Latest Event Updates

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

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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.

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Conference presentations, Autumn Statement and more

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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.

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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.

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(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/

Correction

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In yesterday’s update I said that Nick De Bois was presenting on the DMO review at our joint Tourism Alliance, Tourism Society and British Destinations conference on the 15th November. I had forgotten that in the process of postponement and rescheduling that Nick was no longer available to present on the 15th but that Drew Stokes VE’s England Director had kindly agreed to present in his place.

Given the timing of the event, this is on reflection perhaps particularly advantageous. Drew as the head of the VE’s executive and responsible for it s operational delivery is exceptionally well placed to brief the conference and answer questions on the emerging modeling, development plans and criteria for the DMO/ LVEP pilot scheme that is soon to be trialled for c two years in one competitively selected area in England. Apologies to Nick, Drew and to you all for any confusion unintentionally caused by my error. Less haste more speed.

In this week’s news

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Two loosely linked items in this week’s tourism new and a linked reminder.

1. On Monday of this week (2th Oct 22) the DCMS Select Committee published their second report on Promoting Britain Abroad.  The 36-page main body of the report is quite critical of certain Westminster Government policies and actions, inactions or delays and make a dozen recommendation most of which I think the majority working in tourism and destination management would be broadly if not totally supportive of. Areas highlighted include increasing funding and greater freedom of operational control for Visit Britain, ringfencing some of that additional funding for the promotion of regional destinations, the elevation of the Minister for Tourism to a “fulltime position” (rather than responsible for a much wider portfolio?) and of particular note for destinations in England: “We recommend that the Government should complete the pilot to a swift timescale and commit to implementing the de Bois recommendations in full”.

Before we allow ourselves to get too carried away, it is important to remember that Government, while duty bound to respond to a Select Committee report, usually within two months of publication, there is no compulsion for them to agree with, let alone act upon, any or all recommendations any committee makes.  The typical response often takes the form of, we hear what you say and here is a long list of all the things we have done and or planning to do that relate, however vaguely, to what you said or recommended.  Some committee’s recommendations will of course elicit positive responses and all, whether accepted or not, provide independent, cross-party support and ammunition for further lobbying activities.  Good, positive end results are seldom won quickly or easily at the best of times and this isn’t in all honesty the best of times, particularly, when it comes to proposing additional responsibilities and/or explicitly or by inference corresponding additional funding to expedite them.

The report is well worth reading in full to get the context and the full sense of what and why the Committee is critical of certain recent policies and approaches to tourism.  The one-page summary at page 3 and the conclusion which give a short summary of the rational against each of the dozen plus recommendations, at pages 33 to 36, contain the essential must read material for all UK destination management interests: https://committees.parliament.uk/publications/30452/documents/175898/default/

The Committee’s reference to “implementation in full” is interesting, especially as Nick was witness and gave evidence to the committee. Although the final DCMS published version of the De Bois report somehow managed not to specify beyond doubt the sum envisaged by the author, Nick himself has since made it crystal clear that his vision was based on £17m per year over the standard 3-year comprehensive speeding round (the maximum period any department can committee to). Or in the grand scheme of things, a very modest extra £51m over 3 years, with the aspiration that the funding should and would continue at a sizable figure, into future CSRs and resulting spending rounds.  I would urge colleges to refresh their memories of what the De Bois report actually said and what was actually recommended. This doesn’t always match what some aspiring “tier One” or “LVEPs” destinations are touting to their potential partners as reason to comply and make potentially radical, irreversible changes that as yet may not bring with them guaranteed, replacement funding, for the myriad of locally evolved, local grown and often unique local circumstance driven arrangements that underpin most “tier two” destinations. In some instance the concept of and need for tier two destinations remaining in place and managing the multitude of day to day requirements of their destination seems to have been lost on some.   Find a copy of the De Bois report here: https://britishdestinations.net/strategies-and-policies/tourism-industry-strategies-policies/review-of-destination-organisations-in-england/

2. On Tuesday, by happy coincidence, DCMS announced the appointment of the new VisitBritain (VB) Chairman.  Nick De Bois has relinquished his appointment Chair of the VisitEngland (VE) Advisory Board, 9 months before his term ends and assumes the far more influential appointment as Chairman VisitBritain. He is replaced as interim Chair of the VE Advisory Board by Fiona Pollard.

It would be hard to think any other senior industry figure, currently better placed than Nick to oversee the work of VisitBritain and, to a degree oversee the position and work of the Visit England department within VisitBritain. Nor anyone who would be more knowledgeable about the strengths and weaknesses of the current VB/VE relationship and of VE’s roles and functions within that relationship and within England’s tourism landscape.  It is also impossible to think of anyone better placed to understand what the DCMS Select Committee’s aspirations for full implementation of the De Bois report might actually means in practice.  Clearly the Chairman VB can only act within the parameters set by the sponsor department but nonetheless his appointment may help to change the dynamics and understanding around international v domestic tourism in general and the currently, critically undervalued roles and functions of destination management, at least as it currently stands within England.

3. A closely linked reminder, Nick De Bois is one of a number of high-profile guests programmed to speak on Tuesday 15th November at this year’s joint Tourism Alliance, Tourism Society and British Destinations national one day, London based tourism conference.  Nick is still programmed to discuss the DMO review, although it his highly likely that in current circumstances Nick and most of the other speakers will deviate towards or at the very least comment on more recent and immediately pressing issues for UK tourism, like the cost-of-living crisis and the resulting pressure on discretionary spend and on hospitality, leisure and tourism. There is still plenty of time and frankly ever increasing good reason to book, if you have not already done so. More detail and booking links at:

Latest updates including new research

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1. It is difficult to say anything with certainty about the current unprecedented state of national affairs and in turn, to a lesser degree, the immediate and longer term impact on tourism and the visitor economy. September’s economic figures already looked bleak, with even greater shrinkage in the economy and higher levels of inflation that predicted in an already poor financial forecast.

Among the worst hit by shrinkage was hospitality and leisure, confirming our earlier assumptions that tourism, leisure and the visitor economy in general would be hit hardest and quickest by the cost of living crisis. Economic conditions, the resulting uncertainties and damage to consumer confidences has if anything got significantly worse since the 23rd September Mini Budget. A budget that has since proved to be both economically and politically disastrous for the UK. Regardless of the politics involved, the budget and its unintended consequence have essentially shredded the UK’s Government’s and by default the UK’s international financial and political credibly. Those who understand these things in detail (that’s not me) are talking in terms of years and even a decade or more to recover hard won international credibility, once lost to the degree it has now been.

Although the economy can be turned round, there is little prospect of it happening immediately and magically returning to where we were years, months or even weeks ago. Much national treasure has been expended in recent weeks and months on top of that already used up to counter covid-19. Additional deep economic damage has therefore already been done. Step one is to recover from that which, with an ongoing energy crisis and other internal and external influences from Ukraine through to the UK’s position on the Northern Ireland Protocol, isn’t going to be a simple fix, whoever’s job it ends up being to do it. The reality for us is that the prospects for the immediate Winter season and the coming 2023 tourism year remain generally poor, particularly for those majoring on domestic visitors and their discretionary, disposable expenditure.

2. In among the extraordinary events of the last 6 weeks we were unexpectedly promised a welcome return of VAT free shopping for international visitors. A promise that you may or may not have noticed was withdrawn last week, in among a whole raft of other generally much higher profile tax related changes. If the current Chancellor does get to present his budget on the 28th October (who knows, it may or may not yet happen) he isn’t going to reverse the reversal he made. It is a hunch but I am prepared to predict that any new Chancellor of any political shade or leaning who might takeover, is highly unlikely to risk venturing anywhere near anything associated with the September mini budget, unless it is utterly unavoidable. Granting tax concessions to overseas visitors feels like a potentially contentious issue that isn’t necessarily going to directly benefits the majority of UK voters and is therefore something that isn’t going to be considered, let alone acted upon for several years at best. I hope of course as ever to be proven wrong.

3. I have recently received a copy of the Norfolk Ethnic Domestic Tourism Market Report April 2022. The report was commissioned as part of an South, South Easter and Eastern England Interreg funded coastal area project that is looking at expanding out of season tourism. Although focused towards Norfolk and out of season tourism this report has great resonance for UK tourism in general and for tourism throughout the year. Among other things it highlights the porosity of robust research on ethnic domestic tourism in the UK and raises some frankly uncomfortable home truths about what many destinations do, or don’t do to extend a basic welcome, let alone embrace the social and economic benefits of an inclusive approach to domestic ethnic tourism. It is longish report at 125 pages and in places necessarily academic in its nature. I.E. often citing other research sources, some of that by necessity not UK based, due presumably to the relative lack of historic UK research in to the subject area. Nonetheless it is worth reading at leisure and if possible in full.

I commend the report to you, even if it is only to look at and takeaway some of the headline and nationally relevant comments aired in the executive summary and covered within various parts of the report. The report left me as a white middleclass male of a certain age, somewhat embarrassed that I have not thought more deeply and sooner about, what in some case are with the benefit of hindsight and the report, fairly obvious omissions. My overall feeling is that unless the report is fundamentally flawed (which I doubt) many destinations, probably could and should be doing a lot more and much better when it comes to proactively welcoming and enabling ethnic domestic tourism. I would welcome your views.

Whilst we are no longer in a position to commission further research or to initiate initiatives directly, we are still in a position to highlight opportunities and challenges and encourage others nationally with access to greater resource to take mutually beneficial action, particularly, if it is deemed to be needed and wanted by sufficient member destinations and/or the wider industry.

The report can be found in the research library under the “Research & statistic – by year” and adjacent “+” Britishdestinations.net main menu tab or go direct to the page at: https://britishdestinations.net/research-and-statistics/

Domestic Sentiment Tracker: Profile Reported (Oct to Dec 2022)

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I was intending to include the Domestic Sentiment Tracker: Profile Report, published 6 October, in yesterday’s general research update but belatedly thought better of it, as the research conducted by BVA BRDC on behalf of all the National Tourist Board deserves close examination and consideration in its own right. 

Base on very recent consumer research, it deals with consumer sentiment over the immediate, critical 3 months October through to December 2022, or effectively the here and now.  Given current circumstances it not unreasonably majors on the impact on consumer intent arising from the growing cost-of-living crisis. Although the research remit is to looks at both domestic and domestic outbound intent, this particular piece from VE is essentially about the UK domestic market. 

These factors combined make this research report a particular valuable piece of timely intelligence for the majority of UK destination managers. It will almost certainly also have utility for your major businesses and for those businesses of any size or type that have a very clear understanding of their market’s socio economic and demographic profiles.

Much of the report’s detail will confirm what experienced destination managers and business owners will already instinctively know.  However, unusually it provides credible, current, independent evidence immediately before the event which you can legitimately attempt to act upon now, resources permitting, rather than having the usual hollow pleasure of being able to saying “I told you so” after the event in this case, in a couple of month time.

While the report specifically asked questions around sentiment and intent up to 31st December, it isn’t unreasonable to assume that many of the findings or the conclusions that can logically be drawn from them, have continuing relevance into the normally much slower post-Christmas and New Year quarter.   Although the research interviews were conducted very recently, it is worth noting that they still predates the even more recent mini budget and any increased economic pressures on disposable incomes arising from it. Unless there is any immediate marked improvement (unlikely), any conclusions drawn by the report or by you from it could/should perhaps be viewed as leaning towards best case?

As the report has an unusually short life span, I have not added a copy to our research library.  The 50 odd page slide deck is both short and worthy enough to be scanned if not read in full. It can be accessed at:

PowerPoint Presentation (visitbritain.org)  

Inbound and domestic tourism trends update

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As ever VB/VE and the other National Boards continue to produce essential industry statistics down to Nations and regions level, in cooperation with ONS. As this is freely available on the National Board’s own websites, we tend only to highlight the annual summaries, when they become available, in arrears, c 6/7 months after the calendar year end. If you need them, we do include links to all the National Boards and National statistic agency’s tourism statistics at the head of our Research and statistics – by year main menu tab, to aid those seeking a central point of access to all major national sources.

The latest quarterly figures from VB for Q1 January to March 2022, released in September, usefully compare the 2022 detail against 2019.  In order to do this, they have made adjustments to the 2019 figures to make them broadly comparable with the Q1 2022, that currently do not include Eurotunnel and cross Northern Ireland border travel, due to ongoing corvid 19 related survey issues.   There are a number of important caveats included within all recent releases and these should be read and understood, before drawing any firm conclusion from some of the figures given.  The overwhelming conclusion that can be drawn from the statistics is that, while inbound international travel had started to recover as at 31 March 2022, it still had some considerable distance to go before returning to anything like 2019 levels.

Anecdotal evidence suggests that Q2 and Q3 in 2022, the key early shoulder and main summer seasons months, saw an increasingly stronger rate of recovery.  Regrettably we will need to wait a further 3 and 6 months respectively for this to be confirmed by the official IPS figures.

It would be crass to suggest that current economic crisis and, in particular, the fall in the value of pound against the dollar was good news for international inbound tourism.  Nonetheless, the weakness in the pound will have immediate impacts on the recovery of international tourism from key markets including the US which could on current political and economic performance persist well into 2023.  Good new perhaps, but for all the wrong reasons; reasons that will almost certainly impact negatively on many aspects of all businesses, regardless of their potentially positive exposure, or not, to more international tourism. 

Similarly, the tragic loss of the Queen in her 70th year on the throne will, if it follows previous Royal events, result in renewed interest in the UK and key Royal venues within it, in 2023.  Unlike the weakness of the pound this should be viewed entirely as an additional positive draw, albeit in extremely regrettable circumstances.  Any concerns that the undoubted draw of Royal family and Royal heritage under the outstanding direction of Queen Elizabeth II will quickly diminish, seem at this early stage to be groundless. Long may that continue under the direction of Kings Charles III.  

The UK figure down to National level released on 23 September, can be accessed at (note the sample size caveat):  PowerPoint Presentation (visitbritain.org) and of more immediate interest to destination managers the Nations and English Regions breakdowns released on 5 October: PowerPoint Presentation (visitbritain.org).

The ONS base data for the above and their assessments will also be of interest, not least because it also reports, at section 4, on UK resident’s outbound travel.  The quoted headline for this is an 8.6m increase between Q1 2021, during the second peak of the pandemic and Q1 2022.  Not explicitly stated but of far more relevance to adherents like me of the “Leaky Bucket Syndrome” is the 2022 Q1 total of 9.5m outbound trips compares with the 2019 Q1 of 18.1m (hover over the relevant graph intersections to obtain details) or give or take 50% of pre pandemic numbers.

A rapid return to, or towards 2019 levels of outbound UK residents’ travel might be good news for the outbound operators and the industries that surround outbound travel but it is not necessarily good news for the domestic market and the domestic and inbound international markets that are both reliant on what is essentially the same domestic industry infrastructure. HMG need to recognise that while there are benefits to the UK economy of outbound domestic tourism is does come at a significant cost to domestic tourism and, thus, to an important sector of the UK economy. Just like any other major “import” activity will have an impact on UK based businesses, manufacturing or trading in that commodity, outbound tourism impacts on the domestic alternative. Trying to ignore that uncomfortable truth helps neither side of the equation.

ABTA have recently released its annual ABTA Holiday Habits 2022 (publication suspended during the pandemic).  This contains a lot useful information, principally around outbound travel which with the “right framework” is predicted to grow by 15% over the next 5 years. Critically the report confirms the view that for many the “main holiday” (overseas?) is increasingly regarded as sacrosanct.  The finding in the section on “cost of living” at page 12 will make uncomfortable reading for UK destinations and, in particular, some of the component parts of the wider visitor economy within them. 

The report appears to confirms our earlier concerns that in the fast-developing, economic crisis discretionary disposable income will not simply be reduced across the board but selectively reduced, with the more routine domestic/local spending taking a potentially disproportionately larger hit, than the already generally, big ticket, overseas holiday. In these circumstances not only are these holidays acting as an import cost to the UK, they are also doing so at a demonstrable cost to domestic spending across a raft of discretionary areas, including: retail, hospitality, leisure and domestic tourism.

Although it is entirely possible that HMG can still calm the financial markets, billion have already been spent/lost and considerable damage has already been done to the UK economy, well beyond that being done in parallel by a number of external circumstances.  We are in economic difficulties next year regardless, it just how deep and for how long that is still in any doubt.  UK destinations must plan and react accordingly for what is likely to be a very difficult winter 2022/3 and full new year or more to come thereafter.

The ABTA report has been added to our reports and statistics library accessible under the “Research and statistics – by year” main menu tab, or go direct to that page at:  https://britishdestinations.net/research-and-statistics/  

Changes at DCMS

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Following Nigel Huddleston appointment as Government Whip (Lord Commissioner of the Treasury) on 20 September, Lord Syed Kamall was appointed last week to replace him, as Minister for Civil Society, Heritage, Tourism and Growth, our 7th Tourism Minister in the last 7 years. 

Whilst welcoming Lord Kamall’s appointment, it is disappointing that Nigel, who oversaw his Sports, Tourism, Heritage and Civil Society portfolio throughout the period of the pandemic, will not be in post to see us through the recover and, in particular, to press home to a successful conclusion some of more radical programmes started but not completed during his watch.  Most notably among them, for destination interests at least: the DMO review and proposals on the potential accommodation registration scheme for England. 

Destination management interests and others will now have to redouble their efforts to ensure that Lord Kamall fully understands why both are seen as essential developments.  So that he in turn can persuade his colleagues in a much more: small government inclined, low tax, lower public funding, less regulatory leaning, new administration of the need for public funding support for a DMO network and for the introduction of an accommodation registration scheme, that results better application of necessary regulation within some or all parts of the accommodation sector in England.  If the rest of Government don’t support the progression to full implementation, then the small scale 2 year DMO pilot now under development and further considerations around the nature of a potential registration scheme, will not progress to fully, funded fruition.

Although it isn’t uncommon for junior Minister to sit in the House of Lords and one or two of the 20 plus Tourism Ministers, we have had in the last c 20 year have done so, it can sometimes be regarded as reducing the clout of the Ministerial positions concerned.  There are genuine practicalities involved with operating from within the House of Lords, rather than the House of Commons, not least of which is representing the entire DCMS portfolio in the House of Lords and not just those relating to their own DCMS Ministerial responsibilities.  Personally, I think the effectiveness in role, is largely down to the standing and determination of the individual. 

Lord Kemal a former MEP 2005 to 2019, ennobled in 2021, has served for the last year as Minister for Technology, Innovation and Life Sciences. He therefore has recent Ministerial experience, as a member of the upper house and should be well placed to deliver for us.  As with all new Ministers it is incumbent on us all to offer our full support to him and to the existing Team within DCMS, to help him do so.  Official details of his appointment are at:

https://www.visitbritain.org/lord-syed-kamall-announced-tourism-minister

The new Secretary of State for Digital, Culture, Media and Sport, Michelle Donelan appointed on 6 September chose to highlighted the reintroduction of VAT free shopping in her recent Party Conference speech in which on tourism she said: “Another area of growth is tourism, which we are also boosting, by re-introducing VAT-free shopping for overseas visitors. And we will replace the old paper-based system with a modern, digital system that will come into place very soon”. 

This confirms previous statements concerning the intent to reintroduction of the VAT refund scheme, previously removed, UK wide by HMG in January 2021. Introducing a secure, digital system that can’t be easily abused, may prove to be an interesting challenge, particularly if it is genuinely to be deliver “very soon”? 

Whilst an important factor in driving some international visits that should be broadly welcomed, VAT refunds to international visitor are not a universal panacea for tourism’s ongoing difficulties either internationally or domestically. Indeed they are all but irrelevant to much of the domestic market and those many places that major in it. Let us hope we can look forward to hearing more soon from the new Westminster Government on targeted support for tourism and hospitality; notwithstanding of course the welcome but more general support from the capping of business energy prices for the next 6 months, already announced. Although welcome, that too is not a panacea for energy crisis or indeed for a raft of cost and demand related issues now increasingly in play. More support will almost certainly be need to get many individual businesses through what is going to be a long, hard and dark winter season.