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The willingness of the Government to invest was reflected in January, when they held a tourism summit in Liverpool to mark the end of the city of culture festival. At that summit, the Prime Minister, the Secretary of State and the Minister for Tourism acknowledged that the Government needed to support the sector more and asked for the industry to supply the Government with a list of priorities. Immediately, the industry responded to that request and submitted its priorities, which included tactical marketing campaigns, greater co-operation in public expenditure on tourism, financial sensitivity to seasonal tourism, and the resolution of regulatory issues such as visa fees and air passenger duty. I urge the Government to review each of those recommendations without more ado.
I end with a historical perspective. Forty years ago, a Labour Minister, the former Secretary of State, Anthony Crosland, recognised the importance of the tourism industry and its contribution to all parts of the economy, with the introduction of the Development of Tourism Act, which, incidentally, is the only tourism Act on the statute book to date. It brought into being the national tourism boards of the United Kingdom and established the framework under which tourism has grown. In the debate on tourism on 22 January in this House, no credit was given to Anthony Crosland for introducing the Act, and I am very pleased to put the record straight today. Forty years on, we have another opportunity to invest for success and growth, which will benefit all parts of our local, regional and national economies.
We must seize this opportunity to support one of our most dynamic, sustainable and home-grown industries. Tourism must be taken more seriously by Governments. Admittedly, it is a difficult industry to represent itself, because it is so diverse, but it will need a strong Secretary of State to bang the Cabinet table on its behalf.
The Earl of Caithness: My Lords, I declare some interests. I am a trustee of two castle tourist attractions and chairman of the Caithness Archaeological Trust and am involved in the gathering to be held in Edinburgh shortly.
I am most grateful to the noble Lord, Lord Pendry, for introducing the debate because, sadly, I was unable to take part in the debate in January introduced by the noble Earl, Lord Glasgow, who will speak shortly. It was interesting that that debate concentrated on the lack of interest by government in tourism; that was highlighted quite strongly. Yesterday, we were discussing carbon emissions as part of the Climate Change Act orders. It occurred to me that when visitors come to Britain they need to come either by plane, by ferry or by train and that we are a long, thin island that requires a lot of travelling. It occurred to me that the Government were seeking to meet the targets on carbon emissions by reducing the funding for tourism, so that people would not come. Can the Minister confirm whether that is a hidden government policy?
This country has lost its traditional economic and industrial strengths. Even the one shining post-industrial light, financial services, has faded. The Government are now driving the wealth generators away from our shores, so increasingly, people will grasp at tourism as the new saviour. Sadly, the mentality generally matches that grasping: pack them in, stack them high and sell the brand quick. That may be right in some areas, but all the surveys that we have carried out in the north of Scotland show that people want exactly the opposite: quality, not quantity. Most of them go there because they cannot find what they want elsewhere.
When discussing tourism in the UK, it is too simplisticbut temptingto focus only on the main cities and prime destinations. To produce a solution for them and think that solves the problem for the whole of the UK is a road to ruin. Tourism is a multifaceted business that is international, national and regional. It encompasses large, medium and small-sized businesses, which, although often run by volunteers, form an important and too often neglected part of the mosaic, as they do not have a strong, united voice. It also covers hotels, bed and breakfasts and restaurants as well as visitor destinations. It is, as the noble Lord, Lord Pendry, has just said, very diverse.
There need to be a number of solutions. To make them the success that they should be necessitates strong links and a common sense of direction between central government, local government, development agencies, statutory agencies and the private sector. Those links need to be flexible to accommodate the different requirements of the various sectors and allow the niche markets to play their full part. Regrettably, those links have become too fragmented. Consequently, the agencies have become much too rigid and inflexible and this is causing huge damage to the industry.
Even though the average length of stay and spend per night by visitors is less in Scotland than in England, tourism is still hugely important, especially in the Highlands, where 14 per cent of all employment is tourist-related, compared with the Scottish average of 9 per cent. Thus, the further north one goes, the greater is the dependence on tourism, but the shorter is the tourist season. It is even more necessary to maximise the opportunities that we have. Due to the distinctive built heritage, culture, history, food and drink, each area is different and thus should be encouraged to create its own niche market, to which people would travel and pay to see.
Let me take Caithness as an example. A recent survey showed that most people came for its iconic landscape and scenery. Furthermore, 33 per cent of our visitors said they had visited archaeological sites, compared with 17 per cent for the Highlands as a whole. In the past six years, the economy of the area has benefited from more than £2 million, due to the archaeological work that has been carried out by the private sector.
We have proved to the Highland Council that there is a good economic return from the preservation and proper presentation of our old stones. Indeed, there is still a huge potential to improve facilities so as to maximise the enjoyment of the visitor as well as to improve that economic return. However, it cannot be done by the private sector alone. Other agencies and the local authority must play their part. In particular, the local authority must remember that the many visitors who come to see the archaeological monuments in their natural setting will not come to see them if they are beside a wind farm or next to a modern kit-built house.
Central government holds the key to a successful industry and needs to show its full commitment to improving tourism. Planning is one of its roles. It has to be even more mindful of the importance of tourism to rural areas as most of its members come from cities and towns. It also needs to work closely with local government to ensure that the appropriate travel infrastructure is in place so that visitors can access all parts of the country easily, which is not the case now.
Turning to the other agencies involved in tourism, I noted that in his reply to the British tourism framework review report, Achieving the Full Potential of the Visitor Economy, the Secretary of State says:
Britains national tourism agency will need to provide a core marketing capability for its strategic partners, including industry, the national tourism organisations in England, Scotland and Wales, VisitLondon and the RDAs, in addressing global markets.
The national tourism organisation for Scotland is VisitScotland. Unfortunately, many tourism organisations have lost faith in that agency and are doing their own thing because they feel that they have been paying a lot of money for no reward. This is a major problem. There needs to be a much better and closer working relationship between VisitScotland and the diverse local communities and tourist organisations if the Secretary of States and the Tourism Ministers words are not to become just another sound bite.
One example of where that co-operation, after a slow start, is now working well is the support VisitScotland is giving to the private sector, which is organising the largest get together of the Scottish diaspora, with the gathering to be held in Edinburgh, on the last weekend of July. Not since the visit of George IV in 1822 will Edinburgh have seen such a spectacle.
VisitScotland has been amazed at the pull that ancestral tourism has and the gathering is expected to boost the economy by £8 million, which is 20 per cent of the expected economic benefit of the whole year of the homecoming. The interest that has been shown from around the world has been generated not by digital marketing and associated e-commerce, as the Minister put it in the same reply I referred to earlier, but by the private sector getting out on the stump and
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Earlier I explained that archaeology and heritage can be an attractive and economically beneficial niche market. Another government agency that needs to look closely at its working methods is the Heritage Lottery Fund. It is not just that its budget has been slashed to help pay for, in some parts, the much resented and increasingly taxpayer-funded London Olympics, but it does not appear to be interested in heritage anymore. It has become too inflexible in its requirements and criteria. Without its support, the best of our heritage, in the more remote parts of our island, will not be preserved. That, in turn, will have repercussions for tourism and the economy.
What we need is a diverse tourism industry that puts a premium on taste, not tat; that leaves visitors feeling spoilt, not soiled; and that leaves a land that is fit, if not for heroes, then at least returnees. Too much of our tourism falls badly short of these basic criteria. I appreciate how difficult it is to pull all the sometimes competing strands of tourism together but unless a much more determined effort is made by all involved, with a strong lead given by the Government, Britain will continue to decline in importance as a tourist destination and our economy will be much the poorer.
The Earl of Glasgow: My Lords, I, too, should like to say how grateful I am to the noble Lord, Lord Pendry, for giving us another opportunity to debate the state of British tourism. I will be endorsing much of what he said.
Since our debate in January, VisitBritain has published its British tourism review, entitled, Achieving the Full Potential of the Visitor Economy. This, again, was referred to by the noble Lord, Lord Pendry. It was commissioned by the then Secretary of State for Culture, Media and Sport, James Purnell, and is far and away the most comprehensive and objective report on the state of British tourism so far. Among many other things, the report regretsas I think we all probably dothat successive governments have paid so little attention to tourism and, even now, are reducing VisitBritains marketing budget. I would urge the Minister to take special note of this report, commissioned by one of his colleagues, and try to persuade the Government to take on board some of the reports considerations and recommendations.
Three important facts emerge from the report which the Government must surely regard as significant. The first, which the noble Lord, Lord Pendry, has already mentioned, is that tourism is Britains fourth largest industryit is Scotlands second. It employs 1.4 million people full time and another million or so part time, and contributes £86 billion to the economy. This in itself is surely a good enough reason for the Government to take tourism seriously.
Secondly, easily the largest number of small businesses that start up yearly come from the tourist industry. Some of these are very small, with turnovers of less
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Thirdly, a thriving tourist industryit looks as though the tourist industry will thrive this year and even benefit from the recessioncan absorb large numbers of the unemployed, if only on a seasonal basis. So often in this business, a cheerful and friendly disposition is far more valuable than a university degree. Yet despite these important facts, successive Governments have allowed our tourist industry to fall further and further behind our competitionother countries. Relative to the size of their populations, far more people go to Ireland and New Zealand than to Britain. You would expect Britain to have as many, if not more, attractions than either of those two countries, but no: it is because the Irish and New Zealand Governments believe tourism to be important to their economies, and they are prepared to spend money promoting themselves and making certain that the visitor has a good experience when he gets there.
In this time of recession, with a weaker pound and fewer Britons going abroad for their holidays, this is the ideal time for our Government to invest in their tourist industry, not cut its budget. Apart from increasing VisitBritains budget so that it can more effectively market Britain throughout the world, the Government should also through their various agencies encourage and assist new small businesses to start upnew craft shops, new cafes, specialist tourist operators, coach services, local museums, farmhouse bed and breakfasts and all sorts of new visitor attractions and sporting activities.
What we most lack in comparison with other countries are tourist information centres. This is one of my hobbyhorses; I feel very strongly about it. There are so few of them now, which is particularly noticeable at gateways to the country, particularly airports. A tourist information centre is very much more than a place where you can pick up a brochure and ask for train times. It should proclaim to the world: You are welcome here. We want you to learn more about our country. We want you to get the most out of your visit here, and when you have more time we want you to come back again.
In a recent survey by VisitBritain, Britain came 13th out of 14 countries that were tested in its reputation for friendliness to the visitor. This is very shaming. A handy visitor centre manned by efficient, knowledgeable and above all friendly staff could do more than almost anything else to improve our image. Yet more and more of the still existing TICs are being closed down. The reason that is given is that they are costly to run and usually located on expensive prime sites, although there is no point in having a TIC if it is hidden away. They are usually partly or largely financed by local authorities, which are being forced to cut their costs. Some argue that because everything is done on the internet nowadays, they are not as necessary as they once were, but this completely misses the point. Tourism is a people business. The visitor wants human contact and friendly help. He cannot get that from his computer:
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Finally, I shall quote from the excellent report to which I referred and which declares:
I hope that the Minister will seriously consider adopting some of the reports recommendations.
The Earl of Sandwich: My Lords, six years ago, my noble kinsman, the noble Lord, Lord Montagu of Beaulieu, spoke in a similar debate that was also opened by the noble Lord, Lord Pendry. He said that he had been speaking on tourism in this House for 50 years. I wish that he was speaking today as he has accumulated so much experience of tourism, both in Parliament and in his own successful ventures at Beaulieu. I have no pretension to follow him, except that I also seek to promote the potential of the south-west, in which he played such an outstanding role.
The 2003 debate was held at a time of great uncertainty because of the effects of 9/11 and Iraq, the foot and mouth outbreak and SARS. It was held soon after the Government had announced the creation of VisitBritain. Yet most speakers agreed, as they seem to do now, that the Government were not giving enough support to one of their most important industries at a vulnerable time. Now we are in a recession and the same is true today. The words of the noble Lord, Lord Montagu, seem highly relevant. He said:
Tourism has always been vulnerable to major disruptions, and the cost to our industry and to jobs can be enormous. We need an early commitment from the Government to be prepared to provide a long-term investment to help Britain to improve the tourism infrastructure and win its share of demand against ever-growing competition from other nations. More than ever before, we cannot afford to neglect our tourism potential. We do so at our peril.[Official Report, 30/4/03; col. 746.]
The then Minister, the noble Lord, Lord Davies, who was here a moment ago, had no money to offer that day. His response was in kind. He pointed to the VisitBritain merger, the increased role of the regional development agencies and partnership with industry. It will be interesting to see whether our new Minister can provide anything more tangible. Meanwhile, the new flagship VisitBritain has itself had to endure an 18 per cent cut over three years and we have a diminishing share of the world market.
Can we at least expect the Minister to reaffirm the Governments support for recommendations 5, 6 and 7 of the British Tourism Framework Review, which urge the raising of the profile of tourism in national policy? This seems to me essential considering how low the Government have allowed it to fall. The DCMS response is quite positive. The new advisory council and the cross-Whitehall group are obviously a step forward but results will have to come from political will power as much as from setting up new machinery.
In a recession, the tourism industry will need to show a lot of ingenuity and I am pleased to say that in the south-west this is happening. The quiet corner of the west country where I live, a few miles from the sea, has woken up to a completely new concept of tourism, namely the Jurassic Coast, now declared a world heritage site. The entire west Dorset and east Devon coastline is fast becoming another wonder of the worlda geological walk through time, spanning the Triassic, Jurassic and Cretaceous periods. I spent part of last Sunday in a newly discovered pub overlooking the Chesil Bank at Portland, sipping my Jurassic beer. The Olympic sailing events promised at Weymouth and Portland in 2010 will provide a huge opportunity for tourist attractions along this coastline and Dorset must make the most of it.
The coast nearest to me beyond Bridport is apparently Lower Jurassic and 180 million years old. As a result, Lyme Regis and Charmouth have become great centres for old fossils, appropriately enough perhaps for my generation, and for many young people. The 630-mile-long south-west coast path from Poole to Minehead, assuming that it emerges unscathed from the Marine and Coastal Access Bill, is already more or less open to serious walkers.
I remember driving foreign tourists as a student and feeling exasperated that they always wanted to go to the same placesStratford, Broadway, Bath. Perhaps it was the hall porter who used to make those decisions for them. I notice the VisitBritain website still takes you automatically to Bath on its west country map, and then straight across to Cornwall. If you persevere, however, and click on Jurassic, you will now virtually explore the gateway towns along the Dorset coast.
I would like to hear how the Minister feels about the increased role of the RDAs. I confess I am suspicious that a lot of the regional idea is about strategy and partnership and not a lot about helping people in the tourist industry. For example, I find on the Partners for England website the following statement:
A national tourism strategy for England is a priority for Partners for England. One of the key outcomes of the British Tourism Framework Review is that VisitEngland should work with Partners for England to create and deliver a bottom-up national strategy.
This area of the site will be expanded in due course to include information about strategy development.
Why can we not read about real support for people involved in the business of tourism and not always about strategy? I sympathise with the comment of the noble Earl, Lord Glasgow, about the TICs. Tourism promotion support must be effective at local as well as regional and national level. We need new ideas which recognise the commitment of practitioners on the ground. I have my doubts whether the RDAs can achieve this. All the southern RDAs have suffered cuts this year and the south-west RDA is short of about £50 million. It did allocate £7.12 million to a project within the Jurassic Coast framework programme but announced in January that it will be withdrawing from some of thatfrom proposed visitor centres in Exmouth and Seaton.
In Dorset, we have severe communications and transport problems common to many rural communities, including poor mobile telephone and broadband coverage. Local authorities are not doing enough to overcome the delays and costs created by planning and listed building regulations, and all the obstacles which have blighted excellent new tourist initiatives, such as Destination Dorset. But there is a government responsibility here too. I know that the Minister is very familiar with this subject, but does he accept that there is a digital urban-rural divide and that communications failures are a new form of social deprivation? People are even moving house to find broadband.
Historic houses in remote rural settings make an important contribution to the wider economy. I declare an interest as a member of the Historic Houses Association and the Country Land and Business Association, and I am the joint owner of a tourist attraction in west Dorset. When my wife and I took on an historic house 25 years ago we received a handful of visitors and we now receive about 10,000 each year. We were proud to be named by Country Life as the nation's finest manor house. We enjoy it and mostly it works well, but we do it at some personal cost. Managing a property like this, along with all the undertakings that we have to give, is extremely hard work. The Government could help us by imposing the minimum of restrictions. Historic houses now receive some 16 million visitors per annum, and more than four in five visitors to the UK are likely to see an historic building. Yet the Government insist on tighter regulation of this sector. Licensing fees, permissions for special events and temporary structures, form-filling, questionnaires, and changing the trading regime for bed and breakfast accommodation, which is hitting a lot of people, are all of concern to members of the HHA and the CLA like us.
In conclusion, my concern in entering this debate is that the Government should think harder about the people involved in tourism and remove some of the negative effects of their wider fiscal and economic policies. Tourism is the public face of our nation: it is the face we are proud to put on. Support for tourism should not be all about coastal gateways, showcases and visitor centres, but also should encourage the individuals who meet tourists every day in their own homes, the small businesses and the attractions that make up the fabric of our national life.
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