Select Committee on Culture, Media and Sport Appendices to the Minutes of Evidence


Memorandum submitted by the Northumbria Tourist Board


  The leadership and personal support of the Prime Minister and other Ministers in reassuring the tourist industry and lobbying the consumer, has been outstanding. As a result, the contribution and profile of tourism to the economy has never been so well espoused and understood.

  Commendable too, has been the level of flexibility, care and understanding given by front line staff in Customs and Excise, Inland Revenue and Ratings offices to the owners and proprietors of rural tourism businesses.

  Conversely, the response by those government departments directly involved in the crisis management has been disappointing, when compared to their counterparts in Scotland. The inadequacy of response to the needs of the rural business community, and lethargy in response in supporting the efforts of regional agencies, cannot be dismissed.

  Since the first outbreak over 50 days ago, neither the regional tourism board nor the regional development agency has received any financial support from government. All of the actions funded so far have been carried out using reserve funds. Without fast access to stabilisation funding, the rural recovery will inevitably be seriously compromised in Northumbria.


  1.  Since the foot and mouth disease outbreak was traced to Heddon-on-the-Wall in this region on 23 February 2001, Northumbria's rural tourist industry has progressively closed down.

  2.  The disease is highly infectious and in response to initial government warnings, visitors have complied by staying away from the countryside. As a result rural businesses have suffered from the acute shortfall in visits and visitor spending.

  3.  Tourism currently employs 7 per cent of the region's workforce in comparison to the 0.7 per cent employed in agriculture, forestry and fishing.

  4.  Although this is essentially a rural crisis, there is evidence to suggest it is impacting upon urban tourism businesses and particularly in overseas tourism.

  5.  Since 1 March, the crisis has resulted in cancelled rooms bookings, widespread closure of visitor attractions, collapse in future enquiries, closure of almost all rural footpaths and bridleways, negative press coverage and an almost universal drop in rural visits and spending.

  6.  The University of Newcastle has estimated that the impact on rural businesses in Northumbria will be £1 billion (if the outbreak lasts as long as the 1967 outbreak).

  7.  There are important differences between this outbreak and the one in 1967. At that time the outbound package holiday had not developed and the UK visitor was largely confined to the seaside. A day in the country in 1967 was shaped around a car or bus trip with few people actually penetrating the countryside by walking or cycling. Booking patterns are different too with last minute decisions and alternative options easily available to today's consumer. Finally the speed of spread of today's epidemic has created a national crisis rather than a regionally confined one.

  8.  In addition to the differing nature of the outbreak, the timing could not have been worse for most tourism businesses. The past 12 months have seen disruption through flooding, rail accidents and the fuel crisis, together with inhibiting factors such as the strong pound, high rate of VAT, minimum wage and marketing programmes for 2001 largely committed. Most micro and SME's were therefore at their weakest at the end of February 2001.


  9.  Following the first outbreak (in Northumbria), the NTB posted a warning flash on its web site within five days. This was followed by a modified message with reasons to visit the region—despite the outbreak.

  10.  On 19 March the Regional Assembly called a regional summit to discuss the outbreak and a Regional Action Group was formed to lead the recovery. The Action Group met on 20 March and NTB was given delegated powers to lead the first stage of a recovery plan, within 10 days.

  11.  The recovery plan priorities were to:

    —  lobby government for support of rural industry;

    —  help businesses survive;

    —  manage visitor information;

    —  undertake risk assessment; and

    —  prepare a marketing plan for a full recovery.

  12.  At an early stage, the Prime Minister, Secretary of State for DCMS and Chairman of the Rural Task Force were petitioned by the Regional Assembly, NTB Executive Committee and tourist board members for support and immediate availability of resources to address the growing crisis.

  13.  In order to offer substantive and qualitative support for additional resources, the NTB conducted research amongst tourism businesses which was released on 5 April and showed that:

    —  Visits to attractions were down 71 per cent overall (and 87 per cent to Hadrian's Wall).

    —  Up to 45 per cent of accommodation bookings were being cancelled each month.

    —  18 per cent of rural tourism businesses had laid off people.

    —  44 per cent of businesses had delayed employing seasonal staff.

    —  10 per cent of businesses were unsure if they would still be trading in July.

    —  Cash losses projected for April were almost £15,000 per rural business.

  14.  At that time the Government response through the rural task force, was to offer transitional relief on VAT and business rates and Small Firms Loan Guarantee Scheme support of up to £250,000 at 8.75 per cent interest. A £3.8 million marketing and support campaign was also announced for which the Northumbria Tourist Board would receive just 3 per cent at some future date.

  15.  By comparison, the Scottish Executive response was an immediate £13.5 million package, with an initial £5 million for tourism marketing, £5 million to help enterprise agencies implement a programme of advice and support and £3.5 million in rural rates relief. The Area Tourist Boards received this funding within 48 hours of agreement.

  16.  The additional assistance afforded to Scotland needs to be understood within the context of existing government funding. Tourism in Scotland (population 5.2 million) receives £24.2 million or £4.65 per head of population. Within this funding, over £14 million is allocated to marketing and promotion. By comparison, Northumbria (population 2.4 million) receives £360,000 or 15 pence per head of population—and none of this may be used for tourism marketing.

  17.  Rural tourism businesses have been increasingly unhappy with the level of support offered (especially in comparison to agriculture). They feel strongly that this was a farming crisis that became a tourism crisis because of government intervention. They also suggest that had this crisis involved a major manufacturing plant, the response would have been immediate and impactful. In addition to the announced measures, the business community would like to see:

    —  Interest-free loans (managed by Business Link through the Regional Development Agency).

    —  Grant Aid for improving quality (managed through the English Tourism Council).

    —  Marketing support for a minimum of £1 million for each of two years (delivered by RTB's through the RDA) on behalf of the industry.

    —  50 per cent discount off quality accommodation inspection schemes.

    —  50 per cent discount off RTB memberships.

  18.  It has been Government's stated aim that business survival would be best driven through visitor spending rather than assisted support. However, messages to persuade visitors to venture in the countryside once more, have been mixed. The initial message that was conveyed in the first week of the crisis urging visitors to stay away, has been the enduring message. Even though 70 per cent of visitors to the countryside do not walk, they want the choice of being able to do so if they wish. And media images and misinformation have decimated overseas tourism for the foreseeable future.

  19.  Between 20 March and 1 April, Northumbria Tourist Board initiated the following business support measures on behalf of the regional action group:

    —  A business to business extranet web site

    —  Immediate self-help guidelines on cash flow and survival.

    —  A free legal help line to deal with cancellations and insurance initially and later with broader issues.

    —  Co-ordination of case studies showing rural business economic impact.

    —  Qualitative and quantitative research.

  20.  It has been an unfortunate feature of this outbreak that speed of support and guidance to the industry has been adversely inhibited by the disparate take up of web access/e-commerce by businesses at this crucial time.

  21.  On 17 April, all Business Link advisors were briefed by the Board on the needs of tourism businesses and what support would be required. This was followed by business survival seminars throughout the region sponsored by one of the large regional accounting firms.

  22.  Between 20 March and 1 April the Board put the following measures in place to provide high quality information to visitors:

    —  A single information web site address for all consumers,

    —  A web based system linking all Tourist Information Centres to the NTB database.

    —  A seven day information telephone helpline number manned by dedicated NTB staff.

    —  A summit meeting of over 200 tourism businesses.

    —  A £50,000 media, poster and teletext campaign aimed at 900,000 households in the region.

    —  A travel and educational visits exhibition with over 300 delegates.

    —  A regional tourism marketing plan for the recovery.

  23.  By Easter Weekend this was supplemented by a meeting of all tourism officers and TIC Managers, displays in all 270 regional libraries with 500,000 information bookmarks and 100,000 information car stickers printed. This was supported by national press coverage afforded by three meetings with the Prime Minister and attendance by the Junior Minister for Agriculture at the tourism summit.

  24.  At the time of writing, the following promotional campaigns have been initiated for immediate implementation:

    —  Extending the two for one Powerpass card to more attractions and to hospitality businesses.

    —  Targeting those market sectors not dependent upon countryside access such as coach operators and school groups.

    —  Northumbria non-stop campaign.

    —  Northumbria on the Town campaign.

    —  Spirit of Northumbria campaign.

    —  A further nine campaigns are planned.

  25.  The Easter Weekend was crucial to tourism. Government, national agencies and regional campaigns had all focused on reassuring visitors that the countryside was open for business and it was OK to venture out. There was a general concern amongst those in tourism that the message had not been received or understood.

  26.  In Northumbria the recovery truly began with attractions, beaches towns, heritage centres and museums experiencing visitor numbers close to pre-crisis expectations. Visitors had demonstrated their frustration with imposed restrictions in the clearest possible way (and despite inclement weather) by taking day trips.

  27.  Despite the good news for attractions, seasides and towns, the visitor influx did not extend to the deepest rural areas where the crisis deepened further.

  28.  If the Easter Weekend 2001 was a significant threshold in the crisis, rural tourism would still be dependent upon real access to the countryside by public footpath and bridlepath. The next challenge for tourism will be an exacting risk assessment of access to forests, moors, fells, lakes, riversides and rural landscapes if overnight tourism and extended day visits are to be realised and the rural businesses saved.

  29.  The next stage in the rural tourism recovery will necessitate:

    —  Making the case for realistic stabilisation funding by government.

    —  Co-ordinating resources from RDA's, DCMS, Local Authorities, Rural Development Programmes, European Funding, RTB's and others.

    —  Directing funding tourism to those agencies that can make the most impact—some 50 days since the outbreak neither the Northumbria Tourist Board nor One North East has received a penny.

    —  Delivering meaningful support to tourism businesses to help them survive.

    —  Sustaining the immediate reassurance campaign to visit the countryside.

    —  Committing to both regional marketing campaigns and overseas marketing campaigns.

  30.  The situation is now critical and urgent assistance is overdue.

April 2001

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