What’s in a name, do words matter?

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As you will now be aware there have been some major departmental changes within the Westminster Government this week, resulting in the creation of new departments, a redistribution of responsibilities within some and a refocusing of priority within other existing departments.  The biggest looser by some margin has been DCMS which has lost its responsibility for digital.  This major loss of influence is described as “we will streamline and re-focus the Department for Culture, Media and Sport to support and celebrate the immeasurable richness those sectors bring to our national life”. More on the background can be viewed here.

Others in our sectors have already noted that DCMS’s new mission statement published with the No 10’s announcement and any accompanying text published to date, fails to reference tourism, visits or visitors or gives any priority to the tourism function, as to some degree previous iterations did.  The reformed Department’s tasks are now summarised as:

 “The Department for Culture, Media and Sport will focus on supporting culture, arts, media, sport and civil society across every part of England – recognising the UK’s world leading position in these areas and the importance of these sectors in contributing so much to our economy, way of life, and our reputation around the world. The department will champion sport for all at every level; support our world-leading cultural and creative industries; and enhance the cohesiveness of our communities.”

This compares with the previous mission statement, which in fairness wasn’t all that explicit and arguably pointed rather more towards international inbound than it did to domestic tourism:

“The Department for Digital, Culture, Media & Sport (DCMS) helps to drive growth, enrich lives and promote Britain abroad.  We protect and promote our cultural and artistic heritage and help businesses and communities to grow by investing in innovation and highlighting Britain as a fantastic place to visit. We help to give the UK a unique advantage on the global stage, striving for economic success”.

In earlier versions tourism/driving visits/visitors was sometimes expressed as a, unifying purpose, I.E., we will support culture, media and sport in order to make Britain a better, more popular place to visit, or words and phrases to that effect.

Does the absence of any reference in the new mission statement and priority areas really matter?  Yes and no.  No, it doesn’t matter, provided DCMS Ministers and officials continue to fight the tourism industries corners and have the power to influence all the other departments who largely hold the physical, policy and most of the financial levels of Government.  So yes, unfortunately it does matter. It matters because if tourism isn’t recognised by No 10, who apparently authored this new direction behind closed doors, as they did with the whole revamp, DCMS is far more likely to be left constantly on the backfoot when trying to represent tourism’s best interests to other, more powerful departments (arguably no huge change there then).

None of us really understand or know the ever-changing intricacies of inter-departmental and inter-ministerial relationships, to be absolutely certain of the implications. Nonetheless, it wouldn’t be unreasonable to suggest that it would certainly have been better all round had there been a passing nod to tourism and the visitor (economy) if not an explicate reference.  Its hard to defend a stance or argue a case if that stance as no official status and your remit to do so isn’t clear to all.

Where the lack of reference absolutely matter is in the intended or unintended messaging to the “tourism industry”.  Hopefully it is a bit of an unnecessary, or better still a totally unintended, own goal, that can and will be quickly rectified.  The next big indictor expected any day will be the confirmation of the division and titling of Ministerial responsibility.  Although already reconfirmed as a Minister of State within DCMS, Stuart Andrew MP the latest of a long line of Ministers for Tourism (always among a string of other responsibilities) has also been given a parallel equalities role in the new Department for Business and Trade, while his role(s) within DCMS have yet to be announced/reconfirmed.  There is currently no expectation or indication that Tourism will cease to be a Ministerial responsibility and certainly not simply just because it hasn’t been referenced in the latest mission statement. It could of course be one of a large range of competing responsibilities or given to a Minister sitting in the House of Lords responsible for all other DCMS functions within the upper house. Both would act as a distraction from what we at least might hope would be their priority task?

God forbid, but if Government were nuts enough to genuinely downgraded tourism. That would be a political open goal and one that would not be easily overlooked or ignored for long by the other main political parties.

With a General Election on the very near horizon (at the most now 23 months away), a little bit of me is mischievously hoping that HMG are that nuts.  Experience suggests to me that when the serving Governments mistakenly chooses to drops the tourism ball, it very quickly bounces and gets picked up by others forcing whoever retains or takes control to take tourism far more seriously that might otherwise have been the case. Perverse as it might be, a little pain now, securing a lot more hope for the future.  

While I am keen to see tourism front and foremost in DCMS’s roles and functions, I am actually rather keener to see someone, anyone the Westminster Government, recognising the absolutely vital role of domestic tourism in underpinning the social and economic wellbeing of major areas, significant urban communities hundreds of thousands of individual businesses and millions of individual workers and their dependants. Within that I am also keen to see Treasury start understanding that a holidays, breaks and days out not taken in the UK don’t automatically result in that money being spent or retained elsewhere within the UK economy. Unnecessary and avoidable leakage to overseas destinations is a serious economic issue and that deserves to be viewed, discussed and, if necessary, addressed as such. Names and words do matter, but nowhere near as much a well-informed action, where action is genuinely needed to secure both a healthy domestic and international inbound tourism market.   


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