Memorandum submitted by the Northumbria
The leadership and personal support of the Prime
Minister and other Ministers in reassuring the tourist industry
and lobbying the consumer, has been outstanding. As a result,
the contribution and profile of tourism to the economy has never
been so well espoused and understood.
Commendable too, has been the level of flexibility,
care and understanding given by front line staff in Customs and
Excise, Inland Revenue and Ratings offices to the owners and proprietors
of rural tourism businesses.
Conversely, the response by those government
departments directly involved in the crisis management has been
disappointing, when compared to their counterparts in Scotland.
The inadequacy of response to the needs of the rural business
community, and lethargy in response in supporting the efforts
of regional agencies, cannot be dismissed.
Since the first outbreak over 50 days ago, neither
the regional tourism board nor the regional development agency
has received any financial support from government. All of the
actions funded so far have been carried out using reserve funds.
Without fast access to stabilisation funding, the rural recovery
will inevitably be seriously compromised in Northumbria.
1. Since the foot and mouth disease outbreak
was traced to Heddon-on-the-Wall in this region on 23 February
2001, Northumbria's rural tourist industry has progressively closed
2. The disease is highly infectious and
in response to initial government warnings, visitors have complied
by staying away from the countryside. As a result rural businesses
have suffered from the acute shortfall in visits and visitor spending.
3. Tourism currently employs 7 per cent
of the region's workforce in comparison to the 0.7 per cent employed
in agriculture, forestry and fishing.
4. Although this is essentially a rural
crisis, there is evidence to suggest it is impacting upon urban
tourism businesses and particularly in overseas tourism.
5. Since 1 March, the crisis has resulted
in cancelled rooms bookings, widespread closure of visitor attractions,
collapse in future enquiries, closure of almost all rural footpaths
and bridleways, negative press coverage and an almost universal
drop in rural visits and spending.
6. The University of Newcastle has estimated
that the impact on rural businesses in Northumbria will be £1
billion (if the outbreak lasts as long as the 1967 outbreak).
7. There are important differences between
this outbreak and the one in 1967. At that time the outbound package
holiday had not developed and the UK visitor was largely confined
to the seaside. A day in the country in 1967 was shaped around
a car or bus trip with few people actually penetrating the countryside
by walking or cycling. Booking patterns are different too with
last minute decisions and alternative options easily available
to today's consumer. Finally the speed of spread of today's epidemic
has created a national crisis rather than a regionally confined
8. In addition to the differing nature of
the outbreak, the timing could not have been worse for most tourism
businesses. The past 12 months have seen disruption through flooding,
rail accidents and the fuel crisis, together with inhibiting factors
such as the strong pound, high rate of VAT, minimum wage and marketing
programmes for 2001 largely committed. Most micro and SME's were
therefore at their weakest at the end of February 2001.
9. Following the first outbreak (in Northumbria),
the NTB posted a warning flash on its web site within five days.
This was followed by a modified message with reasons to visit
the regiondespite the outbreak.
10. On 19 March the Regional Assembly called
a regional summit to discuss the outbreak and a Regional Action
Group was formed to lead the recovery. The Action Group met on
20 March and NTB was given delegated powers to lead the first
stage of a recovery plan, within 10 days.
11. The recovery plan priorities were to:
lobby government for support of rural
help businesses survive;
manage visitor information;
undertake risk assessment; and
prepare a marketing plan for a full
12. At an early stage, the Prime Minister,
Secretary of State for DCMS and Chairman of the Rural Task Force
were petitioned by the Regional Assembly, NTB Executive Committee
and tourist board members for support and immediate availability
of resources to address the growing crisis.
13. In order to offer substantive and qualitative
support for additional resources, the NTB conducted research amongst
tourism businesses which was released on 5 April and showed that:
Visits to attractions were down 71
per cent overall (and 87 per cent to Hadrian's Wall).
Up to 45 per cent of accommodation
bookings were being cancelled each month.
18 per cent of rural tourism businesses
had laid off people.
44 per cent of businesses had delayed
employing seasonal staff.
10 per cent of businesses were unsure
if they would still be trading in July.
Cash losses projected for April were
almost £15,000 per rural business.
14. At that time the Government response
through the rural task force, was to offer transitional relief
on VAT and business rates and Small Firms Loan Guarantee Scheme
support of up to £250,000 at 8.75 per cent interest. A £3.8
million marketing and support campaign was also announced for
which the Northumbria Tourist Board would receive just 3 per cent
at some future date.
15. By comparison, the Scottish Executive
response was an immediate £13.5 million package, with an
initial £5 million for tourism marketing, £5 million
to help enterprise agencies implement a programme of advice and
support and £3.5 million in rural rates relief. The Area
Tourist Boards received this funding within 48 hours of agreement.
16. The additional assistance afforded to
Scotland needs to be understood within the context of existing
government funding. Tourism in Scotland (population 5.2 million)
receives £24.2 million or £4.65 per head of population.
Within this funding, over £14 million is allocated to marketing
and promotion. By comparison, Northumbria (population 2.4 million)
receives £360,000 or 15 pence per head of populationand
none of this may be used for tourism marketing.
17. Rural tourism businesses have been increasingly
unhappy with the level of support offered (especially in comparison
to agriculture). They feel strongly that this was a farming crisis
that became a tourism crisis because of government intervention.
They also suggest that had this crisis involved a major manufacturing
plant, the response would have been immediate and impactful. In
addition to the announced measures, the business community would
like to see:
Interest-free loans (managed by Business
Link through the Regional Development Agency).
Grant Aid for improving quality (managed
through the English Tourism Council).
Marketing support for a minimum of
£1 million for each of two years (delivered by RTB's through
the RDA) on behalf of the industry.
50 per cent discount off quality
accommodation inspection schemes.
50 per cent discount off RTB memberships.
18. It has been Government's stated aim
that business survival would be best driven through visitor spending
rather than assisted support. However, messages to persuade visitors
to venture in the countryside once more, have been mixed. The
initial message that was conveyed in the first week of the crisis
urging visitors to stay away, has been the enduring message. Even
though 70 per cent of visitors to the countryside do not walk,
they want the choice of being able to do so if they wish. And
media images and misinformation have decimated overseas tourism
for the foreseeable future.
19. Between 20 March and 1 April, Northumbria
Tourist Board initiated the following business support measures
on behalf of the regional action group:
A business to business extranet web
Immediate self-help guidelines on
cash flow and survival.
A free legal help line to deal with
cancellations and insurance initially and later with broader issues.
Co-ordination of case studies showing
rural business economic impact.
Qualitative and quantitative research.
20. It has been an unfortunate feature of
this outbreak that speed of support and guidance to the industry
has been adversely inhibited by the disparate take up of web access/e-commerce
by businesses at this crucial time.
21. On 17 April, all Business Link advisors
were briefed by the Board on the needs of tourism businesses and
what support would be required. This was followed by business
survival seminars throughout the region sponsored by one of the
large regional accounting firms.
22. Between 20 March and 1 April the Board
put the following measures in place to provide high quality information
A single information web site address
for all consumers, www.visitnorthumbria.com
A web based system linking all Tourist
Information Centres to the NTB database.
A seven day information telephone
helpline number manned by dedicated NTB staff.
A summit meeting of over 200 tourism
A £50,000 media, poster and
teletext campaign aimed at 900,000 households in the region.
A travel and educational visits exhibition
with over 300 delegates.
A regional tourism marketing plan
for the recovery.
23. By Easter Weekend this was supplemented
by a meeting of all tourism officers and TIC Managers, displays
in all 270 regional libraries with 500,000 information bookmarks
and 100,000 information car stickers printed. This was supported
by national press coverage afforded by three meetings with the
Prime Minister and attendance by the Junior Minister for Agriculture
at the tourism summit.
24. At the time of writing, the following
promotional campaigns have been initiated for immediate implementation:
Extending the two for one Powerpass
card to more attractions and to hospitality businesses.
Targeting those market sectors not
dependent upon countryside access such as coach operators and
Northumbria non-stop campaign.
Northumbria on the Town campaign.
Spirit of Northumbria campaign.
A further nine campaigns are planned.
25. The Easter Weekend was crucial to tourism.
Government, national agencies and regional campaigns had all focused
on reassuring visitors that the countryside was open for business
and it was OK to venture out. There was a general concern amongst
those in tourism that the message had not been received or understood.
26. In Northumbria the recovery truly began
with attractions, beaches towns, heritage centres and museums
experiencing visitor numbers close to pre-crisis expectations.
Visitors had demonstrated their frustration with imposed restrictions
in the clearest possible way (and despite inclement weather) by
taking day trips.
27. Despite the good news for attractions,
seasides and towns, the visitor influx did not extend to the deepest
rural areas where the crisis deepened further.
28. If the Easter Weekend 2001 was a significant
threshold in the crisis, rural tourism would still be dependent
upon real access to the countryside by public footpath and bridlepath.
The next challenge for tourism will be an exacting risk assessment
of access to forests, moors, fells, lakes, riversides and rural
landscapes if overnight tourism and extended day visits are to
be realised and the rural businesses saved.
29. The next stage in the rural tourism
recovery will necessitate:
Making the case for realistic stabilisation
funding by government.
Co-ordinating resources from RDA's,
DCMS, Local Authorities, Rural Development Programmes, European
Funding, RTB's and others.
Directing funding tourism to those
agencies that can make the most impactsome 50 days since
the outbreak neither the Northumbria Tourist Board nor One North
East has received a penny.
Delivering meaningful support to
tourism businesses to help them survive.
Sustaining the immediate reassurance
campaign to visit the countryside.
Committing to both regional marketing
campaigns and overseas marketing campaigns.
30. The situation is now critical and urgent
assistance is overdue.