Examination of Witnesses(Questions 20-37)|
TUESDAY 5 NOVEMBER 2002
20. How do you drive up quality standards? Most
of us could give some story of a hotel in Blackpool at some point
because we all have to go there at least once every three years
for party conferences. Having stayed in Stalag Luft 3 on several
occasions now, I am keen to see the quality of hotels improve
and the price of hotels come down.
(Ms Lynch) As we all are. That is one of the biggest
challenges we face. Blackpool is an example. I was there myself
only a few weeks ago. What I would say to the Committee is that
as people who are very much influencing tourism policy and tourism
development, is that we could provide some information to you
about what Blackpool is trying to do. It is trying to get from
where it is now, which it recognises is not an ideal situation,
it has a lot of old accommodation stock, it has a lot of limitations
in terms of size and space and so on, it has a changing customer
base, and it has identified where it wants to get to. It is doing
a whole range of things such as using European funding to help
businesses to invest in new developments, improving their quality.
It is advocating for example that in future only businesses which
are part of some quality scheme will be promoted and that is a
very brave thing to do when a place like Blackpool just two years
ago only had 15 per cent of its accommodation stock in any kind
of quality inspection scheme at all. It has a vision for how things
can be better. It certainly is not right yet, but it is actually
making great strides to get there.
21. I am not trying to encourage snobbery, which
can be quite predominant in British attitudes about British holidays;
things are maybe improving and many people find that they have
an excellent, good value holiday in Blackpool. Many of my constituents
go every second or third weekend, so it would be wrong to criticise.
However, there is still an issue, is there not, about Britain
being perceived as an expensive place for people to go on holiday?
(Mr Britten) It is perceived as an expensive place
and it is an expensive place relative to straight price comparison,
but tourism is not all about price. None of us would ever say
that you should not go on a cheap package holiday to Spain or
should not go to the Algarve to play golf or Tuscany or wherever
you want to go to. What we are saying is that we have never been
able to put forward the alternative, and you are not just talking
about price, there is also value. There are wonderful things in
this country. The country has invested a huge amount of money,
some of it through the Lottery, in places like the Lowry Centre,
the Imperial War Museum, the south bank of the Tyne, the new art
gallery in Walsall, the Eden Project, Tate Modern. It goes on
and on and on. There are wonderful things to do here. Some of
the museums are free, so it is not a cost thing there. There are
wonderful walking and countryside holidays. My contention is that
people go abroad and nobody is making the case for a good alternative
in this country. Perhaps once in a hundred we could stop people
going to northern Germany and Amsterdam. There are places where
they would love to come here and we have not been making the case.
That is how I see it.
22. You said that tourism was the fifth largest
industry. Can you tell me in terms of overseas exports, in other
words people coming to the United Kingdom from overseas and spending
dollars and euros and whatever, where we rank?
(Mr Britten) We think it is sixth, but you had better
ask our colleagues in the BTA because they know more about the
inbound traffic than we do.
23. It has always struck me when the name was
changed from National Heritage to Culture, Media and Sport that
within the Department tourism is the biggest industry, so it seemed
remarkable that they put in the culture, the media and the sport,
but chose to leave out the tourism. You talked about £11
million being the total money being spent in England. I just want
to ask about how you focus that money. You talked quite rightly
about the value of places like the Eden Project and the Lowry
Museum and so on. One of the problems nowadays is with cheap flights.
It is not just people going to Spain but people going to the United
States and to Australia, as I do, for a couple of weeks and you
can do this very cheaply. Do you think that the marketing of Englandand
I know you are doing the marketingto the English is focused
enough with the limited resources which are available?
(Mr Britten) The £11 million is the grant-in-aid
which is given to the English Tourism Council. There is a lot
more money promoting England given by local authorities to the
regions and so on. One of the problems we have at the moment is
that that is not co-ordinated, it is not focused, everybody is
doing their own thing in all directions.
24. Will that be overcome by the merger?
(Mr Britten) It should be, because you are going to
have a stronger group with, I hope, more clout, with a marketing
role, a given responsibility to try to encourage co-ordination.
The other thing which is totally lacking, if you go entirely for
a decentralised system where destinations promote themselves,
is any kind of promotion of things which cross regional boundaries.
Nobody is marketing cathedral tours, for example.
25. You only said that because I represent the
great cathedral city of Lichfield.
(Mr Britten) I never knew that!
26. Following on remarks about seaside places
like Blackpool, I am afraid I do have to agree with Chris Bryant
and wonder whether it is worth promoting seaside resortsdangerous
stuff this because I was born near Brightonas seaside resorts
per se any more when presumably people go to a seaside resort
primarily to go on the beach?
(Mr Britten) It depends. In some cases it certainly
is. We did a paper in response called Sea Changes recommending
what you should do at seaside resorts. We were unequivocal that
some of them should pack their bags and stop trying to be that.
They should do something different. On the other hand, you look
at the statistics today and you see that Torquay, for example,
has had its best year in 20 years.
27. Why is that, do you think?
(Mr Britten) Because it is working hard to offer some
things which people want. Your colleague mentioned that people
do want to go to Blackpool. People want different things and our
business is to find a market and satisfy that market. I would
not by any means write out all seaside resorts. They should all
reconsider what they are offering. Some, like Margate for example,
are now trying to introduce a Turner Centre. It is an excellent
idea to try to find a cultural icon for that place. They need
to rethink their identities. If they are flogging on down the
same old road, then they are set for disaster, but they can rethink
themselves and recreate themselves and they do have attractions.
28. I did take my family to England and Scotland
for their holiday this year. We booked our Scottish holiday via
the VisitScotland website, but we could not book our holiday in
England via a decent website. It is depressing 34 years after
the internet was created, ten years since websites started being
around. When we asked you last year hardly any of the regional
tourist councils in England had a website so where are we with
(Ms Lynch) When we gave evidence to the Committee
last time, seven out of ten regional tourist boards had a consumer
website. Now all ten have consumer facing websites, but the outstanding
need and the point you have made very well is that if you are
thinking of going somewhere in England but have not yet decided
where you want to go, then there is no equivalent to the VisitScotland
website, the Wales website or even for overseas visitors the VisitBritain
website. There is no VisitEngland. That is part of the vision
for EnglandNet and we are on track to have that in place by January.
The reason why it has taken from the time we last met to now is
that it took over 12 months to persuade the Treasury that this
was a worthwhile investment for England. VisitScotland came into
being because of investment over five years ago of £11 million.
The key reason why we have been able to persuade the Treasury
of the need for this is partly because of your experience as a
customer, that it is absolutely the way people are researching
and buying travel these days and partly because individual businesses
cannot do it for themselves. If you are Hilton you can do it for
yourself, but if you are one of 128,000 small businesses, you
actually need the tools so that you have something to link into.
That is why it is one of the key achievements of the English Tourism
Council. That was not there, it was a major weakness for England
and it will be there.
29. Another factor is that as a result of RyanAir
and EasyJet and Go, which is now part of EasyJet, and other cheaper
airlines it is possible to go to Barcelona for £25. It is
not possible to go anywhere in England for £25, certainly
not by air. Certainly when I tried to go to Manchester during
the Commonwealth Games it was not possible to go for £25
and it is only half of the distance to Barcelona. My point is
that airports are key here. What people want is point to point
contact as fast as possible for the holiday. What impact have
you had on the Government's airport strategy which is currently
going the rounds and which closes at the end of the month?
(Mr Britten) It is perfectly true that air travel
is very expensive within England. I imagine it will come down
because competition will sort things and it is a very competitive
market. Our prime contribution to the airport debate is to stress
what in our view is important, which is the development of regional
airports. We feel that we want to diversify tourists out of London.
I have said several times that when you go to the Algarve you
do not fly through Lisbon and I do not see why people going to
the Eden Project should fly through Heathrow. There is a very
good airport down there in Newquay which could well be developed.
We could spread tourists actively around England by developing
more regional airports which would to some extent alleviate the
pressure on London.
30. Everybody who wrote to us agrees that England
needs to be marketed. How much? How much money does it need to
(Ms Lynch) Part of the debate over the summer was
to answer exactly that question. The English Tourism Council,
along with representatives from the commercial sector, came together,
many of them marketing directors of big organisations, to address
that issue: how much should we put on the table? Their unanimous
view was that you needed to put £10 million as a minimum
which would then be matched by the private sector to do an effective
marketing job for England.
31. How much does Scotland spend?
(Ms Lynch) In total the allocation is £40 million.
32. Yes, but how much does it actually spend
(Ms Lynch) Because the £40 million is for the
next financial year, I cannot answer precisely, but it is going
to be about £25 million.
33. What percentage was it in Wales?
(Ms Lynch) About £18 million.
34. So England, a much bigger country, only
£10 million. That is not viable, is it? Ten million is not
enough, is it?
(Ms Lynch) When we had a debate on this subject with
representatives of the Treasury present, we came to the conclusion
that it was almost impossible to answer the question, how much
is enough? What you had to say was: what level of business do
you want to generate? The industry focused on the question of
what they felt the minimum was to have an impact.
35. But to have significantly less than either
Wales or Scotland ... Surely a mean around what Scotland and Wales
have got would be a more viable figure as a bottom starting point.
Look at what Scotland are doing, look at what Wales are doing
and some figure near that. Is it industry which is not willing
to back or is it the Treasury which is not willing to upfront?
Where is the problem?
(Ms Lynch) The view from the industry, and this is
supported in their submissions, particularly from the Tourism
Alliance, is that they want to work with government, they will
work in partnership, they will put match funding on the table,
but they think it has to be a partnership and that means there
has to be some funding on the table.
36. I have got that point. What I am saying
is that £10 million is clearly not enough, it really is not.
If Wales is £17 million and Scotland £25 million, then
England has to be at least up there. Is it the Treasury which
is not putting in the upfront money, the £20 million that
it probably needs, or is it the industry which says it is not
going to back that amount of money, a bit lower, a bit lower?
Which is it? Where is the problem?
(Mr Britten) It is certainly not the industry saying
a bit lower, a bit lower.
37. So it is Government.
(Mr Britten) I agree entirely with Mary; you can never
say what is enough. It is certainly an intention that this new,
larger, stronger organisation will make better use of the money
which is out there now, because it is not just the money coming
from the English Tourism Council.
Chairman: Thank you very, very much indeed.
It has been extremely useful, though, I have to tell you, from
my point of view rather depressing. Thank you very much indeed.