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


APPENDIX 31

Memorandum submitted by the Southern Tourist Board

1.  GENERAL

  1.1  The following report describes the activities undertaken by the Southern Tourist Board to date in support of the tourism industry following the outbreak of foot and mouth. These activities have been part of a co-ordinated survival and recovery plan delivered jointly with the South East England Tourist Board. Phase 1 of this plan covering the period from March through Easter to the May Bank holiday has been funded by the English Tourism Council and the South East England Regional Development Agency.

2.  INITIAL DATA COLLECTION

  2.1  One of the first tasks undertaken by STB in early March was to telephone tourist attractions and local authorities to compile a computer based record indicating those places which were opened or closed. This was used to deal with immediate enquiries and was disseminated to the network of Tourist Information Centres. Those TICs without computer technology were sent a hard copy of the current opening status of known attractions and facilities throughout the region.

  2.2  An attractions Open Status Report has continued to be maintained with additional data being gathered through a postal survey and regular contacts with trade associations. In late March the Board was advised that the British Tourist Authority would be sending out an information request form to all known attractions requesting opening details. Since then STB has generally been reliant upon the BTA Open Britain site. The BTA website has subsequently been the main source of reference for our foot and mouth hotline service supplemented by any additional information from local sources.

3.  FOOT AND MOUTH PUBLIC HOTLINE

  3.1  On 23 March, STB with SEETB established a foot and mouth hotline for the general public relying principally on the Open Britain Site, feeding our own joint "Go South" website. Specially trained staff man the hotline from 10 am to 8 pm from Monday to Saturday and from 10 am to 5 pm on Sundays. Up until 18 April around 120 enquiries had been handled by STB or routed through to SEETB. As might be expected, the most common questions related to whether a particular attraction is open or closed and whether it was possible to walk in the countryside.

4.  LIAISON WITH THE INDUSTRY AND LOCAL AUTHORITIES

  4.1  On 13 March STB organised a meeting for the region's local authority Tourist Officers. This led to a commitment to report on a weekly basis to the STB on the impact foot and mouth was having on their area, any other industry feedback, planned local authority support etc. Responses were collated by STB and combined with other data to create the first "Regional Status Report" circulated to ETC, BTA, GOSE, SEEDA and Tourist Officers on 19 April. Further reports have been issued weekly (five by 18 April).

  4.2  Led by STB, the Tourism Officers have met on two further occasions (2 April and 10 April) to discuss/agree plans for recovery and this has helped to ensure a co-ordinated regional response to the crisis.

  4.3  In addition, STB's officers have attended a wide variety of local authority and trade association meetings and seminars to gather intelligence and raise awareness about the national and regional Tourist Board led marketing, research, information and support activities.

  4.4  The first meeting of the SEEDA Rapid Response Team took place on 21 March. STB's Managing Director attended with the STB/SEETB Secondee at the Agency. Both regional tourist boards were invited to present a Recovery Plan to the Team at its meeting on 4 April.

  4.5  In terms of communication with businesses, STB has issued three Foot and Mouth Bulletins to date and a further Bulletin is scheduled for 1 May. These have been a mixture of information about ETC and STB activities and advice on surviving the crisis. The first Bulletin issued on 21 March also contained a short questionnaire probing the impact on bookings and enquiries.

  4.6  The next Bulletin to be issued during the week beginning 23 April will be accompanied by a Foot and Mouth Survival Kit which STB/SEETB has collated with help from Business Links and local legal firms.

5.  PRESS AND MEDIA

  5.1  From the outset of the foot and mouth crisis, STB has been regarded as the main source of information for the media on the impact of the disease on the region's tourism and on responses to it. Getting a responsible message to the public whilst stimulating additional visits to suffering businesses in the countryside has been part of this.

  5.2  Various press releases were issued by STB from late March onwards prompting a large media response. A schedule of media contacts, including television and radio interviews, is attached[14].

6.  MARKETING ACTIVITY

  6.1  Following ETCs announcement that an initial £3 million has been made available through the DCMS for marketing activity to address the affects of foot and mouth on tourism, STB and SEETB joined forces to prepare a Recovery and Marketing Plan. To assist, given the urgency, external marketing and PR expertise was enlisted. The recovery plan was produced entirely during the week commencing 26 March for submission to the ETC and presentation a week later to SEEDA's Rapid Response Team (4 April).

  6.2  By the end of March/first week in April a detailed short-term marketing and information strategy for tourism recovery for the period before Easter through to the May Bank Holiday had been approved and funding agreed. Key elements include:

  6.2.1  The dedicated "Go South—Go Now" hotline.

  As mentioned above, this is operating seven days a week. It is fronted by STB with a switching mechanism to SEETB where calls relate to their area.

  6.2.2  An enhanced "Go South" website.

  The www.gosouth.co.uk website utilises the www.open.visitbritain.com site which contains the up-to-date information on places to visit and events. Features of the "Go South" website include a section dedicated to news items and special offers from operators updated on a daily basis. There is also news from destinations, attractions, accommodation establishments and supporting businesses. All contributions receive links to their own websites.

  Since the start of April the site has received 4,000 "hits". We anticipate the use of the site will increase significantly as a result of radio and newspaper campaigns promoting the site as a source of up-to-date information and special offers.

  6.2.3  An extensive press and PR campaign.

  Ylva French Communications have been retained to oversee and implement the press and PR campaign in collaboration with the marketing teams of STB and SEETB. The campaign's purpose has been to encourage day trips by local people and short breaks by those living further afield by generating national local newspaper coverage within the relevant catchment areas. Specific activity has included:

Press Releases

  3 April—Announcement of campaign.

  3 April—Easter events in the region.

  10-11 April—Short breaks focusing on cathedral cities.

  10 April—Thames and Chilterns Country brochure launch.

  In preparation—Release for feature editors with a garden theme.

  —"Good news" snippets and anecdotes for news pages on nationals and regionals.

Articles

  Regional short articles on what to do out doors.

  Feature for Mature Times on weekend breaks.

  Feature for Primary Times based on family itineraries.

  6.2.4  A commercial radio campaign.

  A radio campaign is underway covering the STB/SEETB region and London. It features the unmistakable voice of Joanna Lumley and refers listeners to the "Go South" website and telephone hotline. Six hundred, 30-second spots have been booked between the start of April and Easter. It will continue to the May Bank Holidays concentrating coverage in the outer and inner London catchment areas.

  6.2.5  An extensive door-to-door leaflet campaign.

  A door-to-door leaflet campaign is supporting the radio campaign message and will cover around five million households in the South and South East.


7.  OTHER ACTIVITIES

  7.1  In addition to the above, STB has also been pressing Business Links to provide specialist free advice to tourism businesses affected by foot and mouth. Discussions are still taking place and SEEDA have requested further funding from the DETR to fund this.

  7.2  We are also collaborating with Business Links on the setting up of industry workshops/seminars on foot and mouth. The purpose will be to disseminate advice on dealing with the financial, staffing and legal difficulties which foot and mouth has caused. The first of these will be run in early May.

8.  OTHER CONSIDERATIONS FOR THE COMMITTEE

  8.1  In terms of measures which Government should be instigating or encouraging, STB would like to see the following:

  8.1.1  Serious medium and longer term marketing/support funding to re-launch rural tourism during and after the crisis. Funding is needed to re-build confidence in overseas and domestic markets to speed recovery and ensure that 2002 is a year for re-building lost business. Marketing funding of £3.8 million through the English Tourism Council to rescue Easter and the May Bank Holidays has been extremely welcome. £230,000 of this has been allocated to the Southern and South East England Tourist Board Recovery Plans. However, by comparison, the Scottish Executive response was a £13.5 million package.

  8.1.2  Funding to directly subsidise participation into next season's marketing publications/campaigns. There is a real danger that small businesses starved of cash by the current crisis will be forced to cut marketing budgets for 2002.

  8.1.3  Assistance via the Banks with interest free or reduced interest loans or a suspension of capital repayments. The recently announced extension of the Small Firms Loan Guarantee Scheme is a step in the right direction, but a loan at an interest rate of 8.7 per cent is still a major financial commitment. Small businesses close to financial collapse are unlikely to want to take on more debt so it remains to be seen how many make use of the Scheme. The immediate requirement is interest free loans to save businesses from bankruptcy with a flexible payback geared to an ability to afford.

  8.1.4  A business support network involving both the Regional Tourist Boards and Business Links. This needs to provide free advice/counselling and practical support to tourism businesses during the crisis. Currently, with MAFF funding, the farming industry benefit from six free advisory sessions from Business Link Advisors as well as compensation for lost income. In the absence of direct compensation, we believe that tourism businesses should at least be eligible for an equivalent package of free advice/support. Given the low penetration of Business Link into the tourism sector and the expertise/contacts which rests with Regional Tourist Boards, we believe that there is a strong case for close collaboration in the delivery of this service. To date, the response from each Business Link has been different so that no standard package is available to be promoted.

April 2001


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