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New report published – Public toilet provision hit the national headlines

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Perhaps not necessarily mainstream for the majority of member representative? This may be one to circulate to colleagues who may be directly responsible and to scan yourselves so you can find and reference it, next time the issue of public toilet provision raises its head, as I know it regularly does in almost every popular rural and built destinations of whatever type and size.

The Royal Society for Public Health’s report Taking the P*** – The Decline of the Great British Public Toilet, published today is proving some light relief in a sea of media coverage on Brexit and the associated intrigue.  As such it may well trigger some immediate local interest in what, for many, is a perennial argument around what needs to be provided, by whom, and at what cost, to whom.

The report may be useful in evidencing that this isn’t a simple issue or purely a problematic area for your destination(s) alone.  Depending on local circumstance, it may also prove helpful in supporting the current local policy position, or provide a new platform for the case for change, if either are needed.

At 15 pages it isn’t long but if pressed for time and you want the gist scan: Key Points and Call for Action on page 3, paragraphs 3.6 Funding and 3.7 Conclusions on page 12 and read the five conclusions boxes on page 13 and 14 (that’s pages 3 and 12 to 14 complete). The rest is of the report provides more context if and when it is needed.  I hope, that as intended, this helps busy colleagues keep abreast, without wasting too much valuable time and effort.

The report can be found as the latest item added to the page under the “Research and Statistic – by year”  main menu tab on Britishdestinations.net , also as a separate page from the drop-down menu under the adjoining “+” symbol or access it directly now at: https://britishdestinations.net/1194-2/content/taking-the-p-the-decline-of-the-great-british-public-toilet-2019/

The long-winded instruction in this last paragraph is there as much to remind you where the 150 plus major tourism, visitor economy and related reports now in the library are held. That said, if you are in need of a report on a particular issue and you genuinely can’t find it yourself in the library, or indeed elsewhere, then just ask me, as some but by no means all of you already do. We exist to assist members and if I can, I will.

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Tourism and the visitor economy in the national news.

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Four items with my comments that impact on tourism the visitor economy and destination management and economic develop:

1. The demise of Jamie’s restaurant chain grabbed the headlines earlier in the week, with closures directly impacting on a number of popular destination Cities and towns. https://www.bbc.co.uk/news/business-48352026 .

Less high profile where reports over the weekend based on industry analysis that suggests that growth in the casual dining sector has not just stalled but the sector is now in decline: https://www.alixpartners.com/insights-impact/insights/market-growth-monitor/. A subsequent Sky News article covers both aspects and highlights some of the existing pressures and new trends that continue to impact on this significant sector; a sector than has seen an alarming cumulative number of its higher-profile players fail in the last 24 plus months; https://news.sky.com/story/is-britain-losing-its-appetite-for-casual-dining-11725658

Comment: The loss of any good quality product is always a blow to a destination. More worrying for me though is my firm belief that casual dining and, in particular, the larger groups have between them acted to take up much of the high street slack, in both terms of filling, often premium, premises and generating additional footfall.  I hope I am wrong but rather than compensating for falling retail demand, as I believe it has been doing, the casual dining sector could now be adding to the core problems of vacant prime, premises and of fewer reasons to visit, as popular consumer habit apparently shifts more towards fast food, drive through dining and third-party home delivery.

2. Thomas Cook, a stalwart of the UK travel industry, is fight back in an effort to convince customer of their liquidity, as news of its underlying financial difficulties looks set to unnerve customer confidence and damage trade for the key summer period, potentially making a difficult but recoverable situation far worse: https://www.bbc.co.uk/news/business-48336449 .

In common with other travel agents, travel companies and airlines it has experienced difficult trading conditions in the UK, prompted by a range of issues from Brexit uncertainties through to last year’s good main summer season UK weather: https://www.proactiveinvestors.co.uk/companies/news/216470/tui-shares-jump-as-morgan-stanley-ups-rating-after-share-price-tumble-216470.html . Unlike Ryanair and others facing headwinds https://www.bbc.co.uk/news/business-48332849 Thomas Cook has the additional burden of a particularly well-established bricks and mortar presence in the UK high street.  Last year it closed 21 stores and many more of its remaining 566 could now close depending, in part, on how the planned divestment of its own airline proceeds.

From the prospective of many UK destinations, the most immediate concerns shouldn’t necessarily be for Thomas Cook’s significant, largely outbound travel business but for its possible impact on the UK high street, as yet another ubiquitous British brand struggles with high fixed cost, compared the new and emerging online competitors. Alongside the recent news of Debenhams, Marks and Spencer and other big names it is alarming to hear again that Boots probably the most ubiquitous of all British high street brands is still struggling: http://www.execreview.com/2019/05/boots-profits-plunge-as-high-street-slump-hits-chemist-chain/ .

Comment: Radical changes are needed that makes existing retail more sustainable, that supports new sustainable business uses for surplus retail capacity and that helps repurpose parts of the traditional high streets to create new reason to visit and spend.  If nothing is done soon it isn’t that hard to imagine a scenario where significant number of built destinations of different types and scales will have little or nothing but empty units, discount shops, temporary traders, local services (nail bars, hair dressers etc.) and charity shops left to attract local residents, domestic day and domestic and international staying visitors.

A number of well-established destinations and, in particular, coastal destinations have successfully passed through a similar cycle of slow business decline and slow but steady recovery following the near fatal changes in UK holiday taking patterns from the mid-1970 onward. Having fought their way back over the last 25 plus years is not something they or indeed any other established and newer destination should have to face, particularly, if it can still be avoided by timely, strategic intervention.  A fairer system of business and sales taxation that didn’t serve to actively penalise traditional bricks and mortar based businesses would be a good starting point.

3. HMRC are apparently continuing to look at Uber’s historic VAT position. If successful and HMRC recover the estimated £1bn Uber have so far potentially avoided it would be a significant windfall for the UK Government. Whether the full amount could ever be recovered is an interesting question.  As is what the future impact of any finding in HMRC’s favour would be on the Uber business model; a model that currently deems the individual drivers, most earning below the VAT threshold, liable for any VAT due.  It is conceivable that even if Uber was liable for future VAT payments much if not all of it would be offset or recovered ultimately the bulk of it from the individual customer.  The change if anything would result in higher prices and a levelling of the competitive advantage that being an enabling platforms gives Uber over more traditional models. A bigger issue is whether a successful case against Uber would lead to changes to the tax and VAT position of other major GIG and sharing economy platforms in the UK: https://britishdestinations.net/tourism-the-sharing-economy-and-its-wider-implications/gig-economy/ .

Meanwhile there have been a number of articles in the UK press in the last week about consumer issues with either sharing accommodation and review platforms.  The underlying theme being that these platforms are keen to keep issues and problems in-house, thus, avoiding negative PR, public scrutiny and limiting the potential for calls to regulate to ensure adequate levels of consumer protection and safety. The online versions of the articles are subscription only so I have referenced open source, source reports on the following Britishestinations.net page:  https://britishdestinations.net/tourism-the-sharing-economy-and-its-wider-implications/

Comment:  The GIG and sharing economies are an established fact and are here to stay until the next generation of business disruptor appear.  They have gone from zero a decade ago to, in many cases, market domination and they have done so by ripping up the established rule book.  At some point Government, the consumer or both are going to call to re-establish a measure of control and if necessary regulation, to limit the excesses of the platforms, their business users and increasingly even the consumers themselves.  The issue is just how long can the platforms put that off for?  And consequentially just how big or how alarming the nature of the failings needs to be before public opinion forces appropriate Government reaction?

4. And finally…..  A head of EU regulation that bans and limits a wide range of single use items and packaging  across the EU from 2021 Defra announce restrictions on the sales of plastic straws (drinking and cotton bud) and a ban plastic stirrers from April 2020, Wales and Scotland are also considering their own positions on these and other single use plastics: https://www.bbc.co.uk/news/science-environment-48358002

Comment: It is still conceivable that the much wider EU restriction could still be adopted voluntarily or by regulation in the UK depending on either the timing or the nature of any withdrawal agreement reached between the EU and the UK. It is important to note the obvious but largely unstated that it’s the material of manufacture and not the items involved that are being restricted. So stand by to continue to deal with a rash of straw and stirrers in the waste and litter stream, just more sustainable, less environmentally damaging waxed paper and wooden ones. The reduction, capture and recycling of single use plastics has significant popular public support and therefore political appeal, so also stand by for much more around Return Deposit Schemes, reduced use of plastic packaging materials, the online driven switch of plastic and other packaging material from the commercial into the domestic waste streams and a raft of other much needed measures to reduce plastic usage and to switch more of its disposal from dumping or burning to reuse and recycling.

Single use plastics ban announced in England

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Following last month’s EU announcements of a sweeping restrictions and bans on a wide range of  single use plastics  across EU member states by 2021, Defra  announced yesterday its own initial plan to restrict the sale of plastic straws, plastic cotton bud sticks and ban plastic stirrers from April 2020 (consulted upon last October).  This is being heralded as the first such ban in Europe but it shouldn’t be confused with a full implementation of the much wider EU plans for 2021.  Scotland and Wales are considering their own approach to single use plastics; these are likely to be as stringent if not more so than yesterday’s plans announced for England. 

Depending on the final outcome, structure and time-frame of Brexit the UK may be compelled to implement the EU regulation in 2021, or the UK Government may adopt similar measures voluntarily because they choose to, or to comply with the agreed or voluntary terms of any withdrawal agreements reached.

What isn’t necessarily being made clear to the public in the media coverage of this issue is that what is being banned or restricted is the material of manufacture, not the items themselves.  Straws and stirrers are not being  restricted or banned just those made, largely for convenience or cost reasons of plastic. By 2020 in the UK’s case and 2021 across the rest of the EU manufacturers, supplier, retailers and customers will have ample time to source and adjust habits to alternatives, in the main paper or wood based.

These measures will not necessarily reduce issues for beach managers around waste management or littering but change them by simply make the items involved more biodegradable and in the case of beach and strandline litter, less noticeable, less visually offensive and less environmentally damaging.

 

UK Deposit Returns Schemes – should I be interested?

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I have recently responded to the Defra consultation seeking to establish the merits of introducing a deposit return scheme on single use drinks containers in England Wales and Northern Ireland.  This follow on from plans to develop a scheme in Scotland announced last year.  The Defra consultation was launched in mid-February and closed on 13 May.  In March Defra preempted the primary purpose of initial consultation by announcing plans to introduce a DRS,  potentially in late 2020, subject to the usual caveat of  the results of further, more detailed consultations.

I didn’t bother you all in February with what appeared to be a very open-ended set of ideas for a proposal that looked unlikely to get very far, or at least not very soon.  I don’t think I was necessarily wrong but in light of the late March announcement, I do now think that if you are not at least aware of the strategic issues and starting to thinking around possible local business and place based issues and impact then you need to before any formal consultations “later in the year”.  Even if you are not impacted directly most of  your local partner business could be and some might be in need of a bit of local leadership and direction on what is likely to be a set of truly cross cutting destination based issues.

To help explain why I think this is prudent I have added a briefing note to the page  on the RDS consultation, under the “Consultations” menu tab of Britishdestinations.net. Or go direct to that page at:

https://britishdestinations.net/consultation-responses/open-consultations/deposit-return-scheme-in-england-wales-and-northern-ireland-closed-13-may-2019/

Apologies if I am wrong about the strategic importance of this, or if it is something you are already addressing.

Colleague seeks advice, can you help?

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Do you know anything about land train operators or operations or know someone who does?  Latest request for assistance from a member to members can be accessed under the “Forum: ask questions get answers” menu tab or go to the page direct at:

https://britishdestinations.net/need-an-answer/land-train-operations-and-operators/

UK Shared Prosperity Fund briefing Paper

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The House of Commons Library has published a paper covering the : “Background and issues for consideration concerning the Government’s proposed Shared Prosperity Fund (SPF), which will replace EU structural funding after Brexit”.  The design, scale and nature of the SPF will be critical to the future post Brexit investment prospects for all Nations and regions and for individual destinations within them.

At 18 pages it isn’t impenetrable and for those with a strategic interest in future funding well worth scanning, if not reading in full.  The summary at page 3 highlights in a couple of paragraphs the key issues to be addressed and, therefore to be aware of, during the delayed formal Government consultation due to be published later in the year.

The summary of representations already made to the Westminster Government by the Welsh Government, Welsh National Assembly, LGA, City Mayors, Post Brexit Funding APPG and the Joseph Rowantree Foundation at pages 16 to 18 are informative and indicative of the range of complementary and competing views likely be expressed during any future consultation and associated lobbying either side of it.  These along with the summary at page 3 are worth looking at if you read, nothing else.

Current concerns for me around SPF, even before I saw the briefing paper are:

  • whether the current Coastal Community Fund which we have been instrumental in getting developed, adjusted to better support tourism and then extended beyond its original 3 years will simply be subsumed, for ease of administration, and thus lost within the SPF.
  • whether rural and rural tourism’s position within EU funding will be adequately recognised and replicated within SPF.
  • and whether the interests of larger towns and smaller Cities (i.e. those outside the half dozen plus core Cities) will gain better recognition and appropriate access to funding, especially for public infrastructure and visitor economy focused development.

I will be contacting you separately to confirm that in light of  the potential creation of  the SPF, these 3 higher level lobbying positions remain broadly unchanged. I can envisage a scenario where, for example, the distinct advantages of having a focus fund for coastal interest might become a disadvantage when trying to also access a potentially larger pot (but with a far bigger demand against it) of SPF funding.  Equally non-coastal members might now take a less altruistic view of the existence of the CCF than they have done previously or they may want very different things from SPF than were available from previous UK and EU funding mechanisms, around which we have formed our current stance above.  I doubt you will want radical change but I do need to ask and ask soon so that I am ready to influencing the debate around SPF even before the consultation takes place.

The paper can be found by clicking  on the “National level political strategies & policies +” menu tab of Britishdestinations.net or go direct to the page at:

https://britishdestinations.net/strategies-and-policies/

Senior tourism job vacancy Isles of Scilly

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The following senior destination management post  is being offered: Executive Director   Islands’ Partnership, St Mary’s, Isles of Scilly c.£50,000 closing  4 June 2019.

Full detail can be accessed under the “Jobs vacancies +” main menu tab of Britishdestinations.net or go direct to the relevant page of our corporate website at: https://britishdestinations.net/jobs-vacancies/executive-director-islands-partnership-st-marys-isles-of-scilly-c-50000-closing-4-june-2019/