Post-CSR Industry letter

Following welcome Comprehensive Spending Review announcements of a new £40m “Discover England Fund” British Destinations coordinated an industry letter seeking confirmation of intent and reassurance regarding the future relationship between VisitBritain the international marketing board for Britain and VisitEngland the domestic marketing and product development body for England.  The letter of 3rd December 2015 to the Secretary of State Department for Culture Media and Sport can be accessed at:  Secretary of State Doc final.

The response date the 9 December can be accessed at: CMS 276170 – Hampson.  Observations on the content of the Minister’s letter (emailed to the signatures) are :

Thank you for supporting the letter sent to the Secretary of State, expressing our joint and separate concerns at the very real prospect of VisitEngland being subsumed into VisitBritain, the international marketing body for Britain. I have now received a response from the Tourism Minister, which I’ve attached (received 7 pm Wednesday evening).

I am sure everyone will have their own views on this response, and the extent to which is actually addresses some or all of the points we made in the letter sent last week. My own personal view is that it shows a welcome change – the Minister appears, in part at least, to recognise why VisitEngland was made operationally independent in the first place, and why this principle was supported in the British Tourism Framework Review, the Triennial Review of VisitEngland and VisitBritain, and by the Secretary Of State, John Whittingdale, when Chairman of the DCMS Select Committee. Operational independence of course does not, and has not for the last 6 or so years, prevented close but understandably not always perfect (because life’s like that) collaboration between VisitEngland and VisitBritain, as is also equally the case with VB and VisitWales, VisitScotland and Tourism NI – something the Minister doesn’t seem to recognise in her letter.

My greatest disappointment however with the response is the apparent misunderstanding of the causes, nature of and potential cures for fragmentation in the tourism sector. I fear the Minister has been poorly advised or misunderstands the evidence as there is a clear suggestion in the letter that fragmentation is to be addressed by changes in VE/VB governance structures, and through the  creation of a £40m challenge fund, largely or solely targeted at the international market that will also somehow engender a new wave of enduring partnership working.  As industry representatives you will know that this is entirely missing the point and that combined it actually has the potential to make the situation worse not better.

The issue of fragmentation is a result of the vacuum left by abolition of the RDAs and the Regional Tourist Boards, resulting in a patchwork of Destination Management Organisations, no regional tourism structures, and variable recognition of tourism by LEP/Local Authorities. VisitEngland has, with little funding, aimed to address this for years– my personal view is that this is now in danger if they become part of VisitBritain and fragmentation will become much worse. The DCMS Select Committee inquiry, led by John Whittingdale, put this best:

With sufficient resources, we believe VisitEngland is well placed to move more decisively into the organisational vacuum left by the abolition of the Regional Development Agencies and the Regional Tourist Boards.

 The second disappointment with this response is the apparent confusing reference to a ‘VisitEngland Board’ in the Minister’s letter. Given VisitEngland will apparently now report to the Chief Executive of VisitBritain, I am at a loss to understand what the ‘strong voice for England’ that the Minister refers to will be. The reality is that the VisitBritain Board, including VisitWales, VisitScotland and Tourism NI, will direct activities and there will be no voice for England and domestic tourism – in essence, the reversal of devolution and the creation of our very own ‘West Lothian Question’ in tourism.

My view remains that the Tourism Minister has been poorly informed and may not realise the potential damage these apparent decision will have on English tourism and the new headaches it creates. I welcome any input on what we as an industry do now – I continue to believe that English tourism must have a strong voice and not side lined.

Pressure points are DCMS themselves, who could, if minded, easily and without any loss of face, issues further, more detailed direction to VB (and VE) about the desired outcomes.  The other is VB and to a degree VE (the junior partner in all this) themselves who could either attempt to somehow address our concerns in their implementation plans, or, if the current direction precludes it, seek clarification and amendment from DCMS. Individual action, and for those of us in the Tourism Alliance action through them, is now probably the best way forward?

Regards in haste 

A summary of the relevant points regarding VB and VE relationships and roles taken from the 2009 British Tourism Framework Review and the 2015 Triennial review can be accessed at: British Tourism Framework Review Report