The Changing Shape of the UK Visitor Economy - report

Wednesday April 24, 2019

Tourism Consultants Network seminar:

The Changing Shape of the UK Visitor Economy

28th February 2019, LGA offices, Smith Square, Westminster


The TCN’s first event in 2019 was a positive start to our year. While modest in number, the audience was highly engaged and rewarded by three excellent presentations by our invited speakers. It provided an opportunity for some reflection, for hearing about current policy priorities and, especially, for discussing future challenges.

Reflecting the title of the seminar, TCN Chairman Roger Goodacre reminded us that this year is the 50th anniversary of the Development of Tourism Act.  There have been many changes since that time, not least in the supporting structures for tourism which are less clear than they were back then.

Kurt Janson, Director, Tourism Alliance presented an update on government policy.  He drew attention to five key issues.

  • The Tourism Industry Deal has made good progress. The four key areas are: skills, productivity, connectivity and Tourism Action Zones.  The latter are likely to be determined through a competition. The Tourism Alliance is launching a tourism green paper which will highlight the importance of tourism to the economy and ensure that the Deal is not the end of tourism policy.
  • The Aviation Green Paper predicts UK passenger movements will grow from 284m to 435m by 2050, assumes a third runway will be built at Heathrow, argues that this growth can take place without exceeding the UK’s aviation climate targets, aims to introduce noise controls and aims to set minimum air quality standards.
  • The Immigration White Paper contains elements which may benefit tourism. The Electronic Travel Authorisation scheme will help fast tracking of arrivals and the Youth Mobility Scheme could also provide opportunities.  However, the income threshold of £30k for a Tier 2 (General Work) visa could be a challenge as 85% of employees in the hospitality sector earn less than this.
  • The Package Travel Regulations have been subject to a review that mirrors the EU Experts Review, considers problems with implementation and aims to clarify guidance.
  • The BEIS Regulatory Burden Study should help to reduce burdens on the tourism sector.  It aims to understand how SMEs access information and guidance and will recommend new ways of providing support.

In response to questions, Kurt reported that tourism was currently seen favourably by government as a stable sector that is based on irremovable assets (such as Stonehenge!).  He explained that Tourism Action Zones should be areas which are ‘recognisable to a tourist’. He hoped that many areas will benefit from the initiative, including the preparation of tourism action plans, beyond those Zones that may be initially identified.

Lyndsey Turner Swift, Head of England Planning & Delivery at VisitEngland/VisitBritain spoke about the impact of the Discover England Fund and how this may be further developed.  Its objective of promoting world class bookable tourism product has been achieved. Connectivity and overcoming the barrier of the last mile has been addressed.  The Fund has provided support for 66 projects over three years, benefitting far more initiatives than had originally been envisaged.  A significant proportion of the funding has also been used on research, evaluation and distribution activity.

The Discover England Fund has delivered significant learning outcomes, notably an increased understanding of how to work with the travel trade.  It has also contributed to a greater understanding of the clarity of roles between the different players.   It has been found that a longer lead is time is needed for product development.  Moving forward, an online distribution platform is being developed and the need to embed the product in VistEngland’s core activities is recognised.   A second phase of DEF would address the domestic market and prioritise regional dispersal. 

VisitEngland has been pleased to work with tourism consultants on the delivery of DEF.  They have also been engaged in undertaking related research and presenting international cases studies to illustrate the opportunities.  At a local level, 76 DMOs have been involved in the scheme.

Councillor Peter Golds, LGA Culture, Tourism and Sport Board presented data on the importance of tourism to the economy alongside data on low educational attainment, low pay, insecure work and significant economic disparities in different parts of the UK.  The juxtaposition of these sets of data could be taken as a challenge for our sector.  Local Authorities have an important role to play in supporting the development of tourism and driving local growth, employment and skills, but have been affected by significant cuts in funding.  However, opportunities exist for them to work with other stakeholders and Peter was optimistic about their future role.  

He went on to speak about three specific issues and opportunities that can be addressed through coordinated action at a local level.  First, in some locations a tourist tax could be helpful, but this should be a local decision.  Secondly, low levels of aspiration to work in the hospitality industry and insufficient respect for those who do so, reduces the likelihood of people opting for this as a career and acquiring the necessary skills.  Thirdly, culture-led regeneration offers considerable further potential within destinations and has been the subject of a publication by the LGA.  In conclusion Peter pointed to the opportunity for consultants in the TCN to engage with the LGA, Local Authorities, businesses and Government on destination management.

A discussion session was chaired by Tom Buncle, TCN Committee member.  He referred to the need to manage growth. Lyndsey said that VisitEngland has become more aware of issues of potential overtourism, balancing domestic and international markets, promoting dispersal and considering supply and demand.  In response to a further question from the audience, on improving the collection of data to assist management, she said that this was reflected in the Tourism Sector Deal.

Apprehension was expressed from the audience about the impact of a tourist tax on competitiveness, given the imposition of VAT on tourism expenditure in the UK.  There was concern that local authorities may not be thinking this through.  A counter opinion was also raised, that a tourist tax could help in the development of the industry. The overall feeling was that more work needs to be done in this area, but that it should be seen as a devolved matter for local decision. 

Some concern was raised about Tourism Action Zones and their relationship with destination management as a whole.  The importance of ensuring that the right mechanisms are in place for local stakeholders to work together was stressed. In response to a question about how Tourism Action Zones will relate to BIDs, Lyndsey said that they would connect all relevant structures.

The seminar had covered various important subjects of current concern whose resolution could guide the changing shape of the UK visitor economy for the better. Tourism consultants should continue to engage in the debate.

Richard Denman, FTS