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


Memorandum submitted by Farm Stay UK

  As Chief Executive of Farm Stay UK (formerly The Farm Holiday Bureau), the market leading consortium for farm accommodation in this country, I'd be pleased if our views could be taken into account by your Committee. As the foot and mouth disease crisis enters it's eleventh week our position is as follows:

  1.  Farm Stay UK (FSUK) was established in 1983 (as The Farm Holiday Bureau) through the leadership and support provided by the four National Tourist Boards and BTA; ADAS (then fully financed by MAFF); and The Royal Agricultural Society of England (RASE). All members of the co-operative must have an income from agricultural. FSUK still works closely with the founding bodies and had nearly 1,300 members at the end of March 2001. However, this figure is certain to be reduced substantially as a result of FMD with many members unable to afford to pay their fees by the 14 May renewal deadline. Since FSUK relies on subscriptions for it's income (£278,400.00 last year), there is a strong possibility that we will be unable to survive unless some form of external assistance is forthcoming in the immediate future.

  Action: The Government needs to identify organisations that have been established with their support (and which are threatened by this crisis) and agree a one-off aid package to underwrite a percentage of fixed costs for this year only. Without such support organisations such as FSUK may not survive.

  2.  The primary functions of FSUK are:

    —  to promote the concept of farm tourism in the UK;

    —  to help market more effectively the accommodation provided by its members thus helping increase occupancy rates and incomes; and

    —  to assist farmers in broadening their income base through diversification.

  Action: FSUK provides an increasingly important interface between the two industries of farming and tourism. Since FMD has impacted so specifically on this interface it is particularly important that some form of subsidy be provided to ensure the continuation and future of a body that provides such a vital link between the two industries.

  3.  FSUK is run by a Board of 11 Regional Directors plus a Chairman (all of whom are active in both farming and tourism). As Chief Executive, I manage the affairs of FSUK and drive the marketing, sales and membership programmes as agreed with the Board. I'm a Fellow of—The Royal Institution of Chartered Surveyors (FRICS); The Hotel and Catering International Management Association (FHSIMA); and The Tourism Society (FTS). Prior to joining FSUK, I had been Chief Executive of Best Western Hotels for nine years having previously held a similar position with both the South East England Tourist Board and the Cumbria Tourist Board.

  Action: Identify a more effective mechanism by which the skills of cross-industry representatives such as myself can be utilised in drawing up plans for recovery and for agreeing contingency plans to cover the possibility of anything similar occurring in the future.

  4.  We require all members to be inspected under the appropriate National Tourist Board Inspection Schemes thus endorsing the efforts of DCMS to establish a set of internationally recognised quality standards. However, the annual inspection process is expensive and, in the current financial climate, will be increasingly difficult to enforce. If we continue to demand adherence to this standard then we will most certainly lose members who feel that this is a cost that could be saved.

  Action: In a time of so much uncertainty regarding quality standards in respect of everything British, especially in overseas markets, it is vital that Government endorses the centralised schemes and helps underpin the cost structure. Free inspections for the year 2001-02 would be a major source of assistance that would have the added advantage of helping encourage higher standards.

  5.  Rural tourism and the widespread appeal of the countryside are two of the most important planks in the successful promotion of the UK as a holiday and visitor destination. Whilst standards in traditional seaside resorts have declined seriously since the sixties those in rural areas have risen noticeably. In the world of tourism marketing, country house hotels now dominate one end of the accommodation spectrum whilst farm based bed and breakfast/self-catering dominates the other. However, the recent spate of animal health problems threatens to kill the image of quality and high standards that has been painstakingly built up in recent years thus decreasing dramatically the UK's appeal in both world and domestic markets.

  Action: We must stop feeding the media with high profile slaughter and disposal images by introducing much lower impact techniques eg quick, localised slaughter and disposal of carcasses; no huge burial pits or funeral pyres both of which feed the global media with visual images of massive impact—images that totally distort the real picture and balance of rural life as it continues in this country.

  6.  Tourism and farming are both industries of primarily small, independent operators; operators who rely on organisations such as consortia to provide the economies of scale (and central leadership) that are vital if they are to market themselves (cost) effectively. FSUK is a classic example of primary need since our members were the first to be affected by the current crisis and will almost certainly be the last to recover. Examples of business losses for March alone are as follows:

Bed and Breakfast
72.6% down
90.9% down
Cumbria & Northumbria
62.2% down
59.1% down
Yorkshire & North West
50.7% down
60.2% down
East Midlands
25.8% down
76.2% down
Heart of England
41.2% down
22.6% down
80.0% down
37.7% down
South East
36.7% down
South West
76.3% down
45.3% down
88.6% down
42.8% down

  No self-caterers in the South East have returned questionnaires.

  Action: One-off marketing grants should be made where real hardship can be proven (as above) with the aim of ensuring that organisations such as FSUK can provide for the future ie invest in next year's marketing which must be funded now. Tourism always has to pay for next year's advertising out of this year's profits and, in the current climate, this is totally impossible for many small operators. An example of positive support which would not set a precedent would be funding through the BTA for guides that they require for overseas distribution (FSUK has already been asked by BTA for 55,000 copies of it's full colour, free guide for next year. However, we have no income with which to meet this demand!) Likewise, posters and support publicity material, all of which are needed to recreate a strong UK image in tourism market places, must be funded through the Tourist Boards.

  7.  England must be marketed alongside Wales, Northern Ireland and Scotland. Heathrow, Gatwick, Stanstead and Dover are the major ports of entry to the UK and yet we have no national body that is empowered to promote the English product. This is a nonsense.

  Action: Provide the structure and funding necessary for the ETC to become a market led organisation that is also empowered to work as a central focus for the Regional Tourist Boards, most of whom are spending far too much time and money in competing—rather than complementing—one another. This crisis has proved that national leadership is vital.

  8.  Low cost loans are of only limited value to small, rural tourism business since they carry with them the very real danger of helping to create a longer term problem as repayments fall due.

  Action: Consider the reintroduction of Tourism Development Grants such as those provided through the Hotel Development Incentive (HDI) and S4 Schemes under the 1969 Development of Tourism Act. These Grants led to a major improvement in standards at a time when our tourism industry was in the doldrums. Such funds can be targeted at specific needs (for example, the provision of en-suite facilities and proper central heating in farmhouse accommodation) and demand an ongoing successful business before they can be awarded.

  9.  Helping the tourism industry recover fully is not going to be easy since many of the negative images will remain with the public for a long time to come—especially overseas. Publicity and high profile awareness campaigns will help immeasurably but the industry also needs more direct action. For example, few countries in Europe pay VAT at the high levels levied in the UK—to say nothing of fuel and alcohol taxes. Couple this with the strong £ and our competitive ability is inevitably reduced substantially.


  i.  Reduce VAT even if this means introducing a two-tier structure (I believe France has this) and reconsider the diligence with which European Directives are implemented and monitored in this country.

  ii.  Other taxes such as those on fuel, should be reduced in line with the majority of our European counterparts. It's extremely difficult to compete when we have so many tax disadvantages and our rural economy is particularly dependant upon the use of private transport ie cars.

  iii.  Create a feel-good factor by making provision for an October Bank holiday coinciding with half term.

  10.  Current rate relief measures are of very limited value to small tourism operators many of whom are not subject to business rates.

  Action: Reconsider the way in which rate relief is being offered as a mechanism for assisting rural tourism businesses affected by FMD.

  The Select Committee can obviously play a very important part in identifying mechanisms by which the tourism industry in this country can be both re-focussed and re-launched. We must dispel the negative images (ie the funeral pyres and the disastrous promotional captions such as "We are Open" or "The Countryside is not Closed", etc) and focus everything we do on the positive eg Welcome to the Countryside. After all, even FSUK with 1,300 active farming members has seen less than 10% of its properties closed to the public as a result of the crisis. In other words, we must get the sense of perspective right and ensure that the message to the public reflects this.

April 2001

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