Select Committee on Culture, Media and Sport Minutes of Evidence

Examination of Witnesses (Questions 60 - 73)



Mrs Golding

  60. I was in Wales last week and again the story at Easter was not a bed to be had. It was so busy. They were more than happy. They said they had a particularly bad time at the end of last year and the beginning of this year, much due to the weather. That is a problem we always have in this country. We have to be thinking of more things to tell people to do when they go and think that they are going to go walking in lovely weather. There should be alternatives open all year round, not just at set periods and not just at certain times of the day. What are you going to do about that, especially in Wales?
  (Mr Pride) Improving the seasonal spread of tourism in Wales is a vital consideration. In marketing terms, you have to promote that which you do well. As far as the weather is concerned, it is not one of the strong points. You made a point about Wales being busy over the Easter period but I must stress how patchy the situation is. Easter has changed things in that prior to Easter everybody was suffering uniformly. Since Easter, tourists have started to come back in significant numbers to certain parts but that masks the fact that in rural Wales, Anglesey, Powys and parts of Monmouthshire businesses are virtually closed. We undertook a survey over the Easter period. 47 per cent of businesses said that whilst business was down they were optimistic about the future this year. 17 per cent said that business was down but that they were fearful for the rest of the year and 11 per cent of businesses were very seriously affected to the point of considering closure. The situation is very patchy and I would not want people to think that because certain parts of the United Kingdom and Wales have improved that is a uniform situation.

  61. You cannot go through Wales without going through rural Wales. I drove through and stopped along the road and people said they had been quite busy. I saw one small burning of sheep along the way and lots of sheep on the hills and close to the road and tractors driving all over the place from farm to farm which I was surprised about, especially as there were loads of footpaths closed notices. In the pubs, being a fly on the wall, the walkers were very resentful of the farmers and felt that the farmers were controlling what was happening. Indeed, this has been a criticism given to me by many people, that the farmers are controlling the tourist industry. Do you not think that when we review the whole situation that foot and mouth has brought on us everybody has to have a say in it and the tourist industry must have a much bigger say in the management of our countryside?
  (Mr Pride) Absolutely. If there is a silver lining to this, it is that people are recognising the significance and importance of tourism to the economy generally and specifically to the rural economy. I know that the tourist industry in Wales and elsewhere now wants a much stronger voice for tourism. One of the things that can help those areas which are still in difficulty very quickly is the reopening of footpaths and rights of way and so on. That will make a significant difference to those businesses which are dependent upon walking and other outdoor activities.

  62. The countryside obviously does not belong to the farmers, but there are a lot of sheep in Wales, perhaps far too many. Perhaps what we should be looking at is using the countryside better. What plans have you for talking to government departments, talking among yourselves, talking to people, about how we are going to manage the countryside, rather than covering it with sheep?
  (Mr Pride) We already have close co-operation with the various agencies in Wales that are responsible for managing the countryside. One of the first things that we did in response to the situation was draw up a charter with the various organisations responsible for managing the countryside. There is a very good relationship. Clearly, the situation can improve still further. If this crisis throws that into focus, then we will play our part in bringing everybody together.

Derek Wyatt

  63. Mr McKinlay, I was trying to add up the number of boards or committees that seem to be involved in tourism. Is there a single web site that links all those bodies together?
  (Mr McKinlay) There is a single web site, "", which can take you through into most of the others. You can click onto Historic Scotland and Scottish Natural Heritage, the National Trust, RSPB and so on. There are links in, through our own web site.

  64. That acts as a portal?
  (Mr McKinlay) Yes.

  65. Since foot and mouth, have you for instance given anything away to any of the airline companies? Have you given them a brochure? Have you given them anything to tell people that you are available?
  (Mr McKinlay) We produced this thing called "The Come Back Code". A group of organisations in Scotland got together and produced this, hundreds of thousands of which were circulated all over the place. It was produced fairly rapidly in the name of Scottish Natural Heritage and the Scottish Executive. What it actually said was, "The place is open but be responsible. Here is a list of things that you should not do" like do not go and touch animals or go into enclosed fields with animals and so on. We also had regular meetings of officials from all the departments and public sector agencies involved, and some voluntary ones as well, and they tried to co-ordinate the access issue so that we had risk analyses carried out by land owners of when they could open up. We tried to do that consistently and coherently. That is still going on.

  66. I commend you on that. Can I ask the three of you to explain in devolution terms where tourism sits within your particular assemblies or Parliaments, which minister, so that we can better understand the process locally.
  (Mr Pride) In Wales within the National Assembly, tourism is within economic development which is headed by Mike German the Deputy First Minister.
  (Mr McAuley) We are an NDPB of the Department of Enterprise, Trade and Investment. It is worth mentioning that the Department of Culture, Arts and Leisure, through the Sports Council or the Arts Council, the Department of Agriculture and Rural Development through natural resource tourism, and the DoE through the Environment and Heritage Service which operate a number of tourist attractions. They all have an interest in tourism and they all have an interest in economic development. We do co-ordinate our activities.

  67. You think that is satisfactory?
  (Mr McAuley) I think we are correctly located within the range of departments within the executive, yes.
  (Mr McKinlay) We sit in the Department of Enterprise and Lifelong Learning. The Cabinet Minister is Wendy Alexander but we have a tourism minister, a junior minister, Alasdair Morrison.

Mr Fraser

  68. Mr McAuley, how does this current foot and mouth problem compare with perceived terrorism problems that Northern Ireland has, as it affects the tourism industry?
  (Mr McAuley) At this stage it would be impossible to tell. We suffer currently from the same perception overseas that it is dangerous to come here for reasons of public health risk. We have not been able yet to benefit from some potential marketing as the disease-free island of Ireland. We have been coming out of the problem of Northern Ireland being perceived as a dangerous place to come to, not helped by the continuing difficulties of July and the marching season. We do not have a great deal of hard evidence yet of the effects of foot and mouth. Anecdotal evidence suggests perhaps 20/30 per cent of an effect on accommodation providers, which seems to be the position nationally. We must now try and recover that through particular action-intra-Northern Ireland and across the Channel and, more widely, in particular through the travel press and the travel trade to get across the message that Northern Ireland is a safe place to come to. I could not yet give an assessment of the effect of foot and mouth as against the perception of how Northern Ireland is viewed as a place of terrorism.

  69. To all three of you: how do you differentiate the products that you are promoting at this point? Is there not an argument that Britain is what we should be selling; otherwise, it confuses the message abroad? How do you chip into that and how do you benefit?
  (Mr McAuley) We sell whatever sells best in Northern Ireland, for good, commercial reasons. In America, where there is no real perception of the border, we sell as part of an Irish destination. Further afield, when you get to South America, we have to be part of Great Britain or rather a British Isles destination. Within these isles, it is possible to see Northern Ireland as a destination on its own. That is based entirely on the consumers' perception. In the end, we want to do the best we can for Northern Ireland.
  (Mr Pride) It is true that Britain needs to be successful before Wales can be successful. In the current situation, Wales will be working very closely with the British Tourist Authority in terms of international marketing. It is important however to ensure that Wales has the profile that we think is appropriate within a Britain context and we are responsible for using our resources to ensure that Wales is successful. Very often, that can be best achieved by working in partnership with the British Tourist Authority, working with all of their offices overseas and ensuring that Britain is promoted as a rich tapestry of three/four countries in one.
  (Mr McKinlay) There is always going to be a tension between marketing Britain and one of the constituent parts of it. The analogy that strikes me is the Invest in Britain Bureau in Scotland, for example. I think a lot more could be done better to knit together the efforts the BTA make overseas and some of the efforts we currently make overseas because we have our own international marketing budget. We liaise closely with them, but I think a lot more could be done to more effectively operate overseas, getting the big return that being a member of the United Kingdom gives you, whilst still enabling the individual countries within the United Kingdom to promote themselves in healthy competition.

  70. You have just demonstrated the enormous overlap that there is. I talk to a lot of foreign visitors and foreign friends abroad. There is a confusion not just on the issue but on what we are trying to promote, as I see it. Is there not also therefore, because of this overlap and the need to gel together and have a promotion of Great Britain, the need at this point to review the funding formulae each of the tourist boards get, because there is an argument that England does not get enough money for the number of population that Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland do. Do you think as a group and individually that you get fair funding and do you think it compares favourably with your other colleagues?
  (Mr McKinlay) I do not think fairness has much to do with it. What struck me in terms of arguing for more public investment in tourism was that the performance measures for what you get in tourism at the moment do not seem to me to be very good. We ought to be able to measure the impact of tourism as we measure the impact of most other businesses. What do you get in terms of skills improvement, productivity, entrepreneurship, digital connection, job safeguarding, jobs created, turnover, increased profitability increase—instead, we tend to measure tourism in terms of visitor numbers and visitor spend. I do not think that is good enough. I do think, if you do apply those sorts of measures, you have a much better chance of persuading the government of the day to invest more money in your industry. That is the way I would go about it. Then I would encourage some healthy competition among the constituent countries to see who is getting me the best return for my money.
  (Mr McAuley) It is important for us to compare on a like for like basis. Our funding includes a substantial sum from capital grants to the industry. Our promotional budget is 5.3 million which we would say is modest. However, we will benefit greatly from the further allocation of seven million Irish which is five-odd million sterling as our contribution to the work of tourism and promoting the whole of the island internationally from next season onwards. It makes a total sterling contribution to tourism and marketing of in excess of ten million, which we think is adequate.
  (Mr Pride) I think it is vital to overcome any confusion in the market place but we need to remember that in many markets there is often confusion between the terms Britain and England. For many people, they are interchangeable. It is vital that people understand what Britain is. We have to take decisions in Wales about the resources that are appropriate for tourism based on the needs of the Welsh economy. Clearly, in parts of Wales as I mentioned earlier, tourism is already a vital contributor. It is one of the few industries in which that contribution can grow. The comparisons we need to make are not necessarily comparisons with the rest of the United Kingdom but are benchmarks externally, where tourism has been recognised as an important contributor. Finally, it is not just about resources; it is also about roles. There are many skills and abilities both within the British Tourist Authority and the national boards. In terms of avoiding confusion, it is important that people are clear as to the roles of the BTA and the Welsh Tourist Board and the other national tourist boards in international marketing.

Mrs Golding

  71. When we went to the British Museum, we talked to one of the senior curators. He was telling us of a longhouse in Pennal that was falling into disrepair. He could not get anybody interested in preserving it. He said there were difficulties but nobody seemed to be concentrating on it. Given the importance of the Pennal Papers, the importance of tourism around that area, what influence do you have in preserving these buildings that could be very important in the tourist industry? Are you told about them? Is there a committee that discusses what should be done?
  (Mr Pride) We have a development role. We also have capital grants available to invest in tourism businesses, but the main determinant of whether grants are given is viability in terms of commercial output as a tourism operation. Clearly, there needs to be wider consideration of the importance of buildings as part of the cultural heritage of the country. I am not aware of the committees that actually deal with that on a cross-departmental basis, but the decisions that we have to take are on the basis of the commercial viability of those attractions.

  Mrs Golding: Short sighted.

Mr Maxton

  72. What we are concerned about is that there are quite substantial grants available for people in the tourist industry to develop industries, particularly in the Highlands and Islands regions. Is that not correct?
  (Mr McKinlay) Yes. In 1996, the money to make those kinds of grants to businesses was removed from the tourist board and passed to local enterprise companies. I personally think that was a mistake because I believe in focus and clear responsibility. For example, the wheel that the Chairman mentioned at Falkirk, the £12 million investment in the new visitor facility at Loch Lomond, all that investment came from enterprise agencies, not from the tourist body. I think that is unfortunate because it creates confusion. If you are running a small hotel and you want to put in an en-suite bathroom, you have to go the local enterprise company. The recent PricewaterhouseCoopers review of the tourist board, published last November, recommended that this overlap be examined and reviewed and decisions taken about making the distinction clearer. Talks are continuing.

  73. Do you think Henry McLeish and Wendy Alexander are aware of this?
  (Mr McKinlay) They are aware of it. The minister, Wendy Alexander, has said the Scottish Tourist Board, Visit Scotland, is the economic development agency for tourism but, as I am sure you appreciate, with a minister making that statement, you then have to have the vested interests communicate and agree who is going to give up some bits of power to somebody else. That is what is being discussed at the moment.

  Chairman: Thank you very much, gentlemen. It has been very helpful to get your perspective.

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