherever you are coming from (witness the post 1970 demise and fortunately subsequent renaissance of the British seaside resort towns and Cities).
2. You will be aware that Michelle Donelan appointed as Secretary of State for Culture Media and Sport on 6 September has retained that appointment in the latest Cabinet, which is good news from the prospect of regaining much needed stability and continuity within DCMS. Lord Syed Kamall, appointed Minister for Civil Society, Heritage, Tourism and Growth on 20 September alongside Stuart Andrew MP as Minister for Sports, Arts and Ceremonials stands down with effect 27 /28th October and hands the Civic Society, Heritage and Tourism portfolio to Stewart Andrew, making Mr Andrew the eight Tourism Minister now in the last 7 years. Interestingly Stewart Andrew was also been given the dual appointment of Minister for Equalities in the Department of International Trade on the same day. I am still puzzling why that might be, or what it means in practice. Lord Kemall has been replaced as a DCMS Minister of State in the House of Lords by Lord Parkinson of Whitley Bay, previously the DCMS Minister for Arts until the recent 20 September reshuffle. Paul Scully MP, already Minister for London also joins the team as a Parliamentary under secretary at DCMS. Hopefully you forgive me if I momentarily lose sight of who’s is looking after what part or parts of the DCMS portfolio, some or all of which to differing degrees are either part of, or important to “tourism”.
3. We are now well over the 100-delegate mark for the joint Tourism Alliance Tourism Society and British Destinations’ national tourism conference on 15th November in London. The absolute last chance for any stragglers to book for this very timely event, is a week today, Friday 11 November. However, if you do intend to attend and have yet to have get round to booking, please try and do so before that final, final deadline, to avoid overburdening the administration. I would also like to remind you that not only are the speakers and subject matter of excellent quality the conference also represents a first opportunity to meet Richard Toomer the recently appointed new Director at the Tourism Alliance and, at the same time, to say a personal farewell to Kurt Janson who is organising the joint event. Booking details can be accessed at: https://britishdestinations.net/annual-conference-19-march-2018/