Select Committee on Culture, Media and Sport Appendices to the Minutes of Evidence


Memorandum submitted by the Council for Travel and Tourism


  1.  The Council for Travel and Tourism (CTT) is a unique grouping of the major public and private organisations involved in travel and tourism in the UK. Indeed, it is the only body which brings together the many diverse sectors and elements of the industry. Membership of the Council is limited to organisations and associations with a national dimension for significance in these fields. The Council currently has 15 Members who represent most sectors of the travel and tourism business; a list of current Members is attached at Appendix I[9].

  2.  The Council has three primary aims:

  2.1  To provide a forum for Members to exchange information, news and views on current developments both within the industry and, more importantly, from political, Government and European initiatives.

  2.2  To identify issues of common concern and, where appropriate, develop a collective Council view to present to Government, European Institutions and the political audience at large.

  2.3  To promote the interests and improve the status of the travel and tourism industry with Government, the media and opinion formers and decision makers in general.

The Council's Views

  3.  The CTT welcomes this short inquiry by the Culture, Media and Sport Committee and the opportunity to submit written evidence. Given the short timescale involved, our submission is necessarily brief and is limited to a few observations which we readily accept are made with the benefit of hindsight. As a number of the Council's Members will be making their own submissions direct to the Committee, we have tried to provide a broad overview covering the industry as a whole.

  4.  The current outbreak of foot and mouth disease (F&M) has resulted in unprecedented damage to the UK tourism industry. Never before have both domestic and inbound tourism been simultaneously under such severe threat. The last major outbreak of F&M in 1967 was limited to a much smaller geographic area centred around Cheshire and rural tourism itself was far less developed at the time. Also, the two major problems in recent years for the inbound tourism industry—the Libyan crisis of 1987 and the Gulf War of 1991 were not accompanied by any particular difficulties for domestic tourism.

  5.  The Council is not competent to comment on whether mass vaccination does represent a viable alternative to the slaughter of animals in controlling F&M. However, it must be said that the slaughter policy adopted, together with the highly visible burning of animal carcasses on funeral pyres and the backlog in the disposal of carcasses created an extremely vivid and disturbing image of the countryside, both for the domestic audience and for the world at large. Not surprisingly, tourism demand, both domestic and inbound, has fallen away sharply as a result.

  6.  The precise impact has of course, varied both between different sectors of the industry and in different geographic areas. Those areas with severe F&M problems, such as Cumbria, Devon, the North east and parts of the Midlands, have obviously suffered the most. Likewise the sector that has been hardest hit has been that of outdoor countryside activities, such as riding, trekking, walking, activity holidays etc. The British Tourist Authority (BTA), English Tourism Council (ETC) and the national Tourist Boards will be able to furnish the Committee with more detailed figures, but the general picture appears to be a drop in business of anywhere between 50 and 100 per cent in the most affected areas, with a 10-30 per cent decline elsewhere. However, the picture is changing daily—the recent Easter break, traditionally the start of the season, saw business at, or in some cases above, normal levels in coastal areas, towns and cities. However, rural areas in general continued to report major reductions in visitor numbers. The main concern remains the uncertainty for the rest of the season—forward bookings are down on normal and all overseas markets are showing a significant and worrying drop in both current and forward business.

  7.  Although they are interrelated, the Council believes it important to separately address the issues for the domestic and the inbound elements of the industry.

Domestic tourism: Information and Promotion

  8.  Apart from the negative images arising from the policy of mass slaughter, the main practical problem has been the effective closure of much of the countryside, particularly footpaths, downland, national parks etc. Indeed, the measures taken at the beginning of the F&M outbreak were positively draconian, in the belief that the closure of the countryside would enable F&M to be brought swiftly under control. In response to clear signals from various Ministers and Government departments that public access to the countryside was a threat in spreading F&M, local authorities, landowners and other relevant authorities responded by closing virtually all footpaths and public open spaces as well as large numbers of visitor attractions (for example, National Trust properties).

  9.  The F&M outbreak was not, as we now know, brought swiftly under control and it soon became clear that the effective closure of the countryside was having a catastrophic impact on tourism and related elements of the rural economy. Recognising this the Government embarked on a high profile campaign, led by the Prime Minister, to persuade the public that the countryside was open for business. It was vital to get visitors back to rural attractions and businesses and the Council welcomes the Government's efforts in this regard. However, it has to be said that just claiming that the countryside is open for business was far too bland and unconvincing a message. When first used by Ministers in late March, that message was clearly not consistent with actuality—most areas of open countryside and many attractions remained closed, thus creating confusion in the minds of the public. In some subsequent press advertisements, the message was more carefully formulated ie "some restrictions are still in place, but there remains plenty to do in the countryside", but the initial claims did look very much like a complete U-turn arising from a knee-jerk reaction by Government.

  10.  The situation has improved somewhat over the past couple of weeks. Firstly, some footpaths and open spaces in unaffected areas have now been re-opened (although many are still closed: in West Sussex, for example, which is about 70 miles from the nearest F&M outbreak, all footpaths remain closed). Also, a significant number of visitor attractions are now open; it should, however, be mentioned that quite a number of these were not due to open before April or before Easter anyway. Secondly, the BTA, the ETC and other national tourist boards recently introduced new information services for the public. These include the ETC's England Visitor Hotline and the website which provides links to many sources of information from different departments and agencies. These, and other initiatives, have greatly improved the quality and accuracy of information available to the public at a time when there is still a great deal of inconsistency regarding access to open countryside. The BTA and ETC have only been able to undertake these initiatives following the provision of emergency funding by Government—£3.8 million to the ETC (and regional tourist boards) and £2.2 million to the BTA.

  11.  In the medium and longer term, a major effort will be needed to help the industry recover through the promotion of domestic tourism. The ETC has prepared a detailed recovery plan and has made a case to the Treasury for an additional investment of £35.5 million to fund this. The CTT fully supports the ETC Recovery Plan; although the sum involved is substantial, it is but a fraction of the losses currently being sustained by the industry (the latest DCMS estimate puts the cost to tourism in England at £140 million per week).

  12.  In addition to the difficulties encountered in providing information to the public, the first few weeks of the F&M crisis also saw a degree of confusion in the communication with the industry itself. Some of the industry's major representative bodies were rightly actively involved from the outset, but equally there were other sectors of the industry which felt they were not being kept fully informed. The attached correspondence from the Council to the Head of Tourism Division at the DCMS (Appendix II)[10] illustrates this point. It is recognised, however, that it was perhaps inevitable that some initial confusion would occur, given the unique nature of the crisis coupled with the sheer diversity of interests within the industry.

  13.  Although the Committee has indicated that it does not expect to be able to consider the issue of financial assistance for the tourism industry during this inquiry, the Council would nevertheless like to make one brief point in this regard. The speed and ease with which full financial compensation has been made available to farmers affected by F&M contrasts starkly with the lack of support offered to tourism and other rural businesses similarly affected. The package of measures announced by the Government to help tourism businesses—possible deferment of VAT payments, rates, taxes and NI contributions and the expansion of the Small Firms Loan Guarantee Scheme—are minor cosmetic palliatives and of limited substantive use to firms in crisis who face bankruptcy or insolvency. In logic there is no reason whatsoever why a tourism or other rural enterprise whose business has been devastated by the measures taken to control F&M should not receive compensation equal to that given to a farmer similarly affected.

Inbound Tourism: Information and Promotion

  14.  This year will inevitably be a bad year for inbound tourism. The BTA has reported significant problems in most overseas markets, with considerable reductions in both the level of inquiries and the number of forward bookings. The CTT recognises and appreciates the strenuous efforts that have been made by both Government Ministers and the BTA to counter the negative images of the UK and to correct many of the current misperceptions among overseas populations. The BTA initiative in inviting leading tourism industry representatives from the US, Canada and Japan to tour Britain last week was a particularly welcome and useful development.

  15.  However, experience from previous problems (for example, the Gulf War of 1991) does suggest that it will take two to three years to fully recover our overseas markets, particularly the USA. Moreover, this will require a substantial extra spend on the promotion and marketing of the UK and the BTA has put a proposal to Government for additional funding of some £22.5 million, which the CTT fully supports. However, it would be pointless to spend all this immediately on a major marketing blitz; the BTA's strategy is absolutely right in concentrating now on defensive PR and publicity to counter the negative messages, with carefully planned and phased marketing and promotional activity to follow at the right time.


  16.  It will be many months yet before the full impact of the F&M crisis can be assessed and appropriate lessons learnt. However, even at this early stage the Council believes that the following interim conclusions may be drawn.

  (i)  Although the Government has paid lip service to the economic importance of tourism, in practice this has not been reflected in terms of either policies or funding, nor on the structure and machinery of Government. It is unfortunate that it has taken a major crisis like F&M to demonstrate just how fundamental travel and tourism is to the economy of the UK as a whole and to rural areas in particular.

  (ii)  Both the BTA and the ETC must be properly funded to fulfil their respective roles. The CTT and many other industry representatives have consistently argued for additional resources for both organisations and again it is ironic that it has taken a major catastrophe to squeeze just a tiny amount of extra emergency funding from Government.

  (iii)  The interests of the tourism industry must be given at least equal weight to those of the agricultural community. Although it is accepted that the control of F&M is the overriding priority, it does appear throughout the crisis that the needs of the tourism industry have very much been secondary to those of the farming community. A more even balance is necessary in all future policy formulation.

  (iv)  The DCMS does need to review its communications strategy and the process of consultation with the industry.

April 2001

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