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


Memorandum submitted by the East of England Tourist Board

1.  East of England Tourist Board (EETB)

  1.1  EETB is a company limited by guarantee, one of 10 English regional tourist boards. It is responsible for the development and promotion of sustainable tourism in Bedfordshire, Cambridgeshire, Essex, Hertfordshire, Norfolk and Suffolk. It has a staff of 37 and a board of directors drawn from its stakeholders: tourism businesses, local authorities and the English Tourism Council.

  1.2  EETB's annual turnover is around £2 million, of which 25 per cent comes from government through the English Tourism Council, 25 per cent from its regional stakeholders and 50 per cent from its own commercial activities. In the financial year 2001-02 EETB will receive £650,400 from the English Tourism Council (not including the additional money for the foot and mouth activities, as detailed in paragraph 3).

  1.3  The use of any of this money for marketing or PR is explicitly forbidden. The money has been awarded to EETB on the basis of a detailed bid, and for specific activities related to its status as an area centre for the administration of accommodation inspections etc. EETB, like the other regional boards, must report in detail each quarter on progress against the specific outputs and outcomes detailed in its bid. There is very little flexibility in how the money can be spent.

  1.4  Tourism contributes approximately £4 billion to the East of England economy each year, about 6 per cent of the region's GDP. It employs, at a conservative estimate, 135,000. The East of England has the second largest tourism industry of the 10 regions in terms of nights and spend.

  1.5  Over 20 per cent of tourism spending in the region takes place in the countryside, well above the national average for all regions. Overseas visitors account for one third of tourism income in the East of England. The biggest markets are the USA (16 per cent), Germany (15 per cent) and France (12 per cent), all of which are reporting major losses relating to the outbreak in terms of forward bookings and all of which have seen extremely negative and hysterical media reporting of the outbreak.

2.  The impact of Foot and Mouth disease (FMD) on the region's tourism businesses

  2.1  Tourism is a major industry within all counties of the East of England. The Norfolk economy is the most dependent on tourism and has the highest proportion of its tourism based on rural activities. The impact, however, will not be confined to rural areas: Cambridgeshire is particularly reliant on overseas visitors, receiving an annual spend of some £173 million, some 53 per cent of its annual tourism receipts.

  2.2  Many of the region's key visitor attractions are rural or wildlife-related. The East of England receives more visits to wildlife attractions (20 per cent) than any other region, and three of its top five visitor attractions are animal-based: Whipsnade Zoo, Woburn Safari Park and Colchester Zoo. Of these, Woburn and Whipsnade have been closed since the beginning of the outbreak and Colchester Zoo has just reopened for Easter, having suffered a weekly loss of some £35,000.

  2.3  Tourism has been a key component in the survival of many agricultural businesses. About 250 farms provide either bed and breakfast or self-catering accommodation. Many more have diversified into craft centres, farm life museums, nature trails, animal attractions and farm shops. Anecdotal evidence suggests that farm-based businesses have declined by 75 per cent, even where they have remained open.

  2.4  Only Essex has confirmed FMD cases in the East of England, and has not had a new case since late March.

  2.5  Nevertheless, the impact on the tourism industry has been severe (as evidenced from our surveys and case studies, which are available). Heeding the Government's initial warnings not to visit the countryside "unless absolutely necessary" visitors stayed away in droves. Following the national estimates, EETB estimated an early impact of £25 million loss per week. Many businesses, especially farm and wildlife-related, closed at the start and have reported a devastating impact with no income to offset overheads. Bookings from early March were running at between 50 per cent and 80 per cent down across the region, with many businesses reporting no Easter bookings at all, at a time when they would have expected to be full. Some quotations from case-studies:

    —  small hotel near Thetford: "bookings down 75 per cent on the same period last year";

    —  self-catering cottage, mid-Suffolk: "horrendous impact: no bookings except two in high summer; would usually be fully booked now for April and May";

    —  caravan touring park, west Norfolk: "bookings 50 per cent down; usually 100 per cent advance-booked by now";

    —  boat hire, Norwich: "bookings virtually nil; have had cancellations and a large decrease in enquiries"; and

    —  guest house, Sheringham: "have taken only 15 per cent of usual March takings, and an 85 per cent drop in bookings, plus cancellations".

  2.6  The Youth Hostel Association, National Trust, RSPB and English Heritage were all reporting alarming losses as most of their properties remained closed until the end of March. The closure of RSPB reserves had a particular impact on the region's tourism, since Norfolk and Suffolk have three of the premier reserves at Snettisham, Titchwell and Minsmere, and winter to early spring is a vital period for birdwatchers.

  2.7  Footpaths and open spaces were closed across the region from the end of February, except in Cambridgeshire which adopted a more flexible approach, allowing them to remain open except where farmers required closure (from the beginning, around 85 per cent of the county's footpaths have stayed open). Suffolk opened 75 per cent of its footpaths in the first week of April, and Norfolk 50 per cent of its in the second week of April. Bedfordshire has opened 10 per cent of its footpaths. All footpaths remain closed in Essex and Hertfordshire.

  2.8  By the fortnight before Easter, most visitor attractions were open (approximately 85 per cent across the region). The two pre-Easter weekends showed a slight easing of the situation for attractions, with many reporting business running at 70 per cent of normal expectations from a low of 20 per cent. Accommodation bookings still looked poor.

  2.9  The only exceptions, pre-Easter, were the coastal resorts, which reported business as usual as people visited them safe in the knowledge that they were doing nothing to increase the risk of the outbreak spreading.

  2.10  Immediately before Easter (from a mini-survey on 12 April), the picture began to brighten, especially for coastal areas. Some accommodation operators on the coast reported full occupancy for Easter, and many were up to 10 per cent better than Easter last year. Reports after the Easter weekend show that attractions nearer the coast had increased visitor numbers in general, while those inland, and smaller, reported dismal business.

  2.11  One swallow does not make a summer, however, and there is continuing evidence that forward bookings are still very shaky across the board. We have begun an impact survey carried out to national standards to ensure comparability, and will be able to put figures onto this by the end of April.

  2.12  The longer-term impact is likely to be felt from overseas, where perceptions are extremely adverse and business is well down (from BTA reports). The prime decision-making time for overseas bookings is the first three months of the year: much of this business has been lost, but the impact will not yet be felt. The worst impact, as noted in paragraph 1.5, is likely to be felt from the USA, Germany and France, which are the three prime markets for the East of England.

  2.13  One of the most pernicious aspects of the outbreak is that those businesses that have invested in their property over the winter, expecting to recoup their reserves earlier in the year, have had nothing to fall back on and are likely to go under first. One, at least, has already done so; a five-star touring caravan park in Norfolk, recipient of the David Bellamy award and the England for Excellence regional award, is up for sale, having faced losses of up to 70 per cent since the outbreak began. Most small tourism businesses have no capital or revenue cushion, and the outbreak hit them at the worst possible time, at their lowest financial reserve and just when they would be expecting vital early-season bookings. We are likely to see, as a longer-term consequence, better quality operators going under, leaving a rump of poor quality operators.

3.  Activities undertaken by EETB in respect of the FMD outbreak

  3.1  Since the end of February, the Managing Director and her marketing, information and development teams have been fully engaged in attempting to mitigate the effects of the FMD outbreak on the region's tourism industry. We feel we have responded to the challenge, but have had to gear up very quickly from a low base, particularly in Information and Communications Technology and PR skills and facilities, which have not been funded for the last few years. Full details of the weekly activity to date are noted below (paragraphs 3.9 to 3.16). The following narrative paragraphs (3.2 to 3.8) give a brief summary.

  3.2  At the time the outbreak began, EETB did not have a web site that was accessible to the public, due to lack of available funding. A prototype site had been developed with a local designer at low cost. It was clearly of critical importance to provide accurate and up-to-date information in this situation, so EETB brought forward the site's development. Since 5 March EETB's website has been available to prospective visitors and tourism businesses, providing up-to-date information on what is open.

  3.3  Only around 25 per cent of the region's tourism businesses have e-mail facilities, and only 60 per cent of Tourist Information centres (TICs). This has made information gathering and dissemination quite cumbersome and labour-intensive. Nevertheless, EETB has provided regular newsletters with information and advice on the outbreak, and has attended and called several meetings across the region to share information. These have included tourism officers, TIC managers, local authorities and tourism businesses.

  3.4  EETB has collected information from businesses about the impact of the outbreak since mid-March, through a brief telephone survey followed by a more detailed postal survey and telephone-based case studies. Immediately after Easter EETC mailed to its members the national impact survey devised by ETC and the regional tourist boards. This survey, to be carried out each month, will provide detailed and nationally comparable information on the impact on businesses, including employment and forward bookings.

  3.5  EETB has collected details of specific business issues relating to the outbreak for dissemination to ministers and MPs through briefings, meetings and the DCMS summit group.

  3.6  EETB has lobbied local authorities and other organisations about the need to be flexible in opening footpaths and open spaces, as well as Broads moorings and historic properties.

  3.7  EETB has met and briefed EEDA, the regional development agency, on the impact of the outbreak and EETB's activities. EEDA has been positive about financing business support activities, but cannot find funds for marketing and PR.

  3.8  From the earliest days of the outbreak EETB has briefed the media and has been positively received, with a great deal of coverage. As well as providing regularly updated information on its website, EETB has devised "121 great ideas" to help people plan visits, and has provided a regional call team to handle the regional information hotline seven days a week. EETB launched a pre-Easter marketing campaign, "This way for a great day out", designed to stimulate day visits to attractions. From late April to the end of May, EETB plans two new campaigns with offers from tourism businesses, to stimulate days out and short breaks.

  3.9  Week beginning 5 March:

    —  EETB launches website with up-to-date information on attractions that are open or closed, and advice to visitors;

    —  EETB provides information to tourism officers and businesses with e-mail facilities on how to deal with enquiries from prospective visitors and the media, as well as advice on cancellations; and

    —  EETB fields media enquiries on the effects of the outbreak on tourism businesses.

  3.10  Week beginning 12 March:

    —  12 March:  EETB conducts a telephone survey of a sample of businesses to establish impact of FMD;

    —  14-16 March: EETB conducts detailed case-studies of 40 businesses to establish impact of FMD;

    —  14 March: newsletter issued to tourism businesses, local authorities and EEDA, describing impact of FMD, advice to visitors, details of the case being made to government for support and cancellation advice for tourism businesses. Also included a brief questionnaire to assess impact;

    —  15 March: EETB attends DCMS summit meeting chaired by Janet Anderson MP, Minister for Tourism, Film and Broadcasting;

    —  16 March: new advice for visitors issued by the Chief Veterinary Officer;

    —  EETB contacts all Tourist Information Centres with request to run information hotline to respond to national hotline;

    —  17 March: EETB issues news release welcoming the new advice and providing information on the impact of FMD on tourism in the region;

    —  17 March: EETB writes to all county council leaders and chief executives asking them to review footpath closures in the light of CVO's new advice. EETB also writes to RSPB, English Heritage, National Trust and Broads Authority on same lines; and

    —  EETB appearances on regional TV, press and radio describing impact.

  3.11  Week beginning 19 March:

    —  20 March: EETB launches "121 great ideas" campaign on the web site, with suggestions of activities that conform to the CVO's advice.

    —  National and regional media release on "121 great ideas", generating national coverage (weekend press) and regional coverage (press, radio and TV).

    —  21 March: EETB launches regional information hotline, staffed seven days each week (0900-2000 weekdays; 1000-1700 weekends).

    —  23 March: request for marketing plan from ETC by 26 March.

    —  EETB begins daily phone-calls to media requesting mention of the website, information hotline etc.

    —  23 March; second newsletter issued to tourism businesses, local authorities, EEDA etc. Details of new advice from CVO, EETB's activities, help announced through the rates system.

    —  EETB appearances on regional TV, press and radio describing impact; CVO's advice to visitors and what people can see and do in the region.

  3.12  Week beginning 26 March:

    —  28 March: funding allocation of £125,000 notified, with the stipulation that a report on activity be submitted every two weeks.

    —  Guidance on opening visitor attractions disseminated to attractions and local authorities.

    —  Article on tourism and farming written for Crops magazine.

    —  EETB appearances on regional TV, press and radio describing impact; CVO's advice to visitors and what people can see and do in the region.

    —  30 March: Regional Task Force led by EEDA meets for the first time.

  3.13  Week beginning 2 April:

    —  2 April: EETB attends meeting with the Prime Minister in Colchester (EETB does live BBC TV interview following the visit).

    —  5 April: meeting with TIC managers and tourism officers; FMD briefing.

    —  5 April: EETB attends DCMS summit meeting chaired by Secretary of State for CMS.

    —  6 April: EETB attends breakfast meeting with Deputy Prime Minister in Norfolk.

    —  Briefing note issued to the region's MPs describing impact and current activities.

    —  Third newsletter issued to tourism businesses, local authorities, EEDA etc. Details of meetings with Prime Minister and Deputy Prime Minister; amended government advice on visitor attractions and events; government help for businesses (small firms loan guarantee scheme); national, international and regional marketing activity; advice to businesses.

    —  Continued operation of regional information hotline.

    —  Continued updating of regional website.

    —  "This way for a great day out" campaign launched in regional media; aimed at encouraging day visits within the region in the run-up to Easter. Press advertisements, posters in TICs etc.

    —  Articles quoting EETB in regional press.

  3.14  Week beginning 9 April:

    —  Notification by DETR of £15 million support for some RDAs, excluding East of England.

    —  "This way for a great day out" campaign continues.

    —  Continued operation of regional web site.

    —  11 April: EETB attends ETC's tourism forum to discuss recovery plans.

    —  12 April: EETB conducts survey on Easter bookings.

    —  13-15 April: EETB collects information on Easter visits to attractions, TICs and accommodation.

    —  Interviews on regional TV, radio and press on Easter expectations.

  3.15  Week beginning 16 April:

    —  16 April: EETB provides media with details of Easter activity;

    —  interviews on regional TV, radio and press regarding Easter business;

    —  19 April: first detailed report on two weeks' activity against FMD budget due and submitted to the English Tourism Council, with a plan for medium—long term activity;

    —  19 April: meeting of EETB's commercial members and regional tourism council; FMD briefing with BTA and ETC; and

    —  EETB's post-Easter days out and short breaks campaign launched to tourism businesses.

  3.16  Week beginning 23 April:

    —  23 April: meeting of EEDA business impact group;

    —  25 April: DCMS summit meeting;

    —  27 April: meeting of Regional Task force; and

    —  media launch of new marketing campaigns.

4.  Funding awarded to EETB for information and promotion in response to the FMD outbreak

  4.1  The Government has awarded tourism in England, through the English Tourism Council, £3.8 million to combat the impact in the short term (to the end of May). (ETC's complete recovery plan added up to £35.5 million; so far, there is no indication that any more money will be forthcoming).

  4.2  The £3.8 million compares with, for example, a £13.5 million relief package announced by the Scottish Executive, of which £5 million is for information and marketing. This exemplifies the disparity in tourism funding within the UK, especially for marketing (please see paragraph 5.1 below).

  4.3  Of this £3.8 million, £1.36 million was awarded by the English Tourism Council to the regional tourist boards, as follows:

    —  £75,000 to London Tourist Board;

    —  £115,000 to South East England Tourist Board;

    —  £115,000 to Southern Tourist Board;

    —  £125,000 to East of England Tourist Board;

    —  £125,000 to Yorkshire Tourist Board;

    —  £125,000 to North West Tourist Board;

    —  £125,000 to Northumbria Tourist Board;

    —  £155,000 to Heart of England Tourist Board;

    —  £195,000 to Cumbria Tourist Board; and

    —  £225,000 to South West Tourism.

  4.4  EETB is due to receive £125,000 for use until the end of May. The use of the money is to be accounted for through detailed reports every two weeks. A further £600,000 remains to be allocated to the regional tourist boards. From the end of May, there is no indication that any further money will be received to continue marketing campaigns into the summer, or to mitigate the long-term impact.

5.  Issues for the Committee's consideration

  5.1  There is no government funding to the English Tourism Council or the regional tourist boards to support marketing. This is unique within the UK. The funding England receives for tourism is also significantly smaller, given that it generates approximately 85 per cent of the UK's tourism receipts. For example, in 1999-2000 the English Tourism Council received £11.8 million (£0.24 per head of population); Scottish Tourist Board receive £19.3 million (£3.78 per head); Wales Tourist Board received £15.4 million (£5.24 per head) and Northern Ireland Tourist Board received £13.9 million (£8.18 per head). This is at a time when the English tourism deficit is growing: that is, more people are leaving the country for holidays year on year than are visiting, even before the FMD outbreak.

  5.2  There will undoubtedly be a long-term impact of the FMD outbreak, and there is a need for long-term investment in English tourism, especially the reinstatement of funding for marketing. It is a great shame that it has taken a disaster like this to put tourism at the top of the political agenda. The importance of tourism to the national, rural and regional economy has been demonstrated beyond all doubt, and the very long supply-chain of affected businesses has also been demonstrated. The industry needs long-term investment, not only to help it recover from this crisis, but also to maximise its potential return to the economy over the long term, and reverse the declining trends.

  5.3  Funds for marketing are generated by the regional tourist boards themselves, through promotions, including brochures, which are supported by commercial advertising. This limits the scale and scope of tourism promotion: for example, major consumer advertising campaigns and PR campaigns cannot usually be undertaken because funding from tourism businesses is not available for generic campaigns.

  5.4  This deficiency in marketing funding for England has been highlighted by the foot and mouth disease outbreak. The regional tourist boards have had to respond very quickly to the need to provide information and advice for tourism businesses, and information for visitors about where to visit.

  5.5  They have risen to the challenge, but with great difficulty. There is a lack of Information and Communications technology infrastructure within the regional tourist boards, tourist information centres and tourism businesses themselves, which has hampered communications. Most regional tourist boards have a small marketing team and have had to buy in PR support: in some, as in EETB, the Managing Director has undertaken the PR work personally.

  5.6  The outbreak will cause a longer-term impact on regional tourist boards' finances. Tourism businesses won't have enough spare money to support accommodation or attractions inspections, which will have an impact on quality assurance and the quality of the English tourism product in the longer term. It will have an impact on tourist board promotions, because businesses won't have cash to support them, and on membership fees, on which the regional tourist boards rely. DCMS has allowed regional tourist board funding to be advanced to help with cash flow, which is welcome, but this does not compare with the subsidies (50 per cent) announced in Scotland for quality assurance inspections and area tourist board membership.

  5.7  The Government has announced an additional £15 million for four RDA areas: the south west, north west, west midlands and north east. This takes no account of the impact felt elsewhere in the country: funding should be available for all regions.

  5.8  A further important issue is the disparity of VAT rates for tourism between the UK and our European competitors. The rate is 17.5 per cent in the UK, while the average is 8 per cent across Europe.

  5.9  The Treasury appears to be arguing that as VAT returns have not been affected, the impact of the outbreak is minimal. This ignores the fact that the vast majority of tourism businesses are small or micro-businesses, and are not VAT registered.

  5.10  Tourism is also under-represented in the Standard Industry Classifications, which take into account no element for retail (which relies on tourism in many places), public sector or self-employed people in some models (again, a large proportion of the industry).

April 2001

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