Select Committee on Culture, Media and Sport Minutes of Evidence


Examination of Witnesses (Questions 80 - 99)

THURSDAY 26 APRIL 2001

MS HAZEL BROATCH, MR IAN STEPHENS, MR PHILIP JENKINSON AND MR MALCOLM BELL

  80. Are you getting clear messages about what you can pass on to customers who want to visit and to the businesses within your area so that, for example, if you take outdoor centres that could be open but within an infected area. You cannot go on the footpaths but they have their own climbing wall; they have access to a lake; you can do all sorts of things. Have you had a problem with the mixed messages that have come and what have you done to put that right? How do you tell the public or the people who are going to be using the outdoor centres?

  (Ms Broatch) I need to talk about the scale of foot and mouth in Cumbria because I am talking about 42 per cent of the national cases. We have more than the next five in total numbers of the other local authorities. You have to appreciate the scale of the problem and the obvious immediacy there has been in terms of getting a grip of the disease. There have been issues about the advice we have had and the speed of that advice. I would stress in that context trying to deal with what I think is a very significant problem in Cumbria. Some 01.75 million animals have been slaughtered, so a significant problem in terms of scale. In that context, very early on, 20 March, we set up a restrictions review team in which the Cumbria Tourist Board, MAFF, some of these big land owners, the Lake District National Park and others are involved. We have produced some guidelines which MAFF are happy with in terms of risk assessment. We worked very hard leading up to Easter to get the 100 or so footpaths open. We advertised that extensively in terms of producing that information, getting it out to tourist information centres and in the local press. We had a lot of cooperation from the local media.

  81. What was the response? Did you find that people knew about it?

  (Ms Broatch) Our only appraisal of that response is that this was up to Easter and, as you will have seen in our evidence, there was certainly an improvement at Easter time. That improvement does not seem to be sustaining in terms of the evidence we have now. I was in the Lake District at Easter obviously as a local and there was a significant number of people there. There are still an awful lot of places, I am afraid, that are closed because we are still in a situation where we have a significant number of cases. 98 per cent of Cumbria now is an infected area.

Mr Fearn

  82. I went to Cumbria just as Easter was finishing and then I went to Torquay. In Cumbria, the main problem, because it was heaving where I was, round the lakes was doing very well indeed and then it went completely dead straight afterwards, but I met with three different sets of hoteliers. They said that their main concern was from here on the overseas market had collapsed. One had 14 Americans; he should have had 40. Another said a whole coach, which would be 40, I suppose, of Japanese had now cancelled. This seemed to be the theme throughout and yet they were struggling to get the hoteliers to meet together. They were doing it themselves because nobody had had the initiative to actually do this. What is the organisation in Cumbria? How do you contact the BTA, for instance?

  (Mr Stephens) The tourism industry is composed of some 4,000 businesses in Cumbria. The Cumbria Tourist Board has 2,000 commercial members and we undertake a range of marketing and development services and policy advice. A small team of about 15 professionals is trying to service 2,000 businesses. At a regional level, the industry were the only people, until recently, that invested in marketing. There was only private sector funding going into marketing. There is a hierarchy of marketing service providers from the local authorities who operate the tourist information centres, who produce local information and guides. Then at a Cumbria level, Cumbria Tourist Board produce a successful visitor guide, web site and undertake a wide range of consumer and trade related promotional activities.

  83. The web site goes to the Samaritans as well, does it not?

  (Mr Stephens) It does link, yes, at the moment. The next layer up is our work with England's North Country Consortium to reach overseas markets. We clearly do not have enough in our marketing budgets to be able to access overseas markets. We rely on a partnership approach to build up the funds so that a targeted marketing effort can happen in the north.

  84. That is one of your black holes.

  (Mr Stephens) Yes.

  85. You need more resources to get that going again?

  (Mr Stephens) Absolutely. Our overseas marketing effort amounts to about £50,000 a year.

  86. That is ridiculous. What about Devon? I talked to the hoteliers there. They have the same problem with overseas visitors cancelling.

  (Mr Bell) Again, it is very much based on the industry and the local authorities contributing. In Devon, we have the near markets of Devon and Cornwall working together in Devon and Cornwall Overseas Marketing Consortium which is the regional boards, the local authorities, to market the near markets. That is the northern European market. Again, that has only been possible through the use of European structural funds. It is still nothing of significance. This is one of the problems we have in promotion with some of the various lack of resources. The vast majority of promotion goes on to attracting back repeat customers, a sort of closed loop between local authorities and boards. If you do not have sufficient marketing clout, you concentrate on keeping your loyal customers. That is working very well in lots of ways with satisfaction levels of 95-plus per cent. My worry is that that satisfaction level is too high. We need to be getting new customers from abroad and also new short break customers from the United Kingdom.

  87. When did you last put the case to the Government or to anybody in government for more finance to come to you from whatever source to promote overseas trade?

  (Mr Bell) I think it probably happens every time we get a government official or ministerial visit.

  88. MAFF seems to have been hopelessly at sea on this because tourism seems to have been put into a corner. Suddenly, they were awakened but it was weeks afterwards. What is your feeling about MAFF? I think they have been pretty hopeless on the whole situation as regards tourism.

  (Mr Bell) You do not know what you have got until you have lost it. That is a message for tourism in the rural area. The second message is that in a rural or regional economy the relationship between the countryside and the environment and tourism is absolutely essential. I know that sounds so obvious, but to answer your question MAFF went on a one objective agenda, which was the eradication of foot and mouth and containment. That was taken on the one objective of eradication of foot and mouth, not looking at the collateral damage to industries like tourism. I would hope that one message is that when you look to take on one objective you also check what will be the other consequences and balance actions accordingly.

Derek Wyatt

  89. I was in Aldburgh over the Easter weekend and I met the East of England Tourist Board chief executive. She told me that although there was a £4 billion turnover in the east of England, bigger than Scotland, but there is no marketing budget. I fell from the chair. I cannot believe it. What is your marketing budget for the South West Tourism Board?

  (Mr Bell) Around £390,000.

  90. What is it worth in the south GDP tourism?

  (Mr Bell) It is over ten per cent and is worth £5.7 million.

  91. You have less than two per cent on marketing?

  (Mr Bell) No.

  92. 0.5 per cent?

  (Mr Bell) Probably 0.002. I would not like to work it out quickly.

  93. What is the point of you being in your job? You have a market. You need a massive budget. In this current situation, you probably need 20 or 30 times.

  (Mr Bell) We have looked seriously at it and I do ask that question quite frequently. I think a tourist board, if it has not got a strong marketing function, is a donut organisation. What people expect at the heart of a tourist body is marketing; then product development, research, training and all the things around the outside of it, which is what we do. The essence is that the policy has been that England and the regions have been able to market themselves by raising funds from the industry. If you do that, you do end up with small marketing budgets. Although it is a £5.7 million industry, it is run by small business. My argument would be is that if there is a £5.7 million industry run by 20 businesses, you would not need regional tourist boards, because they would look after that new marketing effort. Our role is to try to get those new customers and bring them in. I can only agree that it is totally due to lack of resources.

  94. Does tourism south west belong to the south west RDA?

  (Mr Bell) Their role is very positive on the tourism development side of this, but it has gone straight up to the top of their agenda and they have been very supportive, finding ways to help us tackle this crisis.

  95. That is by accident. In the east of England they have tourism; where I am in the south-east they do not. Is tourism in the RDA or not?

  (Mr Bell) It is, yes. It has changed from priorities into actions.

  96. None of you has asked us to take a VAT holiday. Is it right that VAT is 17.5 per cent but in Europe it is between five and eight per cent on all aspects of tourism?

  (Ms Broatch) We have put forward a range of fiscal recommendations to the rural task force, including that proposal. I am sorry we have not mentioned that but our assumption was that they were already on the table. We have a range of measures like VAT which we feel would certainly help enable our tourism sector to survive in order to then recover and regenerate.

  97. What do you recommend on VAT alone?

  (Ms Broatch) I honestly cannot recall the detail of that but there was a range of fiscal measures put by the Cumbria foot and mouth task force in front of your own rural task force.

  (Mr Jenkinson) Devon have adopted a very similar stance and suggested that we should have similar benefits to the people on the continent.

  98. Mr Stephens, you mentioned about the oil idea. One of the problems is that tourism will slip between the crack in the door and you will not notice it has gone. If you notice it now, you will not notice it next year or the year after, but the problem will be how much do we give now. Next year you will say, "It is just as bad this year", as it might be. This might be a three or four year thing before it rights itself. Have you any thoughts on that to help us fight for more money for you?

  (Mr Stephens) There was obviously a problem with the Pembrokeshire case, with the claims taking so long to process. What has been suggested is some sort of up front, interim payment and then an assessment being undertaken by accountants and professionals, to be taken over a longer period and adjustment in the future at some point. The issue really is about special circumstances in these most affected areas, because it is wiping out huge areas. There is no business at all in north Cumbria, which prior to this crisis was a growing tourism area. Similarly, most farm tourism and farm attractions just do not function at the moment. If we can look at the most worthy and narrow down those that require assistance, it may be more manageable in that way.

Mr Fraser

  99. Fortunately in Dorset we do not have foot and mouth, and long may that continue, but there was an initiative introduced in the county a couple of weeks ago in which I participated between the county council, the district councils, the NFU, chambers of trade and all other interested organisations, to try and at least start singing off the same hymn sheet about what we need to promote, how we go forward. There were mixed messages even in Dorset about what was going to happen, what could happen, what was open, what was not open, and I think we took a great step forward by putting out a joint statement saying, "This is what we are trying to achieve", and took the political spin out of the situation, bearing in mind there are county council elections coming up and people are posturing and you cannot avoid that. Do you think the situation across the country is so unique in each area that there cannot be a national approach?

  (Ms Broatch) From our point of view the scale in Cumbria is such that we want to be part of a national approach but we think we are in very special circumstances. We are so badly affected by FMD, we are so dependent on countryside tourism and the interdependency between tourism and agriculture is significant. It goes back in part to the point we were making earlier, there is some immediate action which needs to be taken but in Cumbria what we need to be doing is taking this and looking for where there is some silver lining. Our view on that is that will be modernising our rural economy because we will not have much of a rural economy left. It goes back to the point made earlier, what does that mean for agriculture, re-engineering agriculture, but also what does it mean for the regeneration of tourism, the quality of product in Cumbria, ICT. In Cumbria we have massive parts which are not even able to access broad band technology, so we have to think about the electronic market place, how future supply relationships might work, how tourism might be affected. So we have a number of ideas which we are currently working on up to a recovery plan which we have put forward to the Rural Task Force. It is very much about modernising our economy. I think that is what we see we can do if there is anything which is going to come out of this. Linking back to what you are saying, we feel that connects very clearly into the Rural White Paper, into European policy about rural funding, and what we want to do is trail-blaze some of that, to get fast-tracking of the funding, get some of the bureaucracy out of the way, to get the scale of funding reviewed in the light of the Cumbrian situation, to enable us to take some advantage out of the situation. I think you are right, some of these short-term measures will keep us going, they will not necessarily help us in year two and year three, and it is that we are working on as well.

  (Mr Bell) There has to be some work done nationally, obviously, because the British people have gone off, and also internationally, to bring the customers back. One lot of promotion can benefit some people and hurt others. One of the things we brought out before Easter was a publication in the South West, about 16 pages—I have some spare copies—called West Country Now, and if you look at that it is a very interesting colour, it is all yellow, shows nothing much to do with the countryside. I think it did help to bring people back to the coast and the resorts, and that is quite important. What we realise is that we are going to have to follow that through in the two other editions of this to come out, and as we move on to the summer we are going to start producing things like this (indicating) which show people going back into the countryside. There is a stark difference between the yellows and sandy colours of the coast and the green of the countryside, which would be totally inappropriate at the moment because we still have foot and mouth. There is another requirement for backing that up with locally targeted work. It is the old problem with marketing, you have to have the awareness and the understanding and then you have to follow it through with more information and then you eventually have to sell. My view is that nationally there is a requirement to get the message across that there are lots of things to do in England, but if that is the only message people will go to the areas where there has never been foot and mouth. You have to have the message that there is still plenty to do but you have to follow that up with farm tourism and the specific location areas, with quite thrusting marketing, showing things are still open. Otherwise the blighted nature of those areas will go on far longer than need be. That is my worry.


 
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