Updates and news items.

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1.  Tourism data. After attending the excellent Tourism Alliance Insights Conference on 23 March, I promised to circulate further detail of two offers of access to commercial data made during the event.  The slide pack, previously circulated, is at: TA_440_473.pdf (tourismalliance.com) . If you have yet to find time to look at it there is much that is still of immediate relevance and interest, particularly I would suggest the information from VisitEngland, ETAO, TripAdvisor and Barclays. 

If you wish to receive monthly hospitality spending updates from Barclays register your details with them via the email: contact-mci@barclays.com (CC in any other you wish to receive the information and they will be added to the distribution automatically).

Unfortunately it transpires that while TripAdvisor are keen to investigate how their commercially sensitive and valuable data can be made more widely available at a national level, this not unreasonably falls short of an offer to give wider open access to all as I had thought.  I did think at the time that what I and others thought we had heard was too good to be true.  Apologies for any misunderstanding or for getting anyone’s hope up.  With luck and a fair wind, this and other commercial data of this type will be made available and used to inform and extend higher level national and regional statistics, data and tourism and visitor economy intelligence.  On reflection that would be as, if not more useful than having direct access to the headline data at the local operational level.

2. Joint annual conference. If you have not done so yet please diary the date of the annual joint Tourism Alliance, Tourism Society and British Destinations’ Annual Conference to be held in London on Tuesday 19 September. As ever the event will cover a range of key strategic and operational issues and bring together a very wide church of industry representatives making it an excellent opportunity to widen your view and to meet and make valuable contact industry contacts. British Destinations main sponsor for this and other activities remains or colleagues in Quality in Tourism.

3. DCMS and DLUHC consultations. The deadline for responses to the DCMS accommodation registration scheme and parallel but linked DLUHC short-term let class orders/planning consultation are now looming (7 June). It would be useful if as many industry interests respond to both and vital that as many as possible respond to the DCMS consultation. It is entirely possible that the views, for or against the various options proposed and any additional thoughts and comments, some of which may be critical to the shape of any scheme adopted, may simply be counted, rather than the validity of the content and the status of the organisation making it, often on then behalf of others, weighed.

Our initial comment and general background on both consultations can be found at: https://britishdestinations.net/2023/04/13/consultation-on-a-registration-scheme-for-short-term-lets-in-england/

In the intervening weeks a Tourism Alliance working group (including ourselves) has developed a short policy statement on the desired shape of a statutory scheme in England.  Destinations and your own local stakeholders may find this useful in helping develop your own positions and comments for the any consultation response to DCMS: https://britishdestinations.files.wordpress.com/2023/05/tourism-alliance-statutory-registration-working-group-final-1.pdf

4. Trains and transport issues. On a completely different tack and while not wishing to overload this update, members might like to note two potentially significant event relating to the restructuring of Great British Railways, that that could easily have passed you by, unless the events were specific to your own particular region or indeed impacted directly on your own regular journeys.

 The first is the two-day closure last week of the East Coast mainline for large scale repairs.  Not a major event in its own right, until you realise that this was the first major short closure conducted mid non- holiday week since c 2014 and the full return to state control of Network Rail which then quietly reimposed the policy of deliberately targeting all major short works for weekends, public holidays and longer works for public holidays and half-term or summer school holiday periods. Prior to 2014 such mid-week or non-holiday period closures were rare but not outlawed as a matter of deliberate public policy as they have been in recent years.  The recent closure has been headlined as a trial of concept and justified on grounds of dramatically changed travel patterns, revenue profiles and consequently business planning for rail operators and infrastructure management.  It doesn’t mean that the policy of targeting peak leisure periods for closures has gone for good, yet but it does mean that there is movement towards achieving that long lobbied for goal which we can now all continue to press for, off the back of the East Coast mainline trial. 

The second piece of recent news is return of the Arriva-run, ultimately German state railways owned, Northern Rail franchise to state control.  Northern Rail joins LNER under the control of the “rail operate of last resort” with, it is suggested, up to a further half-dozen private sector train operating companies (TOCs) in serious danger of following suite.  Meanwhile the strategic review of the UK rail operations has been completed and lodged with DoT but its findings have yet to be published.  However unpalatable some may find the prospect of greater state ownership and state control of the railways, the realities and practicalities do suggest that the current private sector franchise system in its current form, is running out of steam, if not in places fallen off the tracks? 

The publication of the review and the Government’s response to it will be critical in informing the future strategic and operational direction for the railways and by inference for public transport strategy and policy in general. By default, that means it is also critical for significant parts of tourism and leisure industries as constituted now and as necessarily reconstituted in future to accommodate changes to railways and rail delivery and, in parallel, the as yet ill-defined challenges presented by equally ill-defined changes to road transport and private car ownership and usage.  I can’t help thinking the old British Rail advertising slogan “let the train take the strain” might have rather more strategic relevance than was ever original intended?

5. Water companies and the environment. And finally; today’s unprecedented public apology from the water companies and the associated promise of £10bn of extra (?) spending on putting things right that are seriously wrong in the UK’s sewage disposal system doesn’t mark an end to the matter (as they may hope?).  Nor sadly does it necessarily signal a rapid improvement to the quality of the UK’s riverine, lake and coastal waters, most of which play an important part in the visitor economy of many coastal and inland communities.  Such improvements are hugely costly and time consuming, which in my estimation is probably why in some instances the companies, potentially aided and abetted by successive Government’s policies, have avoided making them sooner. 

To be frank the state of affairs is at best not far short of a national scandal, which despite the distracting and arguably somewhat belated cries of “mea culpa”, is now likely to continue to run for many years to come. That’s a problem entirely of their own making for the water industry but also a major problem for us in “tourism”.  We already know from years of point location coastal bathing waters management, that ultimately the wider public’s perception and understanding of such issues tends to focuses on their own consumer usage of and increasingly wide spread interaction with, bodies of water.   For all practical purposes this means its use as a visitor attraction and as a leisure asset and not as something you drink or use at home for multiple purposes. While the water companies may take the blame for environmental damage and happily pass the bill to put wrongs right to their customers, it’s the entirely innocent destinations, their attraction and water-based attractions and local businesses of all types that will bear much of the ongoing collateral damage. By whom and how is that going to be put right?

They say they are hard to polish, but I think in the circumstances it not going too far to make the crude but hopefully memorable point that they are even harder to sell as a positive, occasional addition to your local body of eaux naturelles and as a consequence to general appeal and attractiveness of any destination, in a highly competitive, UK domestic and outbound market. Are the water companies truly sorry enough to make recompense for the past harm knowingly done, or to make amends for harm the are fully aware is yet to be done during the protracted period while they put remedial measures in place.  I think not, but it is something to contemplate, if not to ask of them and of Government?


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