Text of an email from Kurt Janson Director Tourism Alliance 5 January 2016
VE/VB Merger Update
There has been quite a lot of activity regarding the merger of VE and VB occurring at the moment.
I have attached a copy of John Whittingdale’s Reply to Bernard’s letter from the Tourism Alliance voicing our concerns regarding the merger. The letter is a quite detailed justification of the decision that the Government has reached – although many of you that have been closely worked with VisitBritain and VisitEngland over the years will probably find it difficult to relate a number of statements in the letter to your knowledge of the function and operation of these organisations.
However, setting aside DCMS’s interesting interpretation of history, what is of most interest is Section 4 of the Annex to the letter which sets out, in broad terms, the Government’s new approach to tourism delivery. There are a number of things that are important here.
- The Strategic Framework for Tourism in England will be replaced by an Action Plan. The role of the VisitEngland Board no longer has control of the development of this Plan but will simply provide advice to DCMS who will write it. It is uncertain as to whether there will be any industry input into the plan but as there was no industry input into the Government’s Five Point Plan it seems unlikely that this approach will change.
- The Discover England Fund will not be available for England marketing activities. The only benefits to domestic tourism will be as a by-product to the fund’s core purpose of getting overseas visitors to explore more of England.
- Although it is to be ring-fenced for England activity, there is no indication as to what VisitEngland’s core budget (£7m per annum) will be used for. However, as there is no mention of the VisitEngland section of VisitBritain undertaking marketing activities, it seems fair to say that there will probably not be any marketing of England as a domestic holiday destination in future.
- VisitBritain will be consulting with English Destinations on the operation of the Discover England Fund in the next couple of weeks
- England strategic and funding matters will, in future, be dealt with in a pre-meeting of the VisitBritain Board which excludes the chairs of Scotland and Wales.
So while still advocating that the merger of the organisations will harm tourism development in England and Britain rather than enhance it, the Tourism Alliance is, additionally advocating the three following points:
- There needs to be clarity and transparency between England and Britain within the merged organisation.
The Select Committee, the Triennial Review, the industry and DCMS all agreed that there needs to be increased clarity between the remit and functions of VisitEngland and VisitBritain. However, rather than providing enhancing clarity, the quasi-merger the two organisations significantly reduces it. While having a dedicated England Team and England contacts within VisitBritain is welcomed, more needs to be done on this issue. Rather than having an awkward “pre- Board” meeting of some members of the VisitBritain Board to discuss England issues (which is counter to the principles of good Corporate Governance), the VisitBritain Board needs to delegate certain responsibilities for England to the VisitEngland Board (eg., the development and delivery of the England Action Plan and the allocation of Discover England Funding). This would provide greater clarity and transparency on decision making related to England and Britain. It would also prevent conflicts of interest on the VisitBritain Board without compromising the role of VisitBritain’s Board in having overall responsibility for matters relating to England.
- The Action Plan for tourism development in England should be developed within the merged organisation in consultation with the industry.
It is the role of Government to set overall strategy and targets for tourism. However, it is the role of arms-length bodies to develop and implement the plans that deliver Government strategy.
It is recognised that the most effective action plans for delivering tourism growth are developed and implemented by tourism professionals in arms-length Government bodies working in collaboration with the industry – which is why most tourist boards around the world are structured in this way. The 5% per annum growth provided by the current Framework Strategy for England – in contrast to the average 2% decline in domestic tourism in the five preceding years – highlights the benefits of this approach. As VisitBritain has been allocated responsibility for developing an Overseas Marketing Plan to deliver on the “Britain” component of the Government’s Five Point Plan for Tourism, it also needs to be responsible for developing the Action Plan to deliver on the “England” component of the Government’s Five Point Plan for Tourism.
Developing the new Action Plan should be undertaken by the England unit of VisitBritain in consultation with the industry and reporting to the VisitEngland Board. The VisitBritain Board would have final approval of the resultant strategy so that it meshes with the Overseas Marketing Plan and DCMS would ensure that it delivers on the Government’s Five Point Plan for tourism before it received Ministerial sign-off.
- To maximise the efficient use of public money, Discover England funding must be made available for targeting whichever markets will provide the greatest return.
The purpose of all Government funding for tourism is to maximise economic growth and employment. Therefore, limiting the use of the Discover England Fund to projects that only target inbound tourism when many destinations rely on domestic tourism for their growth and development compromises the efficient use of public money. The only criteria for determining the allocation of Discover England Fund, as with RGF funding, should be that proposals will maximise returns for the local economy and provide the greatest possible number of new jobs. It is the responsibility of those applying for funding to develop proposals that target markets that will best achieve these goals.
Bernard has a meeting with John Whittingdale tomorrow evening where he will be arguing the need for DCMS to address these issues so I will report back to you on the outcome.
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