Select Committee on Culture, Media and Sport Minutes of Evidence


Memorandum submitted by South West Tourism

1.  INTRODUCTION

  South West Tourism as the Regional Tourist Board for the South West of England is pleased to be invited to submit evidence to this Committee. It will be represented at the hearing by its Chief Executive Malcolm Bell.

  This paper details the importance of tourism to the South West of England and in particular the importance and proportion of tourism that is based on the rural countryside assets of the region. The paper details the actions taken to promote tourism and inform potential visitors since the outbreak of foot and mouth.

  Finally, the paper details the impact, so far, and projected potential impact of foot and mouth on tourism in the South West. It concludes with some suggestions on the effective use of promotion information to limit the damage caused on tourism by foot and mouth and to assist in the recovery of the tourism and rural economy.

2.  TOURISM IN THE SOUTH WEST

  The South West of England has long been a major regional tourism destination. Tourism activity is an integral part of the region's economy. It is affected by, and interacts with, both the environment and local communities, which together help to form the varied character and nature of the region and its life. The South West—which like an extended triangle stretches from Cheltenham and Swindon in the "east" to Penzance (and the Isles of Scilly) in the far South West—is by far the largest of the English regions and has the lowest overall population density.

  As a peninsula, it has over 500 miles of coastline—much of it designated "Heritage Coast" for its beauty and "unadulterated" nature. Over a third of its land area is designated as of national importance in landscape quality terms. It is those qualities which have helped to underpin its position today as a major UK tourism destination.

  Today, despite variously changing markets and the expansion of a more global tourism economy (this time stimulated by another revolution in mass travel—the passenger airliner), the South West has retained a pre-eminence within the overall British tourism economy. The value of its main holiday tourism is still greater than that for Scotland and Wales combined and—in overall tourism volume and value terms—it remains the leading tourism region in England.

  There are many world famous tourist destinations in the South West but the regional tourism offering can be categorised in five core attractions:

    —  Cities, Cathedral, Abbey and Spa towns—Bath, Exeter, Cheltenham.

    —  Seaside Resorts—Bournemouth, Newquay, Torquay.

    —  Coastal areas—Cornwall, Devon, Dorset and Somerset coastal zones.

    —  Rural Playground—Devon, Somerset, Dorset, Wiltshire and Gloucestershire.

    —  National Parks—Dartmoor, Exmoor and Forest of Dean, New Forest.

SOME KEY FACTS

Scale/Pattern of Tourism

  The South West receives twice as many British visitors as any other region—most come from three to four hour drive time distance (London/S East/Midlands)—and increasingly from within the region itself.

  It remains the single most popular destination after London.

  It attracts each year around*:

    —  21 million UK trips (one in five of all trips in England).

    —  121 tourism day trips.

    —  2.2 million overseas trips (around one in 10 of all visitors to the region).

  It accounts for 10 per cent of the region's GDP—larger than banking, agriculture or many other sectors.

  It supports:

    —  around 225,000 jobs (one in 10 of all jobs in the region).

    —  11,000 businesses in accommodation/attractions sectors alone.

    —  £5,754 million spend benefiting tourism related businesses across the Region—generated mainly by UK visitors.

  Over 60 per cent of all tourism spend is located within Cornwall and Devon; this pattern is only gradually changing.

  *Based on 1997 statistics for the whole S West region.

Rural Tourism

  Just under 40 per cent of the South West Tourism spend is directly attributable to the rural and national park "product";

  Rural Tourism accounts for £2,300 million of tourism spend each year;

  Farm Tourism in particular has become vital to providing farm businesses with income at a point in time when often the farm income itself is marginal or even non existent;

  Rural tourism has become vital for many isolated "poor" communities where it accounts for over 50 per cent of GDP in those areas.

3.  PRIORITIES FOR TOURISM IN REGARD TO FOOT AND MOUTH

  There are four clear priorities for tourism as follows:

    —  The eradication of foot and mouth—until foot and mouth has been eradicated we will always be in a damage limitation exercise particularly for the National Parks, Rural and to a lesser degree Coastal tourism product.

    —  Opening up of public assets—tourism relies on access to publicly owned assets most notably in the South West being the coastal paths, key internal paths across large sways of the country and country parks and the open moor. Whilst these assets are partially, if not totally, closed it makes the selling of the tourism product difficult and the argument that the countryside is open tenuous.

    —  Promotion and information—it is clear from our experience at Easter that it is vital to provide the information in an easy format for the public to absorb. The clear message that there was still a lot for our visitors to do was clearly understood by the customer and resulted in the benefits for the cities and towns, resorts and to a lesser degree the coastal products. Whilst the rural product continued to suffer 50 per cent reductions in business.

    —  Business support—there are businesses particularly on the Moors, in the Forest of Dean and in the deep rural and farm tourism sector who are in danger of going into bankruptcy in the next few weeks. This is due to the blighted nature of their product and they require intensive business support and financial help if they are to survive long enough for when the business returns in sufficient numbers.

4.  ACTIONS TAKEN TO PROMOTE TOURISM AND PROVIDE INFORMATION

  During the first few weeks of the FMD crisis the priority has been on information on the product available and promotion to the local and loyal/repeat customer, this consisted of:

    —  Promotion via press advertising on the London Underground and national newspapers. The purpose being to stimulate and generate enquiries with a particular emphasis on the westcountrynow.com website. This website was linked to all other public websites and there was a rapid rise in traffic from around 50,000 unique visits per week to over 111,00 visits per week.

    —  Public Relations—using a crisis PR company to assist South West Tourism to manage the message and gain maximum exposure for the positive activities and offering.

    —  Information—this was provided through the westcountrynow.com website, using additional information pages, a newspaper supplement distributed throughout most of the region and to all Tourist Information Centres (over 1.6 million produced and distributed before Easter.)

5.  IMPACT OF FOOT AND MOUTH UP TO AND INCLUDING EASTER

  The impact of foot and mouth on the South West Tourism industry began towards the end of February and accelerated through March and the first week of April. The complete closure of many of the regions assets meant that all sectors of tourism suffered, albeit some suffering more than others ie Farm Tourism, the Moors, Devon and Forest of Dean tourism.

  This resulted in on average a 30 per cent drop in bookings for March and more worryingly a significant reduction in forward bookings for May, June and early July. To date the loss of business in the South West has been calculated at £50-£60 million in March together with a further £45 million lost business in the first half of April including Easter.

  The total loss of business over the year is difficult to calculate at present, but is likely to be in the range of £300 million-£600 million. This total impact is calculated by looking at the proportion of the South West tourism sector that is based on rural farm and moorland tourism (£2.3 billion per annum). At present over 50 per cent of this business is being lost and we are predicting that even with a recovery in the summer and the autumn, business will not fully recover during this year and probably not for a further one to two years. Therefore, if the overall reduction in trade for this sector is 20 per cent over the year—this is calculated on the assumption of a 30 per cent to 50 per cent loss in the first half and a 10 per cent loss at other times.

6.  CONCLUSIONS

  The clear conclusion from the experience in the South West at Easter is that advertising, promotion and information are key weapons to ensure that the damage to tourism is limited. However, this damage limitation can still only be achieved in certain market areas ie resorts and cities. These sectors could even benefit this summer from transference of business from the inland to the coast.

  However, there is a different picture for the National Parks, Forest of Dean, Farm Tourism and the rural product. These have and are likely to suffer from between 50-100 per cent losses. There was no discernible increase in trade over Easter. The positive message is that information and promotion did work at Easter and ensured that the public knew there were plenty of things to do and they chose, they came—albeit late and went early—and enjoyed Easter and this bodes well for the main summer school holiday season.

  The challenge we face is three-fold, namely:

    —  The promotion of the shoulder season particularly May, June and the first half of July. If we do not get increased trade across the whole region and throughout all sectors then tourism's profitability and viability will be greatly affected. We will also need to ensure that we prepare for a comprehensive and effective autumn shoulder campaign to bring back the business that did not come in the spring to the region.

    —  We need to prepare for an effective, aggressive and sustained campaign to help the blighted areas of the region and in particular farm tourism, National Parks and the Forest of Dean and the rural/countryside product.

    —  Finally, we have to prepare for extensive campaigns in the new and overseas markets to generate the business that we would have started to be getting if it was not for foot and mouth and to put on track again the growth and development of tourism in the South West.

April 2001


 
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