Uncategorized

The electric vehicle revolution, rail and reasons to pause for thought?

Posted on Updated on

For very good reason in recent months and years the majority working to manage destinations, be that  local, sub regional, regional or national destination management, have been largely focusing on the here and now.  Horizon scanning has been necessarily restricted to the coming season, at best the one after that.  A number of recent snippets, rather than any one big news item have led me to conclude that there is now equally good reason to lift our gazes again to the seemingly far horizon or risk losing fleeting opportunities to tweak some fundamental strategic shifts.  In particular, I am thinking here of UK transport policy and especial, at this moment about the promised Electric Vehicle (EV) revolution.  A revolution that could so very easily be more akin to coup; a coup which could so very easily leave domestic tourism sat on the wrong side.

Three years ago, when HMG change the proposed target date for a ban on the UK sales of new fossil fuel vehicles (FFVs), largely in favour of EV’s, from 2035 to 2030, British Destinations began raising potential concerns from a general domestic tourism perspective. These were based on little more than the simple logic (often the best) that: in an industry that is totally reliant on people being able to travel and where broadly 80% on average travel to and from their voluntarily chosen destination(s) by private motor car, there is little room to leave it to chance that HMG, as a whole, and specifically DfT within it, are totally attuned to our particular needs and the implications of our arguably, unavoidable level of reliance on “the car”. In reality we know that that average of c 80% quickly becomes plus 90% for the vast majority of non-major city destinations, rising in the more remote, and consequentially more vulnerable popular and more niche rural and coastal destinations, to nearer 100%. 

Given the complexities involved ranging from: how the new and subsequently the used car market functions, through the current cost and operational lifespan of EV batteries, to where the strategic, policy and operational control of the UKs automotive industry actually lies (more Berlin, Beijing than Birmingham), the popular, entirely plausible presumption that this will involve no more than a simple one for one swap from FFV to EV is at the very least questionable, if not leaning towards the improbably. With good cause some may say, well of course this is the case: reducing unsustainable levels of car ownership and usage is an entirely legitimate objective and a welcome positive outturn.

This prompts subsidiary questions like: does fewer, potentially far few cars, necessarily equate to fewer, potentially far fewer visitor choosing or being physically able to get to all the popular UK destinations, historic houses, rural areas etc. that they get to now?  If they can’t get there by motor vehicle will rail, coach, bus or other forms of “public transport” really ride to the rescue? And if they do, will that serve everyone’s best interests or just those already currently reasonably connected? Or, faced with an additional barrier to domestic travel, will many more of us just choose the least line of resistance, hop on a train or take an EV taxi to the nearest airport and “save the UKs environment” by exporting the problem and flying off abroad?   To be totally frank I don’t really know, nor do I suspect does anyone else. What I do know is that collectively we do need to know ASAP the direction of travel, preferably long before there is absolutely no choice left for us in the matter and less time and fewer options to successfully adjust.

Three years ago, during the hight of pandemic, it was probably entirely acceptable to say things like: it’s a decade plus away, alternative power train technology, enhanced battery or charging technologies, government sales and manufacturing incentives, new automotive industry policy approaches or, whatever, will at the eleventh hour save the day. Three years later it isn’t as acceptable to keep saying much the same things. Moreover, in the last 6 months there has been a drip feed of events and Government and motor manufacturing news that combined suggest that the master plan for an EV revolution might be less a plan and more a lot of good ideas and unproven aspirations. My own hopes of a new alternative powered by fresh air and fun allowing the tourism industry to capture the lion’s share of both the domestic tourism and transport markets in a oner, are now rapidly fading!

My current “back of fag packet” assessment is that we have at best a couple of years to try and influence national strategic or policy direction in some small way, 3 or 5 years before levels of EV ownership starts to have real and meaningful consequences for domestic tourism and a little over 7 before a relatively rapidly escalating set of circumstances begin to set in, post the current target date for a ban on new FFV sales. A revolutionary set of circumstance that will undoubtedly have the potential to radically change how we do business, where and with whom and how, how often and by what means Mr and Ms average, travel to our destinations (or not) in the decade and beyond that follow the 2030 trigger point.

We can choose to either try and influence and/or begin proactively predicting and adapting to possible changes and starting doing that now.  Or alternatively we, the domestic tourism industry, can just carry on regardless, in the forlorn hope that DfT and the automotive industry get on and do a perfectly adequate job of it all. Leaving us all with no more to do that just worry about any unpleasant consequence, if and when they occur, with luck, a good decade or more away. I for one think the former albeit a difficult ask of and a difficult task for a disparate domestic sector is preferable to the latter, a high risk, if not utterly reckless approach. Hence, I guess my compulsion to write this piece now.

The recent reports I refer to include: the failure to meet, indeed come anywhere near the installation rates for public EV charging points, needed to achieve the 300k, 2030 target and serious doubts that this can/will now be addressed, combined with growing concern that some, particularly, seasonal or event-based scenarios will ever meet viable cost/benefit thresholds.  This year one very senior automotive source has gone on record saying that all manufactures are entirely focused on quality marks and high-end market production, with the least expensive EV’s on the UK market coming in at 1/3 more than the current least expensive FFV (c£30k v c£20k), with downstream consequences for who can in future afford to own/lease new and subsequently own a used car.  Of more concerning, they also doubt that EV production for the European/UK markets will ever move back into the popular, affordable market space. 

Meanwhile, motor manufacturers are currently asking Government to consider subsidising the sale of second hand EV’s to the middle-income market to the tune of upwards of £8k per unit.  The supply of second-hand EV lease vehicles is only now starting to ramp up but is apparently, already out of kilter due to insufficient demand in the used market. Excess supply of relatively new, relatively low milage used EV’s means an unexpectedly lower resale returns for the leasing market that dominates the new car market.  That in turn effects the value ratios of new to used, forcing up future leasing costs further destabilising the present leasing model.   If the used sale market for current EV’s isn’t functioning now (without heavy public subsidies), then potentially what hope for the yet to evolve second, the third and subsequent hand sales market? When there are fewer or no FFV alternatives the used EV market may of course stabilise, it may not.

Although, the predicted average life span of an EV and EV battery in a European climate (12 years 100k to 200k miles) is not that dissimilar to the proven average for an FFV (12 years and 200k miles), the former is still just that, a prediction and one with up to a 50% fudge factor applied. It will remain so for a good number of years to come.  Some sources serious doubt the claimed battery life span, not least because battery life is related to the number of recharge cycles and not use/mileage.  Poor charging practice, seriously effects battery life span. That in a country where one of the commonest FFVs failures remains the classic user error of wrong fuel type, there is not too much hope of the required care and good practices needed for longevity being universally applied. In addition, batteries tend not to die overnight but to gradually hold less and less charge, reducing range and reliability over time. Older cars will by definition be less efficient.  Battery repair or replacement, the only solution to that is also current prohibitively expensive. More in the order of an FFV engine replacement, than an engine repair or something manageable like a new exhaust system.  This makes second or subsequent hand EV purchases potentially far riskier and far less affordable and doing so to those who use the used market mainly for reasons of affordability. 

All of these  factors have a potential implications on the used motor market and increasingly so the more towards the cheap and cheerful end you progress.  Does a potentially radically changed second-hand market and a different ownership dynamic or model make any difference to a currently largely car using customer base?  Probably and does that matter to tourism? Almost certainly but who knows yet just how and by how much? I may be wrong but I do now think it is import to know quite a bit more, quite a bit sooner than if we just leave it to non-tourism interests to tell us in their own good time what the realities are or more accurately may possibly be.

In parallel the future of UK railways under the newly created direction of Great British Railways was set to undergo significant and, in rail term, a relatively rapid change in its own post pandemic revolution. That now seems more likely to be a rather more evolutionary process progressed at a slightly more leisurely pace.  Aspiration, practicalities and competing interests have hit head on in the last 12 to 24 months and halted, slowed or changed some of those original ambitions.  Changes will happen but whether they amount to a major switch away from a 9 to 5 Monday to Friday commuter driven network, to something that also proactively serves the needs of other markets, including within that leisure travel, remains to be seen. 

What is clear, or at least more readily predicted, is that if rail doesn’t already play a role in the destination, for example because there is no rail connection or existing connections are already inadequately serviced, then realistically things aren’t going to change much, if at all very soon. Other than the the trains themselves, nothing move fast in the rail industry at the best of times and these are far from the best of times for the rail network. It is also important to be mindful that rail travel involves connectivity at both ended of the process.   The destination may have adequate connectivity to adequate rail services but your potential customer base may not. Not everyone lives manageably near enough to a station to make rail the panacea that those who do have the luxury of living manageable near rail station, might naturally assume it to be.  

The nature of the rail service you have, or have not, has obvious read across to the issues of the future of the “family car”.  In short, if you have rail connectivity and good services then at least you have a potential alternative, should the EV revolution leave domestic tourism or your particular destination out on a limb.  If you haven’t got access to rail or your current services are poor, then as of today’s date, I am far from sure what the future holds for your destination. Or, to be frank, if indeed some will actually have a future, in anything other than more niche and/or high end, low volume markets.  For some that equates to no change and no problem, for others it equates to a manageable change. For some, probably larger destinations majoring in the popular, more seasonal family leisure markets, it could equate to a major challenge. A radical redrawing of how UK rail is owned, operate and run, for what purposes, can’t of course be ruled out, albeit again it would not result in a quick fix.

I would welcome views from both members and from wider domestic tourism interests other presentative bodies and anyone who might have an informed view.  Am I right to pause for thought, are there some genuinely serious issues here and do we jointly need to do something proactively about them?

Advertisement

Environmental news and tourism implications.

Posted on

Three environmental development of operational if not strategic importance to tourism:

1. In September 2022 a Bill to ban a range of single use plastics in Wales, including some items previously banned in England, was laid before the Welsh Government.  On 6 December the Senedd approved the Bill, effective from “Autumn 2023”.  The outline can be found:  here.   On 14 January Defra announced, via its response to an earlier consultation and the mechanism of the recent Environmental Bill, its intent to ban the use of a further range of single use plastic items in England from 1 October 2023.  The outline for this can be found: here

Although not identical in the use of definitions or in its precise application, the two now cover much, if all the same main items, with exactly the same intent to reduce the unnecessary use of environmentally damaging single use plastic including: plates, bowls trays, cups, some types of cup lids (polystyrene in Wales at least), cutlery.  All of which are widely used, especially in food and beverage, hospitality, leisure, tourism and events and the visitor economy in general.  The ban doesn’t preclude the use of such single use item themselves; it just proscribes that in future they can’t be made primarily of plastic or polystyrene type materials.

Consequently, we can reasonably expect to see far more use of replacements, predominately wood and wood fibre-based card products. Some of the latter are necessarily coasted with liquid proof plastics, like the now ubiquitous cardboard coffee cup and still can’t be easily or economically recycled;  a subject and a problem worthy of an essay in their own right. There will of course be instances of a return to, for example “proper” crockery and cutlery but it is unlikely to be practical, nor without significant staffing and other costs, in most typical scenarios. 

The implementation in both Nations has been delayed to allow the dissemination of more detail and for a significant range and number of retail businesses and the wholesale supply train to adjust.  Nonetheless, destination mangers might wish to be aware of the impending changes and communicate them to what is likely to be a potentially large range and large number of businesses.  At this point it probably needs to be no more than: it is happening post peak season, formal guidance has (as far as I am aware) not yet to be issued, when it is we will ensure it is passed on.  

From a destination management prospective it is worth noting that the ban on single use plastic items, however worthy an objective, does not in itself significantly reduce public littering and the unpredictable peaks, troughs and ever-growing pressures on the public waste stream. In essence while it does reduce the opportunities for plastics to enter the natural environment, it largely acts to substitutes one non-biodegrade form of litter and waste with a more biodegrade form of litter and waste that then still has to be litter picked and /or collected from public bins and then disposed of.  By default, much of it from the public domain at public expense, rather from the private businesses that generate it, at their own expense.

2. A week later Defra then announced the outline of the long awaited and already long delayed deposit return scheme for England, Wales and Northern Ireland, for which Westminster retains some significant responsibility.  HMG are duty bound to consult and obtain agreement from those two Home Nations, neither of which have to replicate or adopt the Defra solution. Whereas it is an entirely devolved issue in Scotland. 

The main, immediate issues to note are that the implementation date has slipped again, this time from 2024 to October 2025, a good seven years after the scheme was first promised. Perhaps more importantly, glass bottles have now been explicitly excluded from any version to be adopted by the current administration in England and therefore may or may not now excluded in Wales and Northern Ireland. The combination of placing an artificial value on an essentially individually valueless items (plastic, steel, aluminium or glass drinks containers) and the proximity of England to Wales along, a long heavily inhabited administrative boarder, may be problematic, if for example, Wales were to choose to include glass and England doesn’t?  That said Scotland is pressing ahead with plans to implement a 20p deposit on all drink’s containers, including glass, from August 2023.  In the Scotland’s case the  issue artificial value on all existing containers and, once running, all containers from outside the geographic area is dealt with by a requirement for manufactures and producers to label or barcode those products included within the scheme. That presumably still leaves some interesting logistic issues particularly for a town like Berwick on Tweed.  They have also excluded on-sale containers in bars, restaurants and other licenced premises, a solution that seems highly likely to be replicated in those schemes yet to be introduced elsewhere.

To be unkind or is it just being frank, some of the attendant comments made by the Westminster Government suggest that, despite several consolations and 5 years’ worth of preparation, the multifaceted complexities of introducing an effective and efficient deposit return scheme are coming home to roost and that they need a further two to three years to develop a practical and (hopefully) workable solution.  A genuinely unkind comment, of the type being made by many environmental interest groups, would be that: HMG are quite literally kicking the can down the road, leaving it to the next Parliament to sort out, the literal, mess surrounding the growing use of single use drinks containers.

The additional delay could well still result in the deposit return scheme being significantly amended, further refined or indeed delayed again (outside Scotland) but the key observation remains that at some point it is coming. Just not as soon as we had anticipated or as soon as many destinations would have wished to see as an effective means of physically reducing a major source of litter and a major ever-increasing strain on the local waste stream. Unlike the ban on certain single use items, about to come into effect later this year, a well-designed deposit return scheme will act to significantly reduce littering and the strain on the public waste stream.  For that reason alone, such schemes represent a significant operational, if not strategic development for tourism development, quality of consumer experience and destination management in the UK.  The fact that they will also help reduce the opportunity for harmful plastic to entering the land and, especially, the riverine and maritime environment is a major bonus.

My immediate personal assessment, is that the decision to leave glass bottle out of any English scheme is almost certainly a major mistake or more accurately an unintended flaw or loophole, likely to result in the use of more glass containers, more glass litter and more glass in the general public waste stream. All of which would in my view negates at least two of the primary purposes and much of benefit of the having the scheme in the first place. 

Giving almost two year’s notice of intent, may well allow container manufactures, drinks producers, the wholes and retail chains time to adjust to an as yet very vague scheme but it also inadvertently allows more than ample time for them, if they so wish to switch back towards the use of glass containers.  That may not be logistically or economically feasible in all cases but it certainly could be in others, for example, beer or soft drinks in tins requiring a deposit v beer or soft drinks in bottles that won’t.   This Government has declared its intent, now only time will tell if I am right or wrong. 

3.   Not necessarily new news but rather the latest addition to a torrent of news items, reports, Select Committee inquires, Ofwat regulatory and Environment Agency (EA) enforcement regarding the current and recent historic state of the UK’s waste water and sewage systems.   Taken together they paint a picture of system that is failing and is now and routinely has polluted the UK’s rivers, waters lakes and coastline and which has been doing so largely under the public and regulatory radar, probably since the privatisation of what was admittedly then an already failing publicly owned system. Without trying to over simplify the situation, it would appear that after a burst of investment to secure adequate standards, mainly at relatively few, high profile, failing designated coastal bathing waters, investment profile has gradually fallen away and has been inadequate to maintain or comply with existing legally binding standards.  Many of the privately owned water companies stand accused of favouring profit, shareholder dividends and, in some instance, senior employee’s bonuses over and above legal and moral environmental obligations and their obligations to consumers, essentially by default almost everyone.

Whatever the truth of it, there is now little doubt that there has been an over reliance on self-regulation, monitoring and reporting which has, it seems, been regularly and deliberately abused by many, if not all water companies. In some instance to a criminal degree, as witnessed by recent and ongoing enforcement and regulatory actions. EA has gone as far as to ask for future powers to prosecute, fine and if necessary jail senior executive found to guilty of continuing to do what they have been proven to have done in the recent past. That in itself speaks volumes.

Meanwhile, Ofwat, the industry’s primary regulator, stand accused of favouring the interests of the companies over that of ordinary customers and of the general public’s interest. Put simply, how else under their watch was it allowed to get so bad for so long? The EA stands accused of, on the one hand  failing to adequately monitor, police and enforce existing regulation and on the other, of not having the desire or resource to do so.  Both equate to much the same thing, the only real difference being where the real fault, if any, lies.  In parallel there are also similar reports on the failure to educate, monitor and enforce compliance within agriculture, another primary source of riverine, lake and coastal waters pollution. Many of the issues that apply to EA and the water companies are broadly replicated within EA’s relationship with agriculture. 

One senior EA officer recently confided that they personally, seriously doubted the ability of any English River to ever routinely meet the bathing waters standard, despite those standards being half as stringent as those used for coastal waters (the latter bit being real news to me).  The first two UK riverine bathing waters, likely to be the first of many more hoping to follow, are already well on their way towards being declassified and “permanently signed” with advice against bathing. (4 fails in row and you’re out).  The inclusion of rivers and growing public interest in riverine bathing waters and water quality in rivers marks a “watershed” in the long running UK water quality debate. Recognising that it is now a major strategic and policy level issue and a major new potential reputation minefield for tourism is now vital.  Hoping that the problem might either go away or improve largely on its own without proactive tourism industry intervention, as we arguable did in the early decades after coastal bathing water were adopted, is simply no longer a safe or acceptable option.

Having spent the much of my first decade in tourism defending what I now recognise as being the indefensible poor standards of many coastal bathing waters during the 1990s, I now have no appetite for spending my last decade in tourism trying to defend what I already recognise to be utterly indefensible standards in rivers and much of the coast not yet covered by designated bathing waters (small point areas often in much larger bodies of water).  To find that there is strong evidence that I and many others were deliberately deceived about the amount of effort many water companies were putting in to maintaining and improving water qualities standards is frankly painful.  Especially when many of us then unwittingly went on to publicly defend those same companies and their sterling efforts to make every possible improvement. 

It is indisputable is that riverine standards and those of significant stretches of coastal waters, primarily outside the point designated bathing waters are inadequate. That is in large part due to failures of the UK’s private water companies to invest, alongside some significant poor practice within agriculture.  The latter might be quickly resolved in part, if the EA were adequately funded and sufficiently focused on the agricultural education and enforcement task, among a host of other competing environmental priorities that they are expected to deal with. 

The water companies’ issues can only be resolved if they now investing in their assets, some of which have clearly been neglected for some considerable time and preferably doing so at the expense of their own profits and not at an additional cost to customers.  That is down to Ofwat and Government to resolve.  Having effectively ignored their known problems for so long and now having frankly been belatedly found out, the water companies now have a mountain entirely of their own making to climb. Better enforcement in itself can’t immediately fix what is effectively broken, unless of course anyone is saying that the illegal discharges are actual driven purely by profit and not to problems of physical capacity within the system, as the water industry currently claim. There is no obvious cheap or quick fix given the number of assets that it transpires are involved and the scale, cost and time needed to make the improvements likely to be required.  

If your destination includes a problem designated bathing water then the issues that you will be only too well aware of are likely to grind on for years to come.  If you have non-designated coastal waters, rivers or lakes, often used for leisure purposes, then watch this space.  Bathing, leisure and associated water quality issues are almost certainly going to get more publicity while getting far worse, for some considerable time to come, before they get gradually better. So long a time that I can confidently predict that it won’t be my problem to explain residual issues or celebrate the eventual success of all the improvements yet to come. I can say that with confidence because Government have already  quietly move the target compliance dates for river water standards to the right, well beyond the likely retirement date of the majority of people currently working in tourism management.

If you have water on your patch then I would advise that if you haven’t already done one recently, a brief audit to assess whether those waters (public and private) are being used for leisure at any scale and especially for anything vaguely associated with emersion like bathing or wild swimming may be needed.  That is information may well already be held for water safety reasons but it may not be something that either local government or private sector-based destination management proactively engages with?  If nothing else such waters are increasingly becoming both a marketing opportunity and a potential PR pitfall which should give genuine reason to keep them on the tourism radar.

As I sign off the BBC news is carrying more news and comment on the breakdown of plastics in the marine environment and the resulting presence of microplastics in fish and seafoods in the human food chain.    If that does make the point that there is a genuine, direct and strategically important link between a range of dull old environmental issues and the future of exciting and vibrant hospitality, leisure and tourism, nothing else will.

New Year, same old problems?

Posted on Updated on

Apologies for the delay in the first British Destinations’ general update of 2023 which I have held back on in the forlorn hope of accessing a lot more upbeat news. Much like the closing months of 2022 it is in relative short supply, all though at least this note does ends with news of the approval of a second major Accommodation BIDs. But even that may presents some potential new national policy issues?

1.  General reports still be firmed up for the much-needed Christmas and New Year bounce have been relatively poor for the domestic market, with lacklustre performance in most if not all destination. As ever there will of course be exemptions and outriders.  However, these seldom negate the unpalatable truth that good or bad, performance still typically measured again the same period in previous years, current equates to, at best OK and in many cases dire performance largely because of the additional factor of unrecoverable increased input costs.  I have not yet had the chance to speak directly to all destination managers in membership and therefore would welcome any comment that confirms, denies, expands on, or further informs this thumb nail assessment.

Last week’s confirmation of the nature of the plans to restructure the UK’s business energy support scheme has not been particularly well received among potential recipients, essentially because it significantly reduces the levels of support and, thus, increase the amount to be paid for the energy consumed from 1 April 2023 onward. There are already a range of other issues, particularly for those where existing contracts have fallen due or new contracts are being sought for any other reason.   There would never be a good time to reduce the level of support but for some (many?) in “tourism” who have struggled through the last three plus month and who had been hoping to hang on through the next three, always very difficult months of the off season, for spring and the first flush of the new main season, the timing seems particularly cruel. Just as the demand side should be picking up a major component of the supply side costs seem set to rise again.

The news could be the last nail in an already well nailed coffin for those yet to recoup and recover from the deep scaring of the 2020-21 pandemic.  That said, despite ongoing and potential new international instabilities, wholesale prices for gas have, we are told, fallen back to pre-Russian invasion crisis levels. This is due in large part to relatively mild weather and larger than anticipated storage in Europe. As yet that, admittedly potentially fragile prices relief has not been reflected in the energy cost to UK domestic and business customers.    Only the events of next 12 weeks or so, as the playout across numerous destinations will tell whether a trickle of permeant closures and an unusually high proportional of temporary, off-season closures and curtailments, will turn into an avalanche of business failures.  More on business support scheme at: https://www.gov.uk/government/news/chancellor-unveils-new-energy-bills-discount-scheme-for-businesses   If you have seen or start to see firm evidence of unusual or unexpected closures please let me know, so I can continue to report it upwards.

2. On the flip side reports on domestic outbound bookings suggest these have been strong and rapidly returning towards 2019 levels of booking.  Mindful that late December early January headline travel trade pronouncements can be as much part of the promotional hype as an accurate assessment, it does genuinely appear that much of last year’s attitudinal and intentions research regarding a strong outbound market recovery is indeed proving to be true, regardless of current UK economic conditions.  It is of course telling that the vast majority of these early sales are now based on ever more generous no or very low deposits, with payment often not due until a month before travel.  Whether all that booked business comes to fruition is therefore yet to be seen.   The most worrying aspect of last year’s research being comments on the growth of the intention to preserve the “main holiday” (often shorthand for an overseas holiday) regardless of the cost-of-living crisis and to do so often at the expense of savings on other leisure, tourism, short break and other holiday activity. The baulk of which, in practice, fall largely on domestic tourism and the wider local UK visitor economy. 

I have yet to hear an expectation from any destination manager that the staycation effect of 2021 (a largely captive audience) and the OK but generally weakening summer of 2022 will be replicated in 2023.  The general view being that the domestic market, as a whole, will be weaker than 2022 with of course some winners and a lot of losers, both of which, if standard pattern pertain, are reasonably predictable.   Again, any and all views, opinion and any hard and fast evidence, either way, would be most welcome.

3. Is there anything to be done about the potentially double whammy and the resulting perilous state of the domestic market? There are a number of potential opportunities on the horizon to reinvigorate the stalled and always contentious debate about the relative value and importance to UK Plc of domestic v domestic outbound tourism.  My feeling is that simply surviving the unprecedented ubiquitous impacts of the pandemic rightly took centre stage during the last two to three years. In practice this also meant that inbound international and out bound domestic travel, became a low priority and all but an irrelevant positive or negative factor to the performance of domestic tourism.  As we endured and then slowly emerged out of the pandemic the roles, value, power and purpose of domestic tourism has becomes far clearer to all, unobscured as it usually is by the other two legs of the UK tourism triumvirate.  There has never been a better time to evidence that domestic tourism underpins the economy of many communities and is critical to that of almost of those places’ disadvantages by dint of their location and the nature of the locality. It feels very much to be something that should chime with levelling-up if levelling-up or whatever it may become is still genuinely a key policy objective? Making that case might not do much to change the fortunes of 2023 but it might start making a difference in future years with this and other administrations yet to come. 

More contentiously, it has never been easier to demonstrate that, while outbound tourism may generate significant income within the UK, it also represents a major exports/imports cost and that it does so in direct competition to UK domestic tourism. Recent national statistics show a direct correlation between falling domestic and rising domestic outbound tourism volumes and values.  In another 12 to 24 months all the tourism lessons of 2020- 2022 will be history and have been forgotten.  Surely among the key lessons learnt, is that it is in HMG’s post BREXIT, best interests to look again at the major benefit of modest policy, if not financial support for domestic tourism, particularly in England where the support is by dint of previous policy direction especially sparse.  Again, that might not be something that would necessarily improve the immediate prospects for 2023 but it could have a significant influence on future performance.  If colleagues have thoughts, particularly on an immediate action that could influence 2023 directly or views on improving the support for domestic tourism over time, then please let me know.

4. A couple of colleagues have contacted me regarding an approach from STAA the short-term rental accommodation sector trade body putting the case for a light touch registration scheme in England and seeking further meetings, presumably to gain support for this.  As you will be aware DCMS are currently refining the option or options for a registration scheme with the intent to consult further on the option or options chosen.  I am assuming STAA are getting their ducks in a row before announcements are made?  Before supporting STAA plausible stance on light touch registration, I would urge colleagues to look again at the Airbnb “white paper” on this subject that recommends a very light touch approach indeed: https://britishdestinations.net/1194-2/content/airbnb-short-term-lets-registration-white-paper-2021/  .  So light touch that in some people’s view (mine included) it would almost certainly be ineffective and serve in part to reinforce the erroneous but understandable consumer view that the UK already applies first world standard backed by first world checks, balances and many would assume full inspections, all obviously done before owners are allowed to trade.  As we know that simply isn’t the case, despite Airbnb and other platform and operators own light touch, self-assessment enrolment.  Simply having little more than a list of traders and trading addresses may be a considerable improvement on the current total lack of visibility but it may not do anything to address the fundamental issue that people can trade on a whim and, in many cases, with nothing more than the completion of a basic self-assessment form submitted to the third-party agent or platform providers.  

By all means engage with STAA (indeed I would urge you to) but do interrogate them about what is meant in detail by light touch and assess for yourself whether their vision of it would improve, make no meaningful difference or unintentionally serve to make matter worse, by for example, giving consumer further unjustified confidence that all accommodations provider must meet mandatory standards to trade. The potential pitfalls of issues like Airbnb’s proposed exclusion of “amateur” providers, no registration fee and therefore no funding for the necessary enforcement etc. should all be self-evident to you but may not be self-evident even to those genuinely wishing to bring all parts of the short-term rental accommodation sector under some (or is it the same?) level of necessary control.  

There are numerous examples of the abuse of various light touch regulation schemes in the UK by a small but persistent minority; often the self-same minority that regulation was created to control.  Light touch regulation not genuinely backed by the guarantee of robust enforcement, offers false promise to the consumer, to the majority of providers and to the wider industry.  The Westminster Government need to recognise that that current lack of regulatory control is a reputational disaster in waiting for tourism in England (and by inference the UK). This is a once in a generation opportunity to put things right, to do it properly and to do it before that currently inevitable disaster happens. Whatever scheme is adopted we are likely to have to live with it for many years before it will be reviewed or improved.

5. In the wake of Liverpool’s late November announcement of the UK’s first accommodation BID (now live), Manchester announced in December the successful ballot for the UK’s second and now largest ABID.  The new ABID is again based around and manged by an existing city centre BID company. The ABID will go live on 1 April 2023, in this instance helpful from the same day and concurrent to the existing BID’s own new 5-year term (unlike the Liverpool equivalent with its three BIDs with three different start/end dates and years).  

The Manchester ABID has some notable differences to those in Liverpool.  Those “short stay hotels and serviced apartments” in central Manchester and parts of Salford with a rateable value of £75k, subject to certain other criteria, will collect/pay a flat rate of £1 per night, per room or unit let.  The BID levy is therefore based on performance of each individual accommodation provider and not on a fixed annual fee set as a proportion of rateable value.  However, you try to present it, the Manchester model is far more akin to a traditional international “bed tax” mechanism but delivered via the only currently legal mechanism available to do so in England, the Business Improvement District legislation. 

Like the Liverpool model it will excite much interest from other destinations, particularly larger Cities in need of new sources of subvention funding for major events and conferences and other key promotional resources.  Like Liverpool’s ABID model I would caution that, in all likelihood, there will be key elements of historic happenstance that are not easily replicated elsewhere and for those outside major City Centre, issues around base costs and the necessary scale needed to overcome these to produce worthwhile deployable income, capable of generating measurable return to the levy payers that over time significantly exceeds any costs to them.  Detail like the prospectus for the Manchester ABID are proving difficult (for me) to access.  Rather than delaying any longer report this potentially game changing development I am doing so without more in-depth research or the usual links for you to follow-up on. I will find it and share it in due course.

Whatever the detail, this development is game changing and probably more so than the Liverpool ABID. Liverpool agreed something akin to an accommodation-based tourism tax and did so with the broad support of accommodation sector having had a formal request to Government to pilot a tourism levy/tax scheme declined.  Manchester have agreed, with the broad support of the accommodation sector, to adopt what is all but in name a nightly bed tax/levy, very much along the lines of those used in many other countries. The fact it is the accommodation businesses that have helped design and deliver both these initiative to my mind makes the opposition to such “taxes” from several major industry bodies and the current Westminster Government, somewhat if not totally unsustainable.  The answer to the question can we now revisit the case for a tourism levy/tax will almost certainly be: “what’s the problem? The mechanism clearly already exists”. My response to that is, well it might but because of the peculiarities of the BID legislation and BID process it isn’t anything near being a universal solution to an increasingly near universal problem experience across all major destinations; that of funding necessary and necessarily shared administrative, promotional and development expenditure.

I can confidently predict that a number of other Core Cities will quickly follow suit. There will probably be many other destinations of all types and sizes who will spend and potentially waste time and precious resources trying to make an ABID model work for them. I hope I am wrong but other than the few who have the volume of accommodation and the scale of businesses located in a relatively confined area and with a clear main purpose, most typically the need for subvention funding for major conference and events in venue of national or international standing, they will fail to make it fly. 

6. In the meantime, the ABID approach will be great news for the early adopters and the accommodation businesses within them who will by default have a major competitive advantage to their less well funded competitor destinations.  It will be reasonably good news for anyone able to follow suit thereafter but potentially very bad news indeed for everyone else who can’t follow suit because the model doesn’t allow it and therefore find themselves operating in an even more distorted UK market than we already were prior to 1 January 2023. 

Regardless of any commercial reticence on the part of many in the industry and any reticence, doctrinal or otherwise on the part of Government, the successful creation of the ABIDs I think now makes it more rather than less important that Government urgently revisits the whole issue of public funding for destination management.  Within that, as a legitimate alternative, there is an urgent need to look again at the newly altered case for a universally applicable, adoptive tourism levy mechanism that sit outside or alongside the current peculiar BID based mechanisms that Liverpool and Manchester have so skilfully adapted to their own, peculiar circumstances.

British Destinations has never opposed the principle of adopting tourism levies, if that is the only practical mechanism available to some or all destinations to fund necessary destination management.  That stance perhaps needs now to move on towards a more proactive campaign for a formal review in the light of the almost certain fact that ABIDs will serve to give competitive advantage to only the few, mainly if not exclusively major cities able to adopt them.  Again, views are sought, not least because I can’t simply decide I am right and that this is therefore the route our Association should now take. A senior managers meeting is probably urgently needed to bottom out this and several other emerging issues, for example proactively championing domestic over domestic outbound tourism.

Senior jobs and other tourism bits and bobs.

Posted on Updated on

1. Jobs. The new CEO post for Visit Isle of Man an executive agency of the Isle of Man Government is being offered with an application closing date of 29 January 2023. The detail has been added to Britishdestinations.net under the “Job Vacancies +” menu tab: https://britishdestinations.net/jobs-vacancies/chief-executive-officer-visit-isle-of-man-negotiable-closing-29-january-2023/

2. New inbound forecasts. Visit Britain (VB) have issued their annual inbound international tourism forecast for 2023. It also includes an upwardly adjusted forecast for 2022. Forecasts for 2023 are 35.1m visits and £25.9bn against the revised 2022 forecast of 29.7m visits and £29.5bn. The 2023 forecast represents 86% by volume and 104% by value of the 2019 figures, however, when adjusted for inflation the value equates to a more understandable 87% of the 2019 level. VB’s short summary of the forecast is well worth reading in full as it contains a description of a number of trend assumptions which will inform different destination about different source and market segments, for example, a reversion to short stays or the anticipated greater growth from within Europe. Personally, I would have assumed that the international publicity from this and next year’s plans for major Royal events would have been a positive promotional factor for UK Plc in general. It is not highlighted in the brief summary but has probably been factored in to the calculations behind them? See the summary and accesses the detail behind them at: https://www.visitbritain.org/2023-tourism-forecast#:~:text=We%20are%20forecasting%2035.1%20million,%25%20higher%20than%20in%202022).

3. Council tax and business rate changes. Cornwall Council are the latest to approve a 100% Council Tax premium on holiday and empty home from April 2024, ahead of the potential provision for it within the Levelling Up and Regeneration Bill which is still passing through the Westminster process. Cornwall and North Yorkshire, among others now appear keen to be in a position to charge the premium at the earliest opportunity, subject to the relevant clauses surviving unscathed to receive Royal Accent sometime, hopefully early, next year. They and others are also calling for the premium to be raised beyond 100%. There may also be a degree of publicly signalling of intent to local residents and to existing and prospective holiday home owners. Similar provision has/is being made within Wales.

Of equal and linked importance, was the confirmation in late October that the Valuation Agency rules for categorising self-catering holiday lets for business rate’s purposes would be more rigorously applied or changing, as previously proposed in both England and Wales from April 2023. The thresholds which the owner will now have to meet (proactively prove?) will be: available for commercial let for at least 140 days and commercially let for 70 days or more in the previous 12 month in England (technically unchanged) and available for 252 days and let for 182 in Wales. The inference within all of this is that the Valuation Office, an executive agency of HMRC, and HMRC itself are likely as a minimum to pay much closer attention to the promotion (both a physical activity and a business cost) and any rental income declared in future (?). As is HMRC’s way, I would in a year or two stand by for a few very-high profile prosecutions to set an example and show those who might be tempted or those that might assist them, that there really are risks attached.

As a consequence of a combination of more rigorous application or the rules and higher thresholds in Wales, it is anticipated that a number of properties will cease to be registered as businesses in both England and Wales and that some of those currently able to claim anything up to 100% small business rate relief, on any single property within any one local authority area, with a rateable vale of less than £15k will lose the significant benefit. Those former “businesses” will become eligible for Council Tax and in turn potential at a premium rate, if used as a holiday home or left empty in areas where the new charging powers have been adopted. Anyone genuinely trading now, at whatever level, will be aware of the impending changes via among others: their accountants, letting agencies, trade bodies or destination management organisations. Whether, those purporting to trade but not actually doing so will be aware, unless and until the Valuation Agency contact them is questionable. A useful summary can be found at: https://www.gov.uk/government/news/changes-to-business-rates-rules-for-self-catering-properties#:~:text=The%20changes&text=If%20your%20property%20is%20in,in%20the%20previous%2012%20months.

4. Business rate review England and Wales. The Business rate review in England and Wales, we are being told, is throwing up a number of anomalies within the hospitality, leisure and tourism industry, with some welcome reductions, often among accommodation providers but equally some unwelcome rises, elsewhere across a range of other businesses. It is hard if not impossible as yet to get a definitive answer as to what the trends, if indeed there is a definable local or national trend, might be.

The good news if there is any is that the unusually the national multiplies of 49.9p in the pound for small businesses and 51.2p for larger businesses have been frozen. In previous reviews some or all benefit of any reduced rateable value was lost to increased multiplier costs. In addition, the 2022/23 retail, hospitality and leisure relief scheme is being extended for a further year and the rate of relief lifted from 50% to 75% subject to a £110k per business cap. There are also some new transitional arrangements designed to limit the impacts of any rate changes. Whether these are better or worse than the previous arrangements, is currently beyond my understanding. If anyone has any substantive intelligence on what the true local impacts of the review will be from 1 April 2023 on individual businesses, specific business categories or “tourism” in general then please le me know.

Meanwhile, our focus remains to press for a fundamental review of the system and not simply the c 5 yearly review of the rates and transitional arrangement, and the associated and subsequent reviews of multipliers and reliefs. Fundamentally, how and where business is conducted has changed, often beyond all recognition, in the last say, 20 years. How businesses are taxed for the privilege of conducting business in, or from any locality and, thus, how they jointly and separately contribute to the provision of local and national services, hopefully associated with tourism, urgently needs to catch up. The very fact that a complex system of reliefs is now needed, suggest that the system has indeed failed and urgently needs to be rebuilt or replaced in its entirety. Anyone who thinks that is an easy ask or an easy task is of course somewhat deluded. Business rates as are just too big, too efficient at capturing revenue and too ingrained now to dispense with overnight. There is good reason that a fundamental review has been long promised but has not yet materialised.

5. Tourism Alliance Recovery Proposals. The Tourism Alliance (England) have recently issued a Tourism and the UK Economic Recovery proposal, which highlight10 policy areas that the combined Alliance membership agree could and should be tackled in 2023 and beyond:

1. Introduce a Youth Group Travel Scheme for EU Student Groups
2. Increase Funding for International Marketing
3. Introduce a Low-Cost Five Year Visitor Visa
4. Reinstate the VAT Reclaim Scheme
5. Revise the Package Travel Regulations
6. Fully Implement the De Bois Review
7. Expand and Reform the Youth Mobility Scheme
8. Reduce the VAT Rate for Hospitality and Attractions
9. Use ETAs (Electronic Travel Authorisation) to Boost Business Tourism
10. Reform Business Rates

The report has been added to Britishdestinations.net under the dropdown menu of the “National strategies and polies +” main menu tab or go direct to the page at: https://britishdestinations.net/strategies-and-policies/tourism-industry-strategies-policies/2022-tourism-alliance-tourism-and-the-uks-economic-recovery/

5. The longer-term objective v firefighting. You don’t need me to tell you that ongoing cost of living and energy crisis, increased input cost, subdued demand, staff shortages, rail disruption and so on is causing huge issues and huge concern. That said, I do think it is still worth saying that, while our minds, those of our strategic partners in all manner of trade bodies and associations and, the association of trade associations, the Tourism Alliance, are turn for good practical reason towards post-pandemic, business as usual in terms of reengaging with some of the bigger ticket strategic policy objective, we individually and jointly have not lost sight of the need to campaign for immediate relief from the pressures being experienced here and now at the coalface. Indeed, some of the Tourism Alliance’s 10 points are things that were temporarily addressed during the pandemic and could or should be again, preferably this time not just as short-term fixes.

The difference now, is that HMG and HMT in particular, have far less financial headroom than two odd years ago, while the impacts of the latest crisis are being far more widely felt across most if not all industries. This makes more affordable, targeted special treatment for “hospitality and leisure” far less likely than it was during the pandemic, notwithstanding of course the welcome extent ion/expansion of business rate relief. Other issues that touch in any way on the freedom of movement and access to the UK have become ensnared in more contentious issues around UK Border security. Room for reasoned manoeuvre currently seems very limited. Nonetheless, we are trying and you can in all honesty and with confidence reassure your own local partners, business, members, levy payers etc. that their visitor economy interests are being represented at the highest possible level, when and wherever possible. Albeit now at, and in, far less fruitful times and circumstances.

6. Festive greetings. Unless there is good reason to do so, I am not intending to communicate any tourism news before the start of the (administrative) holiday period at the end of this week. With that in mind, can I take this opportunity to wish friends and colleagues heartfelt festive greetings and a happy, peaceful and hopefully more prosperous new year.

DfT update on rail strikes and latest news of holiday season air and road travel disruptions.

Posted on

1. For those you who are not receiving direct notifications or have had the time to look up the detail, I am copying below today’s update from DfT that looks mainly at next week’s strike. It contains some useful detail and is about as good a definitive summary of the impacts as you are going to get anywhere.

The key takeaways include: confirmation that even if the RMT Ballot on the 12th resolves the issues it will be too late to reinstate normal services 13th-14th and 16-17th (also effecting 15th and disrupting18th). The strike will shut-down half the network completely, with only an average of 20% of normal services running on the other half. The special timetables for next week will be issued tomorrow, Friday 9th, at which point it will become clearer what the local impacts are in those places where trains are still running. Where services are running, early and late trains will be particularly impacted. The advice to rail travellers remains “only to travel if absolutely necessary”. In all likelihood that advice will be heeded and not necessarily just by rail users.

2.Meanwhile, you will have seen in todays headlines that PCS (Public and Commercial Service Union) yesterday announced a strike of around 1000 of their Border Force members on 23rd -26 and 28th -31st December at airports including Heathrow, Gatwick, Manchester, Glasgow, Cardiff and Birmingham and the port of Newhaven (others may also be effected, reports and predictions vary). The initial assessment, include that of HMG, appears to be that this will cause considerable inbound and outbound travel disruption and do so over a significant proportion of the peak of the Christmas holiday travel season.

The Home Secretary’s comment today, that those with plans to travel abroad this Christmas should “think carefully”, may well be sage advice. If nothing else it clearly illustrates the very seriousness nature of the situation. How ever, sage and how ever well meant, or necessary, I can’t help thinking that the already highly publicised comment, it will not have gone down too well today with the domestic outbound or international inbound markets and, especially, on the supplier side of that equation who are are still in differing stage of post-covid recovery.

3. Less well publicised and therefore I suspect know, is the PCS strike of Highway Agency staff and, specifically, National Highways England’s PCS members. There is a rolling series of region-based strikes planned on different dates, all but one taking palace across the Christmas and New Year holiday period and a national strike called 3rd -4th January. It is unclear, to me at least, how many highway patrol and other Highways England staff are PCS members, the degree to which those members will heed the call, or indeed what the impact of removing any, some or all coverage, on some or all of the National Highway’s, motorway network in England might be.

It is not perhaps unreasonable to assume it could and probably will be significant, especially the moment something goes wrong from a breakdowns, through accidents to other obstructions, or just poor winter weather. All things we can be certain will be taking place all too frequently during the peak winter road travel Christmas and New Year holiday period. We do not have very long to wait to start finding out if it is going to be a serious problem or not. The first region strike, covering the North West, Yorkshire & Humberside and the North East regions takes place 16th to 17th December. More details from PCS, including regional strike dates, can be found at:https://www.pcs.org.uk/news-events/news/national-highways-strike-dates-announced .

The DfT rail strike update reads:

Passengers warned to plan journeys in advance and only travel by train if absolutely necessary due to 48 hour strikes on 13, 14, 16 and 17 December

  • With the RMT, TSSA and Unite staging strike action on 13, 14, 16 and 17 December, only around 20% of services will operate, and in some parts of the country there will be no trains at all and services finishing earlier on 24 December 
  • Special timetables will be published on National Rail Enquiries on Friday, with trains starting later and finishing much earlier than usual, between 7.30am and 6.30pm   
  • Passengers who must travel should expect disruption, plan ahead and check when their last train will depart 
  • The RMT leadership have also imposed an overtime ban across 14 train operators from 18 December until 2 January, which will disrupt travel during the festive period with wide regional variations

The rail industry is working hard to keep a limited number of trains running despite upcoming national strike action called by the leadership of the RMT, TSSA and Unite, but is warning passengers to expect significant disruption and check before they travel. 

Thousands of specially trained and fully qualified back-up staff will step in during the walkouts to keep vital services running for those who need them, but passengers are being warned that even if the RMT call off strikes on 12 December following their membership referendum on Network Rail, it would be too late to reinstate services. As a result, it is now inevitable that industrial action on 13, 14 and 16, 17 December will see around half of the network shut-down, with only about 20% of normal services running. 

Rail passengers are asked to only travel if it is absolutely necessary during this time, allow extra time and check when their first and last train will depart. 

Special timetables for 13-17 December will be available for passengers from Friday 9 December.  In addition:  

  • Passengers are also advised that services on Thursday 15 December will also be affected; 
  • There is also likely to be some disruption in the early morning of Sunday 18 December as workers return to their duties;   
  • Passengers should also expect disruption from 18 December until 2 January, with wide variations on service provision, due to an overtime ban across 14 train operating companies imposed by the RMT;  
  • Christmas Eve will also see services close down significantly earlier than usual as a result of further strikes announced by the RMT and passengers are advised to plan ahead.  

Steve Montgomery, chair of the Rail Delivery Group, said:   

“Regrettably, the RMT leadership’s refusal to put our proposed 8% pay offer to its membership means we are unable to reach a resolution at this stage, although we remain open to talks. With the deadline having passed where disruption could be avoided even if strikes were called off, our focus is on giving passengers the maximum possible certainty so they can make their festive plans.  

“No one wanted to see these strikes go ahead, and we can only apologise to passengers and to the many businesses who will be hit by this unnecessary and damaging disruption.   

“We continue to urge RMT leaders to put our proposals to their members rather than condemning them to weeks of lost pay either side of Christmas during a cost-of-living crisis.” 

Andrew Haines, Network Rail chief executive, said:

“The RMT has deliberately chosen to try and ruin Christmas for millions of passengers and businesses. They’re also intent on inflicting a monumental act of harm on an industry still desperate to recover from post Covid challenges by sabotaging a vital £100m programme of rail upgrades planned for Christmas Day and Boxing Day. The industry will do all it can to keep services running and projects on-track but serious disruption is inevitable given the RMT’s action.   

“In talks over the months we have sought to address all the RMT’s concerns by putting a decent pay rise on the table, guaranteeing a job for anyone that wants one, significantly raising base salaries for the lowest paid and offering a new, huge rail travel discount scheme for members, and their families. By any reasonable measure, we have put a fair deal on the table.” 

Ticketing arrangements   

Passengers with Advance, Anytime or Off-Peak tickets for travel on a strike day can instead use their ticket on an alternative date: 

  • Tickets for 13, 14, 16, 17 December can instead be used the day before the date on the ticket, or up to and including Tuesday 20 December 
  • Tickets for 24, 26, 27 December can instead be used on 23 December or up to and including Thursday 29 December. 

Passengers with Advance tickets can be refunded fee-free if the train that the ticket is booked for is cancelled, delayed or rescheduled. 

If the Advance ticket is for a train that is scheduled for a strike day, is not cancelled, delayed or rescheduled, but a customer prefers not to travel, they should contact their ticket retailer.  

Customers with 2 x Advance tickets (an outbound and a return), to be used as a return journey, may be able to get a fee-free refund or change of journey for any unused legs/tickets, if one (either) of the legs is scheduled for a strike day. Customers should check with their ticket retailer. 

Passengers who are Season Ticket holders (flexi, monthly or longer), and who do not travel, can claim 100% compensation through Delay Repay for the strike dates of 13, 14, 16, 17 December. 

Passengers can also check on the National Rail Enquiries website or their rail operator’s website to see if their operator is affected by this industrial action. 

UK’s first Accommodation Business Improvement District (BID) approved.

Posted on Updated on

The Liverpool BID Company has announced a successful ballot of accommodation providers in the City Centre and the remaining Liverpool City Council area, the majority of the latter businesses being in the proximity of Liverpool John Lennon Airport. The new BID encompasses over 80 hotels and apartments with a Business Rates, rating set at a minimum of £45k.  As a consequence, Liverpool City will have first accommodation-based BIDs in the UK from 1 January 2023 to the end of 2027, generating an estimated £4.3m revenue over that 5-year period.  Perhaps not unsurprisingly this genuinely welcome, good news headline is on closer examination a little more complicated than it might first appear.

Those of us involved in, or aware of, the detail of the inception of BIDS in the early 2000s, the amendments to allow multiple local authority area BIDs, the subsequent creation of a few dozen plus genuine Tourism or Destination BIDs and, until now, several failed attempts to build support for similar accommodation BIDs elsewhere, will recognise that this a potentially seminal moment, and one which undoubtedly will soon begin to be touted as the “way forward” for all.  It is therefore all the more important to understand the warts and all background, the rational and the complexities and, importantly, the local happenstance advantages.  In particular, those advantages relating to the Liverpool BID Company which has been in existence from 2005 and already runs a successful Retail and Leisure BID covering 35 acres and 670 business in central Liverpool (£10k rateable value threshold) and, since 2011, the larger, adjacent Cultural and Commerce BID that covers 470 acres and 450 businesses (with a £45k rateable value threshold). Both BIDs contain hotel and holiday letting apartment/aparthotel levy payers. For ease of visualisation see the existing BID area map , blue for the retail & leisure, green for culture & commerce.  The existing area essential takes up the main central retail area and the surrounding cultural, commerce and hospitality area up to and including the bulk of the iconic Liverpool water front.

Each BID has a Board representing the levy payers and the BID Company, an Executive Board overseeing the strategic direction of the organisation. The new accommodation BID will bolt into these existing arrangements. All of the accommodation provider currently paying into one or other of the existing BIDs by dint of their location will cease to make payment to them and start paying the new accommodation levy from 1 January 2023, this will obviously reduce the revenue of the existing BIDs by some margin.  The single BID Company arrangement that allows this to happen, without significant adversely impact on any or all the BID’s over all administration and finances arrangements is perhaps the key happenstance in the Liverpool model. Unfortunately, this model is not necessarily replicated everywhere else in the UK. Nor do that many major destinations have in the order of 80 major, mostly relatively new hotels or at least not 80 hotels with a rateable value over £45k to call on for funding.

For comparison in 2002 there were 22 hotels, with 2,333 bed spaces in Liverpool City Centre. Twenty years and the 2008 European Capital of Culture later, the figures are 77 with 7,321 bed spaces (plus aparthotels, Airbnb etc.) and others in the pipeline.  Faced with ever increasing supply and the increasing financial  pressures, especially on Liverpool City Council’s budgets and, in particular, the loss of subvention funding for conference, business tourism and sports, cultural and other events, many of which the City Council either own (MS Arena for example), runs (many of the cultural events) or in some way support, Liverpool City Region’s Combined Authority (different to, but often externally confused with Liverpool City Council) made the case to Central Government to allow the City/City Region to undertake a time limited, national pilot of an accommodation-based tourism tax scheme.  

Not perhaps, surprisingly that request was roundly rejected on a low tax/no new taxes doctrinal basis by the Johnson administration in 2020 or 2021 (?). However, the principal of businesses needing to pay more towards destination management and marketing had been firmly established. Moreover, it had been strongly supported by Liverpool Hospitality the trade body for accommodation providers in the City (the key partner in any accommodation based scheme).  From that point on it became clear that the underlying problems were not going away and that the only feasible solution within existing legislation and therefore in the pressing timeframe, was the Business Improvement District route.  Subsequently, Liverpool City Council’s widely report financial difficulties have got considerably worse, culminating in the appointing of a Financial Commissioner by HMG to run the City Council’s finances from 8 November 2022. What the City Council will or will not fund from 2023/24 onward, indeed what may be withdrawn from in what remains of 2022/23 is far from certain.

The two existing BIDs declared a levy income in 2020-21 (I.E. including accommodation providers) was c £950k and other incomes c £230k (C £1.18m) between them, against an expenditure, including contributions from reserves of c £1.75m. Last financial year’s expenditure is quoted at c £2m (21-22 annual report not yet published). To add to the many practical issues, the 5-year term start and end dates for BIDs seldom conform to financial years dates, nor necessarily to the same dates as partner or neighbouring BIDs created in often different years.  In Liverpool’s case the Cultural and Commerce BID has only very recently renewed. It is also proposed that when the Retail and Leisure BID next goes to ballot in 2023 for the 2023/24 – 2027/28 5-year term, the rateable value threshold should be raised from £10k to £45k, bring the minimum size for all three BIDs inline. The loss of smaller business levy payers will have some obvious impacts on overall revenues and the overall size of the BID’s combined “membership”.  However, it is being convincingly promoted on the basis of smaller business gaining most of their currently paid for benefits for free. Albeit that this may be potentially at the small cost of a loss of an already limited share of voice and of potential influence within the BID and BID company? 

Given that, save for a few major hotels near or on route to the airport and potentially a few more to be taken in by what are in effect some minor tweaks to the boundary of the old City Centre area, where does the required financial uplift come from, especially when the vast majority of “hotels” are already paying in to one or other existing BID?  Not mentioned in the brief headline published to date but made crystal clear in the financial tables within the Accommodation BID Business Plan are increases to the levy percentages from 1.60% in the remaining 6 months of this financial year, rising to 4.50% for the following two years, then 5.5% in years 4 and 5, the increase being necessary, “to compensate for reducing public sector contributions”.  This is a not insubstantial percentage or real term increase in the levy for both existing and new accommodation levy payers. Nonetheless, it is an increase, willingly accepted by an impressive 84% of accommodation businesses in the ballot and now, as a consequence, an increase to be paid by all eligible accommodation providers in the City Councils area.  The year 4 and 5 annual levy revenues estimates are shown in the business plan as raising £1.137m pa at 5.5%, plus to be added to that the residual, somewhat reduced, annual currently 1.6% levy over the next 5 years of of £60k and £250k (3310k) from retail & leisure and culture & commerce, respectively. 

The additional revenue from the now smaller existing two BIDs gives a key combined annual levy revenue total of £1.447m in year 5.  Commercial incomes and critically, already secured levels of Strategic Investment Funding (SIF) from the Combined Authority would see total estimated revenues for the BID Company peaking in year 3 (2025) at £1.937m and then falling back to a steady state of £1.545m in year 5 (assuming no other changes). From the prospective of understanding the pure monetary value of the accommodation and currently separate supporting BIDs, I would suggest the 2027 figures of c £1.5 m, of which a little over c £1.1m will be derived annually from the new accommodation BID levy itself, are the ones to keep at front and centre of mind. They are approximate but memorable.

Subject to ballot, it is intimated that the intent is to role both the retail bid in 2023 for 2024 and then cultural bids 2026 for 2027 into the accommodation BID, presumably creating by design or default a visitor economy BID? (that’s what its called in parts of the business plan). In the lead up to each re ballot the levelling up of the percentage rates payable for each of non-accommodation businesses and other such thorny issues may or may not be up for debate and potential change? An agreed changes could increase the total BID Company 2027 revenue above the currently estimated c £1.5m mark.  Despite having one BID company there remains some very trying issue arising from having three legally separately constituted BIDs and BID areas.  This is all part and parcel of the bigger BID picture and hopefully helps illustrates the pressing need to understands that where you end up is heavily influenced not only by the journey taken (or not) but often, as much if not more, by the simple practical consideration of where it was you actually started from.  Liverpool will undoubtedly be cited in due course as a potentially the model for destinations everywhere, hopefully even an exemplar? 

Such accolades are deserved, just as long as is also equally widely recognised that some key components of the Liverpool model kit may actually be unique in time, place, space or pace to Liverpool and not therefore universally available regardless to all other destinations. The analogy comes to my mind of being asked to build a simple flying model aircraft from a kit that then turns out to be missing one of its wings and the elastic band to power the propeller.  You might be able to botch something together but if you do, both you and those asking you to build it shouldn’t then be surprised if your version of the model proves not to fly very well or very far, if indeed it get off the ground at all.

Please don’t misinterpret any comment above as being critical of the Liverpool proposal.  Far from it as I firmly believe that this new development, is both genuinely exciting and on balance very good news for UK destination management, giving as it does, some larger, most probably City or bigger urban destinations, a potential as yet untried or tested new tool in the armoury to help crack the increasing problem of who and how you pay for necessary destination management and marketing in a frankly increasingly hostile environment for local, regional and national publicly funded support for local tourism and the much wider visitor economy.  I am firmly convinced it will work well and is the right solution for Liverpool City Councils area and in particularly the City Centre with it large concentrated accommodation base and by default therefore of direct and indirect benefit to the wider City region.  All I am really saying is don’t let us and in particular others with less local practical knowledge but potentially more power, jump to the conclusion that its therefore bound to be right for everywhere else.  For the time being, at least until the Accommodation BID has settled in and the higher bills have been paid by businesses, old and new costs and existing and extended services have been covered or delivered by the new revenue model, it is going to remain difficult, if not impossible to tell with any certainty, whether Accommodation BIDs will be suitable for use by anyone, anywhere else.

Having got this far in this missive, please don’t just now read the headline details surrounding the new BID. Read and digest in slow time the full business plan; a plan that got this quite radical proposal firmly over the line.  Only then will you be anywhere near being able to answer the quite predictable and, in all likelihood, rapidly approaching question “could this, would this work for us in the specific circumstances we have here and now”.  I do genuinely hope the answer for you is yes. However, my initial analysis is telling me that, from the simplistic point of view of required scale v sustainable business costs v meaningful return capable of sustaining the virtuous circle, the cost benefits are by no means universally applicable.  Please consider taking the time to judge for yourselves:

Rail issues, new research, DMO review announcements and asylum pressures.

Posted on

1. News of 4 new rail strike dates 13-14, 16-17 December and 2-3, 6-7 January (essential two one week periods of disruption13 -18 Dec and 2 -8 Jan) and an overtime ban between 18 December and 2 January involving 40k RMT members and impacting directly on 14 train operating companies, serves to heap further pressure on already pressed retail, hospitality, leisure and tourism industries, over the critical pre-Christmas and New Year retail shopping period, and both the domestic festive hospitality and domestic tourism Christmas and New Year holidays. There will also be unwelcome visitor economy related impacts arising from a loss of still shaky commuter driven business and many travel related, staffing issues within the visitor economy itself. Rail is not of course ubiquitous but in those many places it does touch, in particular but not exclusively towns and Cities, it is a major driver of footfall, visitor numbers and, therefore, all manner of face-to-face economic activity. Recent pandemic inspired attitudinal changes now means that the cancellation of travel arrangement, for example, working from home, rather than battling through by other means, is now a far more accepted and logical response to any abnormal barrier to routine or indeed leisure travel.

While negations are ongoing and a suspension of the strikes are always a possibility, the likelihood of an early resolution of the underlying issues seem somewhat remote. The dispute is not simply about the headline wage claim but among other things: guarantees around retention of certain roles, manning levels, terms and conditions, pensions, job numbers and the avoidance of compulsory redundancies. We know from the content of the Williams-Shapps Plan for Rail (2021), the creation Great British Railway as the new state owned company to oversee all rail transport in GB and their transitional team’s recent Whole Industry 30-year Strategy consultation, that the complex subsidised train operating franchise system, the separate rail infrastructure management arrangements and the not insubstantial pre-pandemic subsidy levels are all being reformed. This is a direct result of pandemic triggered and now still ongoing changes to previously well-establish and, until 2020, growing rail usage and improving revenue patterns.

Either, major adjustments are going to have to be made to reduce costs and/or raise revenues, or Government are going to have to accept the need to continue to subsides the existing complex mixed semi-privatised, semi-public sector owned, operated and controlled GB rail network, and all at a significantly higher cost to the public purse than it was pre the advent of covid-19. Whichever side of the argument between the workforce, train operators and Government your sympathies fall, it is now indisputable that at some point, something or someone is going to have to give ground.

The immediate and future fortunes our railways are a critical short, medium and long-term concern for tourism. Businesses can’t afford the fragile post-covid-19 recovery, already seriously threatened by a new and as if not more serious cost of living crisis, to take a potentially avoidable further knock over the key 2022/23 festive season. Nor can we afford to see this dispute rumble on, as it could, well into and beyond the main 2023 season; a domestic season that will almost certainly be one of the most difficult in living memory, due to a combination of: its proximity to the previous major crisis, spiralling business input costs, staff shortages, reduced discretionary disposable income, suppressed consumer demand and, let’s be frank, the continued, unexpectedly strong return of competition for the domestic tourism pound from domestic outbound market. The latter should now be viewed as a genuinely worrying import/export issue for HMG, particularly in a post BREXIT environment.

Beyond 2023, in an industry that is utterly reliant on the desire, the will and ability of the consumer to travel to the product to consume it and, faced with a perceived, urgent need to move away from fossil fuels and towards greater use of electric vehicles and in particular public transport, of which rail is by far the largest single domestic mass mover, we have an obvious vested interest. A vested interest in ensuring that rail in Great Britain retains the capacity, frequency, reliability, quality and the affordability necessary to sustain domestic tourism, retail, hospitality leisure and all those businesses that make up the ubiquitous, visitor economy in communities across the UK. Uncertainties around when and, in some circles even if, Great British Railways will take over, over-all management and control of almost all rail transport in GB is problematic, especially in current circumstances. The announcement by the then Secretary of State on 19 October, a week before the current Secretary of State for Transport was appointed, that the planned 2024 date for GBR to take control, would not now be met, due to a lack of Parliamentary time, is not really helping build the necessary confidence that there is a robust, properly resourced plan in place.

2. The Caravan and Camping Club have released a new report on the lifestyle and wellbeing benefits arising from camping. Produced by John Moores and Sheffield Hallam University its a fairly weighty piece of research that demonstrates that the benefits of camping go well beyond the traditional view that it is more affordable form of holiday making. For initial purpose it may suffice simply to read the summary at paragraph 1.4 at page 6. The report may be useful when assessing proposals to develop or support camping-based proposals. The full report and an abridged web version has been added to the BritishDestinations.net research library: https://britishdestinations.net/research-and-statistics/

3. Hot off the press Ministers have, as expected, announced that the “North East England will pilot a new £2.25 million scheme to restructure tourism boards” NewcastleGateshead Initiative will lead a partnership with Visit County Durham and Visit Northumberland in a 2/3 multi year agreement totalling £2.25m. Major boost for North East tourism as region is chosen for initiative to increase visitor numbers – GOV.UK (www.gov.uk) . It is worth reading the short announcement to remind ourselves what it is that Government are now aiming to achieve in England, rather than what we might have thought we gleaned from the original review’s recommendations, the Governments belated response to it, VE’s emerging implementation plans and/or the various views and interpretations that may have developed in the intervening period. It easy to lose sight of what is or isn’t planned, what it hopes to achieve and the implications, if any, for those that inevitably fall outside perimeters of the model being proposed and developed.

4. I have become aware that a number of additional hotels have been taken over in recent days and weeks to house asylum seekers, particularly, I believe in South, South East of England. This appears to have been a potential knee jerk reaction to the well-publicised problems of overcrowding at Manston and the spotlight this had cast on current numbers of asylum seekers arriving, inadequate accommodation arrangements, slow application assessment processes, backlog of decisions and problem with removal of those whose applications fail. The problem which is being reported to me is that it is being alleged that whole, or potentially more problematically part hotels, have been taken over at no notice and without any consultation with local authorities, NHS or other key services providers. This means that no provision has not been made for those services and no arrangements have been put in place to manage often locally contentious issues arising. Blindsiding key local agencies by national agencies apparently set only in resolving their immediate problems (embarrassment?) is at best unacceptable at worst it will leave local agencies unable to provide the appropriate care and potentially serve to ferment otherwise avoidable local tensions, among local residents and/or visitors.

In the medium-term (I.E. before the start of the 2023 season) the Home Office and its contractors have to be persuaded to recognise the unpalatable but unescapable truth that housing asylum seekers in hotels within recognised tourism destinations (often in the core tourism areas) has a significant detrimental impact on the wider visitor economy, which will ultimately cost HMG dearly. Asylum seekers are unable to work, they are unable spend and contribute to the local economy at a similar level as the visitors they will be displacing from hotels during the holiday season. Most controversially of all, however sympathetic to their plight the majority of holiday makers might be they do not in general expect to share their accommodation or its surrounding attractions with noticeable numbers of non-holiday makers. Housing asylum seekers in tourism destination with limited local services and inflated visitor demands doesn’t help asylum seekers and it doesn’t help the locals, visitors or critically the local visitor economy. While individual hotel owner might see this as money for old rope in difficult times, the wellbeing of the wider visitor economy and the destination’s survival during what is already likely to be a difficult year or more to come must be considered. There are categories of hotel and, in particular, typical hotel location where the visitors have only limited impact, positive or negative on the immediate local visitor economy and it is to these that the Home Office should now be looking.

It gives me no pleasure to raise these difficult and potentially contentious issue on behalf of some members but someone unfortunately must and I realise that at the local level that doing so is even more difficult that it is for me. If any other members have valid concerns that they wish to share with me, in confidence if necessary and that you would wish to see raised at a higher level, then please let me know ASAP.

Conference presentations, Autumn Statement and more

Posted on Updated on

1. The joint Tourism Alliance, Tourism Society and British Destinations’ annual conference on 15 November appears to have been very well received. The slide deck for the presentations is now available on the dropdown menu from the main Annual Conference tab of Britishdestinations.net: https://britishdestinations.net/annual-conference-19-march-2018/annual-conference-2022-report/ . I would thoroughly recommend that colleagues wishing to evaluate mainly domestic performance in 2022 as compared with 2021 take a look at Jon Young of BVA BRDCs excellent presentation. I would also recommend that any English destination management or marketing organisations that either have yet to engage in the discussions or, who have done so but are still unclear on the direction of travel and its implications for them should read Andrew Stokes VE’s England Director’s presentation on the implementation of the DMO review.

2. Like most of you I have wasted quite a lot of energy and time trying to understand the detailed implications of the Autumn Statement, the full detail of which in many cases have yet to be announced or are subject to the vagaries of their application sometime down the line. For now at least at the national and destination level all we really need to know is how deep and how long? While there is much that appears to take some of the sting out of the immediate pain for business, that pain remains significant. Moreover, on the demand side of the business equation the OBR are forecasting that average house hold incomes are set to fall by 7% in this year and again in next (financial) year, the largest fall since this measure was recorded. That will have major implications for disposable income and all those primarily reliant on discretionary spending, including leisure hospitality and tourism and much else besides that are involved in the visitor economy.

We are told that while public spending will be protected for the next two years, essentially preserving the budgets and projects already agreed in the current CSR round (but not protecting them from now higher inflationary pressures) we can expect cuts in the each of the following three years. By delaying public expenditure cuts, it may be hoped that less severe cut may be needed if in particular, external negative influences improve. It also puts off deeply unpopular cut in and reductions to public service at a time of increasing taxation for many, until after the next general election which falls due in two year’s time. The broad answer to the how deep how long question, is very and at least 2 to possibly 5 years or more. The detail can wait, in the meantime the good news is that the money market have not reacted too bad to the Autumn statement and certainly far better than they did to the disastrous mini budget that contributed significantly to our current fiscal difficulties. Things can only get better, albeit it that they are now firmly set to get worse at first and then slowly recover thereafter.

3. A couple of issue to watch. In among new policies promises proclamations and sudden U Turns of recent months it did at one point look like the future of Great British Railways was in serious doubt. The latest official announcement extracted by the Parliamentary Transport Committee (19 October?) was that Great British Railways would now not take over Network Rail and franchising responsibilities in 2024 as originally planned, suggesting that they still will but just not yet. Views are split as to whether the current PM and Cabinet are likely to support a more or less hands-on approach and what degree of damage might be done to the management of the UK’s railways by delaying or indeed possibly scrapping plans developed over several years for Great British Railways. Meanwhile the additional cost of running the railways has not been addressed nor the problems of a generally declining service, neither of which helps tourism and the visitor economy, hence me putting it on the one to watch list.

North Yorkshire County Council have taken the unusual step of voting to double Council Tax on holiday homes ahead of the bill that will enable them to implement the decision. Whether this is to signal their approval for the Levelling Up and Regeneration Bill that is currently passing through Parliament, a glitch or a sensible means of ensuring that they can charge from the earliest conceivable date of April 2024, subject to the bill’s approval by April 2023 currently escapes me. The effectiveness of the measure will in large part depend on whether rules on short term holiday lets are also effectively tightened up to ensure that only genuine businesses operate under the business rate regime. Other Councils in England, particularly in rural are likely to follow North Yorkshires early lead. Wales is in the process of introducing a similar higher Council Tax rates for holiday home and a far more stringent set of test criteria for short-term lets and business rate status than that proposed in England.

Update: English Language Training, Which? Annual Hotel’s Report and our joint annual conference 15 Nov 22.

Posted on Updated on

1. Yesterday (10 November) the Tourism Alliance working with colleagues in BETA, English UK, and UKInbound launched a short report looking at the post Brexit impacts on inbound school visits to the UK. In essence, the report says that the removal of the “list of travellers” scheme which previously allowed EU students to travel to the UK on a recognised school trip, accompanied by a teacher using the student’s EU identity cards, rather than individual passports for all, has effectively decimated, this seemingly niche but actually significant and very important market for a large number of established destinations, especially but not exclusively on the South Coast, South East and Southern England. The report highlights the finding of an ongoing survey of 82 specialist tour operators which shows that the number of students brought to the UK between them in 2022 was 83% down on the equivalent numbers for 2019. This mirrors and confirms other statistics which show that the lucrative market has already been seriously damaged and will not recover without urgent corrective action.

This seems like a simple policy matter that could, with good will and a little common sense, be easily resolved. Whilst recognising the current perceived, practical and political need to be seen to be “secure the UK’s post Brexit borders” it is still difficult to see how a genuine school party, particularly using a reputable specialist tour operator, represents a significant risk to UK border security. Any school party returning home without one or more of its student would have rather more to worry about than just the Home Office and UK Border Force! A return to the list of travellers scheme, literally an official form, completed by a bona fide teacher in charge of the party from a bona fide school, listing the group and their identity documentation that is then presented and checked against the group in and outbound at the border, seems like a bit of a no brainer. I suspect that the issue, if there is one, is how making sensible adjustments for one specific group of visitors would play out and be perceived both practically and politically, alongside and in competition with a whole raft of other more complex UK border related issues and demands.

The report’s findings evidences the serious scale of the issues faced and give further impetuous for the ongoing lobbying efforts to gain an early policy change. It would be helpful if those destinations, not significantly impacted and therefore concerned by these issues, were also to take note of the problems being faced and gave their support to the campaign, whenever the opportunity arises. The report can be accessed at: https://www.tourismalliance.com/downloads/TA_429_462.pdf and the launch Webinar which neatly summaries the concerns can be viewed at: recording of the launch webinar

2. Which? have awarded Britannia Hotels the dubious accolade of being the UK’s worst hotel group for the 10th year in succession. Their annual survey of just under 4.5k consumers rated the group as:

Britannia – 56%

As of this year, Britannia has been bottom of our survey for an entire decade. We can’t even say it’s cheap. with plenty of better-rated brands beating it on price. 

Britannia’s downfall is particularly sad when you consider its illustrious past. The Adelphi in Liverpool was once the departure point for wealthy passengers before they boarded luxury liners, including the Titanic

The beautiful historic buildings in prime locations remain, but the interiors are showing serious signs of neglect. The brand received just two out of five stars in every category, including cleanliness, with one guest describing their stay as ‘absolutely dire, drab and smelly’.

Which? verdict: Run-down, dirty and once again the worst hotel chain in the UK. Avoid at all costs.

The full report can be accessed at: https://www.which.co.uk/reviews/uk-hotel-chains/article/best-and-worst-uk-hotel-chains-aaVVF4u1jZpe

If it were not for the fact that Britannia own and run 61, mainly large hotels spread across many major UK destinations, key airport locations and some rural areas, their record would almost laughable. Their defence, although they are notorious for seldom offering any defence for any failing, or allegedly for even responding to consumer complaints, has previously been that they offer “good value for money”; the unsustainable, “you pays your money you takes your chances defence. The Which? reports combined serve refute even this weak, value for money, or in reality a deplorable “what do you expect for the price” claim.

The fact that the known problems with Britannia have been going on now for well over a decade, and now independently evidenced by Which? in each of the last ten year’s annual hotel group reports, to my mind, demonstrates that the popular assumption that user reviews, alone, can now maintain, if not drive forward national industry standards, is profoundly flawed. The parallel view that nationally agreed quality standards and independent quality inspection schemes are now somehow, at best, old hat or at worst, increasingly redundant, is equally flawed. Quality and service standards backed by independent advice, inspection and verification still have a very, if not increasingly, important role to play.

My understanding of the prevailing situation is that Local Government authority’s existing powers are insufficient to adequately addresses the major quality and service issues that Britannia and some others seemingly present. It is perhaps time that Central Government stepped back up to the mark and started to look to address, reputationally damaging, poor quality standards among a minority of operators may be causing, within both the domestic and international markets. They don’t have to set or maintain the standards themselves, just ensure there are standards and that they are set, universally met and then maintained by someone. The ongoing DCMS deliberations about the potential introduction of a statutory registration in England might be the perfect opportunity to grasp this particular nettle? Registration could conceivably be used not only to ensure that the relevant authorities are aware of who is offering accommodation where and when but also that whatever is being offered, meets the essential level of quality and services it proports to be offering.

In truth I don’t hold out too much hope that the current administration, in current circumstances, will go for anything more than the most basic form of self-registration, if anything at all. Perhaps the alternative might be to suggest that if Britannia “win” the award for a say a twelfth consecutive year they should get to keep the accolade in perpetuity and be forced to display the honour prominently in the entry to each of their hotels? Last year the idea of discussing shared concern among those member destinations who hosted one or more Britannia Hotel was aired but for various reasons didn’t progress beyond the “good idea” stage. News from Which? that things have not improved from a consumer prospective prompts me to suggest we revisit the idea of calling an initial, informal investigatory meeting. If anyone is interested in joining in with that, then please let me know.

3. I am looking forward to seeing a number of members at next week’s joint British Destinations, Tourism Alliance and Tourism Society’s annual national tourism conference on the 15 November. If you are attending and have any questions please don’t hesitate to contact me. Alternatively a reminder of timings, location etc. can be found at: https://britishdestinations.net/annual-conference-19-march-2018/

Autumn Statement, DCMS Ministers and our Annual Conference deadline.

Posted on Updated on

(Para two corrected on 5 Nov)

1. The unprecedented events of recent months and weeks have left many of us in a state of disbelief and bewilderment as we struggle to keep track of changing direction and to predict the likely consequences for: tourism, leisure hospitality and the wider visitor economy. Not until the new, new PM’s and his relatively new Chancellor reveal their new economic vision and means of achieving it, via the Autumn Statement, now pushed back to the 17 November, will we begin to get a true handle on where it all leaves us, as we accelerate toward the critical retail, leisure and hospitality festive season, pass through it into the typically lacklustre first quarter of the calendar year and start then heading in to and through a brand new 2023/24 tourism season, before starting that rolling cycle all over again.  I make no apology for, yet again, saying that the only thing that is really now still in doubt is how deep and for how long the financial crisis will impact on the disposable income and discretionary spending of domestic residents.  Spending that underpins pretty much everything that happens within “tourism” and fuels much of the UK’s destination-based tourism, leisure, hospitality and visitor economy in general. You probably don’t need or, in some cases, want me to say this but the prospects are bleak by any measure, historic or otherwise.  The only bit of optimism I can offer at this point, is to say that with luck and a good wind, it may not be as truly bleak as it might have been had there not been a number of significant fiscal and policy U-turns performed in very short order.  If yesterday’s Bank of England’s rate rise and their accompanying forecast for the economy are anything to go by, even that little bit of optimism can’t be guaranteed; at least not until the politicians have pronounced and critically the markets have considered and reacted to the Autumn Statement.  

There has ever been a better or more opportune time for the Westminster Government to review and revise the Treasury mantra that domestic tourism support is essentially a wasteful economic displacement activity (any and all economic activity not simply displacing tourism) and therefore not really worthy of public support and investment.  If domestic tourism is not adequately encouraged, properly supported and, where appropriate, promoted at the higher national generic (holiday in England as the other home nations consistently do) and larger destination level (visit Cornwall, Cumbria, Liverpool, Blackpool, Scarborough, Windsor, Bradford etc.) the resulting loss of tourism product and tourism infrastructure in the coming 12 months or more will not only damage the c80% by value and volume of domestic day and staying activity but seriously damage the short, medium and long-term prospects for the recovery of the c20% staying international tourism, so beloved of HMG as export/import earner. If the current administration don’t feel able to embrace an different mindset around the role of domestic tourism then perhaps it is a good time to start exploring the concept of a step change in approach with others major political parties?

The alternative of celebrating the possibility that international tourism might just improve from some markets to some places off the back of an economic downturn feels too much like asking Turkey’s to join us in celebrating Christmas.  It’s an argument born of desperation.  Not least because, despite best efforts, international tourism touches relatively few destinations at anything like a comparable level to that of the bread-and-butter, domestic market.  The two coexist everywhere and, more often than not, live off the same infrastructure, product and promises. We lose sight of the fact that the domestic market came and general still comes first, sustains more, endures longer, is less fickle and is far more easily reached and is potentially far more malleable, at our peril.  Lose international tourism and you still have the domestic market (as witnessed post Covid-19).  Lose the domestic market and in a relatively short timescale most destinations will have little or nothing or at least little or nothing worth coming for, wherever you are coming from (witness the post 1970 demise and fortunately subsequent renaissance of the British seaside resort towns and Cities).

2. You will be aware that Michelle Donelan appointed as Secretary of State for Culture Media and Sport on 6 September has retained that appointment in the latest Cabinet, which is good news from the prospect of regaining much needed stability and continuity within DCMS.   Lord Syed Kamall, appointed Minister for Civil Society, Heritage, Tourism and Growth on 20 September alongside Stuart Andrew MP as Minister for Sports, Arts and Ceremonials stands down with effect 27 /28th October and hands the Civic Society, Heritage and Tourism portfolio to Stewart Andrew, making Mr Andrew the eight Tourism Minister now in the last 7 years. Interestingly Stewart Andrew was also been given the dual appointment of Minister for Equalities in the Department of International Trade on the same day.  I am still puzzling why that might be, or what it means in practice. Lord Kemall has been replaced as a DCMS Minister of State in the House of Lords by Lord Parkinson of Whitley Bay, previously the DCMS Minister for Arts until the recent 20 September reshuffle. Paul Scully MP, already Minister for London also joins the team as a Parliamentary under secretary at DCMS. Hopefully you forgive me if I momentarily lose sight of who’s is looking after what part or parts of the DCMS portfolio, some or all of which to differing degrees are either part of, or important to “tourism”.

3. We are now well over the 100-delegate mark for the joint Tourism Alliance Tourism Society and British Destinations’ national tourism conference on 15th November in London.  The absolute last chance for any stragglers to book for this very timely event, is a week today, Friday 11 November.  However, if you do intend to attend and have yet to have get round to booking, please try and do so before that final, final deadline, to avoid overburdening the administration.  I would also like to remind you that not only are the speakers and subject matter of excellent quality the conference also represents a first opportunity to meet Richard Toomer the recently appointed new Director at the Tourism Alliance and, at the same time, to say a personal farewell to Kurt Janson who is organising the joint event.  Booking details can be accessed at: https://britishdestinations.net/annual-conference-19-march-2018/