Quick up date and one substantive issue
Yesterday I attended the Tourism Alliance Insight Conference, followed by the English Tourism Week Parliamentary reception. It was an excellent data and tourism intelligence focused conference and a useful subsequent networking event, both attended by a small number of destination managers and few representatives from a couple of the larger destination area marketing partnership, plus a much larger number from a broad cross-section of industry players and tourism and leisure industry representative bodies.
I am hoping that the level of attendance from the “DMOs” was more reflective of the time of year and budget cycle (very last gasps of the financial year for many), rather than reflective of the pressures on limited discretionary budgets or just budgets full stop. Selfishly I keen to seen a good levels of destination management and marketing representation at the Tourism Alliance, Tourism Society British Destination Annual conference to be held later this year, post season being my recommendation. The detail and specifically the date of which is yet to be agreed by the triumvirate. Please ink the event in to the 2023/24 budget now and the diary it as soon as we can confirm the date.
Having said that I hope budgets for 2023/24 aren’t a major issue, or at least no more than normal, I am acutely aware that a couple of destination management and/or destination marketing organisations are between a rock and a very hard place with regard to this coming financial year. What I am not aware of is whether its only a couple and whether those that I am aware of now, or might become aware as a result of this note, wish me to represent concern about continuing funding difficulties too openly or at what level. I am a tuned to the fact that from a local perspective making difficulties too obvious or too public, too soon to local partners and businesses can precipitate the very things you seek to avoid. If you are having a particularly hard time, please let me know and also let me know if you are happy for that to be flag up just as a generality or as a named specific case.
As to the insights conference itself, it genuinely contained many timely insights, some of more significance than others. As you would expect of me by now, when I do get the slide pack (still awaited) rather than just sending it out, as is, I will do a bit of a synopsis, point out the highlight and any short cuts to getting to the meat of the matters at hand. That might take a day or two but it will hopefully be worth the extra wait. Highlights for me already, included a seemingly open ended offers from both TripAdvisor and Barclays to share their always very current tourism and visitor economy data and intelligence with the wider industry. That I think is more significant than it might at first sound. I will certainly be telling you how to sign up for that and/or making sure it is embedded somehow into our research and statistic library. More on the statistics piece next week.
There were a number of big-ticket items aired at the fringes and nuggets dropped in conversation. Most will wait for a while longer or need more work doing on them. The one issue I do want to address and do so now is the one nobody else seems, probably for good reason, to want to raise anywhere too publicly. So, I guess if no one else will, it falls to me to air the tourism impacts of asylum seekers and hotel usage. It was not addressed by anyone officially but was discussed without prompting by a good half dozen plus individual with me at the fringes over the course of the full day, including a very senior national tourist board representative.
Stripping away all the rightly difficult and emotive issue and concerns, and looking purely from a tourism perspective, I think it safe to say everyone who needs to understand within the immediate upper sphere of tourism already recognises that placing non-economically active asylum seekers in to hotels isn’t necessarily a very good idea. But not everyone has the same broad understand of why that might be or the specifics of the impact of seemingly similar usage in differing locations. With that in mind, we can’t be sure that the Home Office, and No 10, the ones who really do need to understand and be persuaded, do either.
For the avoidance of doubt let me rehearse tourism arguments as I understand them:
While filling a hotel with a guaranteed 100% occupancy for a guaranteed period at good rates, with minimal, if any staffing requirement (and guaranteed post contract refurbishment?) might be very good news for a potentially struggling hotel owner or operator, it seldom if ever equates to “good news for tourism” as the uninitiated might very easily erroneously assume. The notion that what is good for an individual hotelier must by default always be good for tourism still needs to be challenged. Indeed, for tourism and the wider visitor economy prospective there will almost certainly be some harm ranging from very little to significant harm, dependent largely on the nature of the usual target market for the hotel and critically the nature of its locality.
Replacing economically active visitor who have discretionary disposable income, directly with economically inactive individuals who have little or no disposable income and no legal means of generating any, may well have little wider impact on the visitor economy adjacent to, for example, a ubiquitous “bed shed” on the fringe of an industrial estate by the ring road at the edge of a town or city. Doing seemingly much the same thing, in or near the centre of a historic, heritage or market town or city, or in a major seaside resort destination is a very different matter.
In the latter examples the very act of replacing individual who are there often with the express purpose of spending within the local destination economy, with those who can’t spend anything, is tantamount to Government acting to close the hotels concerned and arbitrarily reducing the destinations staying visitor capacity by edict. And that is before any other considerations and indirect impacts on tourism and the visitor economy are taken into account. Doing so during the off season is questionable, doing so now in the run up to, during or throughout the fast-approaching main season is deplorable and is little short of government funded and directed, economic sabotage.
While it is fully accepted that the Home Office and Government more generally, have little practical alternative but to seek hotel accommodation in the current circumstance, in doing so they, or their contractors must carefully consider and take due regard to where those hotels are situated, the nature of the normal trade and most importantly of all the likely impact on any significant established visitor economy within the locality. Those place to avoid should be utterly obvious: the well-established inland and coastal visitor destinations, of which there are many. Those places to target may be less obvious and harder to easily identify but they do number in their thousands. The process of identifying hotels with no significant associated local economy, could be greatly assisted by the creation of some basic but clear criteria, if indeed these do not already exist. Something we do need to establish as a mater of some urgency is by what criteria do the Home Office currently select hotels and critically their locations? I can’t help thinking tourism and visitor economy probably don’t feature.
If Government does not take steps to avoid further use of accommodation in “popular destinations” the absurdity of most of Government working to support the recovery within the visitor economy, post-covid and investing significant sums to drive new growth in many established destinations, while the Home Office beavers away independently undermining both recovery and growth in other destinations and on occasions concurrently in the self-same destinations. Highlighting the lack of joined up policy, involving a sensitive and contentious subject like asylum seekers, is not a route down which any destination individually or jointly would willingly wish to go. Nonetheless, it remains an option of last resort in the resorts and destination’s lobbying tool box.
Any views on the above subject are welcome. If there is sufficient demand, I am happy to call an informal discussion on the mattes raised and to help bottom out individual destination’s views.