Update: English Language Training, Which? Annual Hotel’s Report and our joint annual conference 15 Nov 22.

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1. Yesterday (10 November) the Tourism Alliance working with colleagues in BETA, English UK, and UKInbound launched a short report looking at the post Brexit impacts on inbound school visits to the UK. In essence, the report says that the removal of the “list of travellers” scheme which previously allowed EU students to travel to the UK on a recognised school trip, accompanied by a teacher using the student’s EU identity cards, rather than individual passports for all, has effectively decimated, this seemingly niche but actually significant and very important market for a large number of established destinations, especially but not exclusively on the South Coast, South East and Southern England. The report highlights the finding of an ongoing survey of 82 specialist tour operators which shows that the number of students brought to the UK between them in 2022 was 83% down on the equivalent numbers for 2019. This mirrors and confirms other statistics which show that the lucrative market has already been seriously damaged and will not recover without urgent corrective action.

This seems like a simple policy matter that could, with good will and a little common sense, be easily resolved. Whilst recognising the current perceived, practical and political need to be seen to be “secure the UK’s post Brexit borders” it is still difficult to see how a genuine school party, particularly using a reputable specialist tour operator, represents a significant risk to UK border security. Any school party returning home without one or more of its student would have rather more to worry about than just the Home Office and UK Border Force! A return to the list of travellers scheme, literally an official form, completed by a bona fide teacher in charge of the party from a bona fide school, listing the group and their identity documentation that is then presented and checked against the group in and outbound at the border, seems like a bit of a no brainer. I suspect that the issue, if there is one, is how making sensible adjustments for one specific group of visitors would play out and be perceived both practically and politically, alongside and in competition with a whole raft of other more complex UK border related issues and demands.

The report’s findings evidences the serious scale of the issues faced and give further impetuous for the ongoing lobbying efforts to gain an early policy change. It would be helpful if those destinations, not significantly impacted and therefore concerned by these issues, were also to take note of the problems being faced and gave their support to the campaign, whenever the opportunity arises. The report can be accessed at: https://www.tourismalliance.com/downloads/TA_429_462.pdf and the launch Webinar which neatly summaries the concerns can be viewed at: recording of the launch webinar

2. Which? have awarded Britannia Hotels the dubious accolade of being the UK’s worst hotel group for the 10th year in succession. Their annual survey of just under 4.5k consumers rated the group as:

Britannia – 56%

As of this year, Britannia has been bottom of our survey for an entire decade. We can’t even say it’s cheap. with plenty of better-rated brands beating it on price. 

Britannia’s downfall is particularly sad when you consider its illustrious past. The Adelphi in Liverpool was once the departure point for wealthy passengers before they boarded luxury liners, including the Titanic

The beautiful historic buildings in prime locations remain, but the interiors are showing serious signs of neglect. The brand received just two out of five stars in every category, including cleanliness, with one guest describing their stay as ‘absolutely dire, drab and smelly’.

Which? verdict: Run-down, dirty and once again the worst hotel chain in the UK. Avoid at all costs.

The full report can be accessed at: https://www.which.co.uk/reviews/uk-hotel-chains/article/best-and-worst-uk-hotel-chains-aaVVF4u1jZpe

If it were not for the fact that Britannia own and run 61, mainly large hotels spread across many major UK destinations, key airport locations and some rural areas, their record would almost laughable. Their defence, although they are notorious for seldom offering any defence for any failing, or allegedly for even responding to consumer complaints, has previously been that they offer “good value for money”; the unsustainable, “you pays your money you takes your chances defence. The Which? reports combined serve refute even this weak, value for money, or in reality a deplorable “what do you expect for the price” claim.

The fact that the known problems with Britannia have been going on now for well over a decade, and now independently evidenced by Which? in each of the last ten year’s annual hotel group reports, to my mind, demonstrates that the popular assumption that user reviews, alone, can now maintain, if not drive forward national industry standards, is profoundly flawed. The parallel view that nationally agreed quality standards and independent quality inspection schemes are now somehow, at best, old hat or at worst, increasingly redundant, is equally flawed. Quality and service standards backed by independent advice, inspection and verification still have a very, if not increasingly, important role to play.

My understanding of the prevailing situation is that Local Government authority’s existing powers are insufficient to adequately addresses the major quality and service issues that Britannia and some others seemingly present. It is perhaps time that Central Government stepped back up to the mark and started to look to address, reputationally damaging, poor quality standards among a minority of operators may be causing, within both the domestic and international markets. They don’t have to set or maintain the standards themselves, just ensure there are standards and that they are set, universally met and then maintained by someone. The ongoing DCMS deliberations about the potential introduction of a statutory registration in England might be the perfect opportunity to grasp this particular nettle? Registration could conceivably be used not only to ensure that the relevant authorities are aware of who is offering accommodation where and when but also that whatever is being offered, meets the essential level of quality and services it proports to be offering.

In truth I don’t hold out too much hope that the current administration, in current circumstances, will go for anything more than the most basic form of self-registration, if anything at all. Perhaps the alternative might be to suggest that if Britannia “win” the award for a say a twelfth consecutive year they should get to keep the accolade in perpetuity and be forced to display the honour prominently in the entry to each of their hotels? Last year the idea of discussing shared concern among those member destinations who hosted one or more Britannia Hotel was aired but for various reasons didn’t progress beyond the “good idea” stage. News from Which? that things have not improved from a consumer prospective prompts me to suggest we revisit the idea of calling an initial, informal investigatory meeting. If anyone is interested in joining in with that, then please let me know.

3. I am looking forward to seeing a number of members at next week’s joint British Destinations, Tourism Alliance and Tourism Society’s annual national tourism conference on the 15 November. If you are attending and have any questions please don’t hesitate to contact me. Alternatively a reminder of timings, location etc. can be found at: https://britishdestinations.net/annual-conference-19-march-2018/


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