Select Committee on Culture, Media and Sport Minutes of Evidence


Memorandum submitted by Devon County Council

  1.  Devon County Council is pleased to be invited to submit evidence to this Committee. It will be represented at the hearing by its Chief Executive, Philip Jenkinson. Although Devon County Council no longer has administrative responsibility for Torbay and Plymouth, both created unitary authorities in 1998, the visitor makes no such distinction and therefore the content of this memorandum applies across the whole of Devon, including Torbay and Plymouth.

  2.  Devon is well known as a tourist destination in the South West of England. The county provides a mix of coastal resorts, historic cities and towns, quaint villages, a wide range of attractions and warm hospitality. Its links with agriculture are epitomised by its famous Devonshire Cream. Moreover agriculture has helped shape the countryside which visitors find so attractive. The impact of foot and mouth disease is therefore crippling not just to agriculture, ancillary industries and rural communities, but also to the tourist industry and the various businesses which exist as a result of the tourist industry.

  3.  So concerned was the County Council about the economic impact foot and mouth disease would have and the need to quantify this, its Executive Committee on 6 March 2001 commissioned a report from the Agricultural Economics Unit of the University of Exeter. This report, which assessed the position as at 19 March 2001 estimated that over the next 12 months 1,200 jobs would be lost in agriculture and ancillary industries whilst over Devon as a whole, 8,700 jobs could be lost in the tourism sector and allied businesses. The reduction in income was estimated at £84 million in the agricultural sector and £196 million in the tourism sector. The loss in GDP represents 3.52 per cent of the total.

  4.  It is estimated that tourism accounts for approximately 10 per cent of GDP, but what has been evident in recent weeks is the extent to which other businesses depend on the holiday trade. Restaurants and pubs may be an obvious area but less obvious are businesses such as dry cleaners, one of the support businesses to the hotel trade. We need to remind ourselves that tourism is everyone's business.

  5.  Yet the foot and mouth outbreak has led not just to the loss of visitors coming to the county on holiday, but also valuable conference business. For example, the Lord Haldon Hotel near Exeter but which is outside the infected area reports that nine large conference bookings were cancelled as a result of the foot and mouth outbreak and the news of its spread. These events were planned before the outbreak was known but would have covered the weeks immediately following the first news of the disease. In addition, few business enquiries were being received and leisure bookings were also poor compared to previous years.

  6.  Farm tourism has been hit particularly badly. Robin Head, Public Relations Officer for Devon Farms—a private sector farm tourism sector marketing consortium—provided the following up-to-date report to the County Council's Executive Committee Foot-and-Mouth Task Group on 19 April:

    —  Northern Devon—Easter: bed and breakfast down 54 per cent, self-catering down 85 per cent.

    —  Southern Devon and Dartmoor—Easter: bed and breakfast down 77 per cent, self-catering down 85 per cent.

    —  Southernmost Devon (Moor to Shore group)—Easter: bed and breakfast down 31 per cent, self-catering down 81 per cent.

    —  Central Devon—Easter: bed and breakfast down 81 per cent, self-catering down 64 per cent.

    —  East of the County—Easter: bed and breakfast and self-catering down 45 per cent.

    —  West of Dartmoor (includes Bridestowe)—Easter: bed and breakfast down 92 per cent.

    —  North of Dartmoor (includes Hatherleigh)—Easter: bed and breakfast and self-catering down 97 per cent.

    —  Overall, Easter was down by 74 per cent (equates to 705 bednights compared to 2,680).

    —  Comparing March 2001 with March 2000, on average, business was down by 83 per cent, varying from 39 per cent in the East of the County to 98 per cent in central Devon.

    —  Of the 120 Devon Farm members, only three were full over Easter this year.

    —  In terms of overseas business, enquiries are down from 209 to 38 (down 85 per cent) comparing the period February-mid April 2000 with 2001.

    —  Calls to the Devon Farms vacancy helpline in March 2000 averaged 25 calls per day; this March the average was two per day.

  7.  In 1999, Devon (including Plymouth and Torbay) had just under 33 million tourist nights.

Promotion of the UK as a Destination for Overseas Visitors

  8.  The organisation which has the prime responsibility for the promotion of the UK as a destination for overseas visitors is the British Tourist Authority. Its remit is to encourage overseas visitors to the UK as a whole.

  9.  Devon, and for that matter Cornwall, has tended in the past to rely on visitors from within the UK to whom the main attraction was a long stay holiday at a coastal resort. With the decline in the long stay holiday market, both counties have sought to compensate for this by diversification into other markets. One of these markets is the overseas visitor market.

  10.  In 1995, Devon County Council, Cornwall County Council (Tourist Board), together with the 16 district authorities in the two counties, established the Devon and Cornwall Overseas Marketing Consortium (DACOM). The objective of the partnership was (and continues to be) to increase the number of visitors and visitor spend from overseas markets to the sub-region, to create sustainable employment opportunities through increased tourism spend and to raise the quality of Devon and Cornwall's tourism sector. This has been achieved through the development of an annual programme of product development, business support, promotion and marketing activity.

  Partnerships have been essential and DACOM has been supported by Prosper, the British Tourist Authority, South West Tourism and appropriate carriers, eg P & O Stena Line. DACOM has also benefited from European ERDF Objective 5b funding and applications are currently being developed for Objective 1 funding in Cornwall and Objective 2 funding in Devon.

  11.  DACOM's annual marketing budget, including European grant, amounted to in the region of £350,000. The original project set a number of targets over the period 1995-1999, which were:

    —  To increase trips from 712,000 to 804,000 (13 per cent).

    —  To increase visitor nights from 5.7 million to 6.4 million (12 per cent).

    —  To increase spend from £192.6 million to £225.3 million (17 per cent).

  Based on 1998 International Passenger Survey figures the targets to that date were exceeded as follows:

    —  Trips—target 9.6 per cent; actual 19.4 per cent.

    —  Visitor nights—target 8.8 per cent; actual 15.8 per cent.

    —  Spend—target 12.5 per cent; actual 36.5 per cent.

  To put into context how valuable overseas tourism is for Devon (and Cornwall), the 1999 campaign specifically achieved the following results, based on a spend of £380,000:

    —  22,335 holidays booked/intended.

    —  96,464 visitors.

    —  1,121,935 visitor nights.

    —  £45.38 million spend.

  These results are for Devon and Cornwall and it is not possible to split the economic benefits between the two counties. However, overseas visitors to Cornwall account for 6 per cent of its tourist nights, compared with 11.8 per cent for Devon.

  12.  The results for the calendar year 2000 have yet to be finalised but they are likely to see a decline, due to the high value of sterling during the year. This accentuates the impact on the tourism industry in two ways. First the overseas visitor is dissuaded from coming due to the relatively high cost and secondly the domestic visitor is attracted more to overseas destinations as they are relatively cheaper.

  13.  In the context of overseas marketing activity for the current year, much of this had already been committed to prior to the outbreak of foot and mouth, in particular participation in the appropriate British Tourist Authority (BTA) main market campaigns, which are the basis of DACOM's marketing activity. At the moment, responses to BTA's campaigns are down by in the region of 50 per cent, which in turn is affecting the volume of responses/requests for Devon and Cornwall information.

  14.  DACOM has reviewed other opportunities and has put these on hold for the time being, including a major proportion of its proactive public relations programme where, instead of concentrating on generating press facility visits, the emphasis will be on providing accurate consumer information via the press. In the short term, DACOM is concentrating its efforts on maintaining accurate and up-to-date information via its web site.

  15.  The BTA, world-wide, is developing a recovery plan and DACOM is in close liaison with that organisation to maximise opportunities when the time is right. In an information update dated 2 April, 2001, BTA has stated that longer-term activity will include image advertising campaigns, on-territory presentations to trade and consumers, travel trade and press familiarisation visits. Prominence will be given to rural Britain, especially those areas most affected.

  16.  Overseas visitors to Devon account for 11.8 per cent of the total number of tourist nights and 13 per cent of the total spend. The average spend per head for Devon is £35 a night for a UK resident and £41 per night for an overseas visitor. This higher average spend by the overseas tourism visitor is particularly important in terms of its economic impact.

Tourism Information to Domestic and Overseas Visitors

  17.  There is a distinction to be made between tourism information given to those who are already in the county and those who are thinking of visiting the county. For the former, a network of some 40 local tourist information centres exists, operated by District Councils and occasionally the private sector. The County Council used to operate two "gateway" tourist information centres but decided two years ago to replace these with a computer based visitor information system. This provides a networked system of tourist information delivered by self-help touch screen kiosks. These are strategically located, one within the main building of the Exeter M5 motorway services off junction 30 and the other within the restaurant facility at Junction 27 on the M5. The system allows automated booking of accommodation.

  18.  In order to maintain the provision of a visitor information service on a county wide basis—Devon being a well identified destination in the mind of the consumer—the County Council established, three years ago, a call centre facility. This provides all the normal services of a tourist information centre, save for ability to deal with "face to face" enquiries. This facility is operated by a private sector company, under contract to the County Council and with the exception of Christmas Day and New Year's Day, is available 8 am to 10 pm Mondays to Fridays and 8 am to 8 pm at weekends.

  19.  The call centre is able to deal with individual enquiries and respond to requests for brochures. The County Council no longer produces an accommodation guide itself but signposts the brochures and guides prepared by District Councils. The Devon Holiday Line service, as it is known, is also able to effect accommodation bookings.

  20.  On 22 March 2001, the English Tourism Council set up the national holiday line in response to the foot and mouth crisis to provide advice and information to visitors. Devon County Council supported this initiative by identifying the Devon Holiday Line as part of a satellite network to facilitate easy access to appropriate local information. This meant that callers to the national line seeking information and advice about Devon were re-routed automatically to the Devon Holiday Line call centre. An analysis of usage of the Devon Holiday Line during March this year shows:

    —  Enquiries: 2,422, an increase of 777 over March last year. Of these enquiries 197 were derived from the English Tourism Council national helpline. In the first two weeks of April, there were 1,582 enquiries, an increase of 614 over the same period last year. Of these 66 were derived from the national helpline.

    —  Specific accommodation enquiries: 265, compared to 299 in March last year. In the first two weeks of April, the figures were 292 compared to 252 in the same period last year.

  21.  Running parallel to the Devon Holiday Line is the increasing use of the County Council's own web site. Information on tourism is available through the County Council's own web site (www.devon.gov.uk) but also through a dedicated web site (www.devon4allseasons.co.uk) to which there is direct access. This has enabled the County Council to give up-to-date advice to the potential visitor in a positive way, in the context of the public rights of way and attractions that are open. There are also suggested ideas as to how to spend a holiday, all without prejudicing the actions being taken to contain and eradicate foot and mouth disease. Information is collated from the District Councils and the web site updated each weekday.

  22.  Information about, and promotion of, the web site and the Devon Holiday Line is achieved, in the main, through distribution of press releases, regionally and nationally. When press features are generated as a result of journalists' visits, the web site address and Holiday Line telephone number are promoted within a "fact box". During the foot and mouth crisis, every opportunity has been taken to maximise opportunities to further signpost the web site address and Holiday Line telephone number, when commentary on the foot and mouth crisis and its impact has been requested by the media, including radio.

  23.  In the normal course of events the web site is linked to that of South West Tourism and to each of the District Council/destination sites within the county. Over the past seven weeks, more specific links have been put in place to provide immediate access to foot and mouth visitor information. Statistics for March from the North Devon Marketing Bureau show that since the link from the Devon web site to the North Devon foot and mouth information web site was set up, 686 user sessions resulted in the first 14 days—a three-fold increase.

  24.  At this time of year, and particularly in the context of the impact of foot and mouth on visits from outside of the area, local, day visitors are vitally important, especially to visitor attractions that are reliant on year round business. Devon County Council has been working closely with South West Tourism and has co-ordinated comprehensive information on what is open and what activities are available; this is being published in the form of a series of supplements distributed with the regional newspaper—the first has already been produced and circulated. The County Council has also contributed to the first phase of the South West Tourism Recovery Plan which is concentrating on ensuring that accurate "visitor information" is disseminated.

  25.  In an attempt to redress the negative impact of foot and mouth on Devon's tourism industry, the County Council placed a full page advertisement in the Sunday Mercury (Birmingham) on Sunday 8 April 2001. Under the headline "Rediscover the delights of Devon" the advertisement promoted the Easter period, the fact that 90 per cent of attractions would be open for business and provided specific examples of places to visit. The "call to action" was to the Devon Holiday Line telephone number and to the County Council's tourism web site. Disappointingly, there were no calls to the Holiday Line as a result of this advertisement. Partners in a South West Tourism initiative at the same time experienced a similar negative response.

  26.  The foot and mouth crisis has had a negative impact on Devon County Council's tourism public relations programme. This activity includes the generation of journalists' visits and consequently achieves editorial features with an average per annum advertising value equivalent of £600,000. The last journalist visit was on 1 March; subsequently three trips that had been fully planned and booked have been cancelled for the time being and it is estimated that the lost editorial value from these is in the region of £54,000. In addition to its discrete tourism public relations activity on behalf of the County Council, the authority also supports the Exeter and the Heart of Devon special interest short break initiative by promoting that product through public relations. A scheduled group golf press trip has been postponed and the estimated editorial value lost equates to some £107,600.

Conclusion

  27.  Whereas Devon will ultimately recover its tourism trade, this will take time, money and effort. Meanwhile, there are businesses at risk and people being laid off. Devon County Council is working on a recovery plan which, in conjunction with partners, will help to limit the damage to existing tourism businesses and those who provide the support services to the industry within the county. However, it will need help from other sources.

April 2001


 
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