Select Committee on Culture, Media and Sport Minutes of Evidence

Examination of Witnesses(Questions 1-19)




  1. I should like to welcome the English Tourism Council here today. You do not need me to tell you that this is a slightly anomalous situation in view of the announcement which has been made, but I am sure we can use this period very constructively indeed before we move over to the British Tourist Authority. We do not normally invite introductory statements; statements, beloved as they are and deeply informative, can often be incorporated into answers.

  (Mr Britten) I shall make mine very brief. As you know, I am Chairman of the English Tourism Council and we welcome the chance to meet today. The written submission you have today addresses the subjects you asked us to focus on. However—and this addresses your anomalous situation—the Secretary of State's announcement came out last week and I imagine you will have questions to those proposals as well as they affect us. I do not want to start by apologising, but it is a fact that the statement is very recent and we are working on what it involves. I confess freely, however, that we do not have all the answers yet. We shall answer your questions as openly and honestly as we can at this stage. I am sure the questions you have will range across the whole of the tourism spectrum, but I should like to place two things in front of you. We have two key concerns in all of this. The first one is the deficit in the tourism balance of payments and that is as indicated in our submission and as you pointed out in your last session with us and your report The Hidden Giant. That has grown alarmingly and it now stands at £13.6 billion negative. Since that is primarily the result of British residents spending more money overseas, the re-introduction of domestic marketing is an absolute prerequisite of getting to grips with the tourism deficit. We believe that either by encouraging more overseas visitors to come here or persuading British residents to consider holidaying more frequently in this country, it is the reduction of the tourism deficit which is the litmus test for the success or failure of the tourism industry. That is the first point. The second point is that although strong marketing is certainly essential, tourism requires more than marketing. We need to improve the total quality experience, which means focusing on other things in addition such as support for those with disabilities, the improvement of quality standards, ensuring that tourism is sustainable as well as successful and to work with other national bodies like the Countryside Agency and so on. Those are the things which, in addition to marketing, we think are extremely important. That is all I should like to say. Thank you for that.

John Thurso

  2. In the evidence we have received and we have received a great deal of evidence, all of which was of course written well before the recent announcement came through, in virtually every single document we have, there is a call for the English Tourism Council to be given a marketing role, to become a national marketing body for England. Interestingly, if you read the submissions from Scotland and Wales, both of these underline the liberating impact of devolution on the promotion of Scotland in those two countries and draw into sharp relief the fact that tourism is wholly devolved and they have a freedom to act which, by the fact that England does not have a marketing role, it simply does not enjoy. In your opening remarks you have brought up the importance of domestic tourism, bearing in mind that four fifths of the English spend is domestic tourism. In your own evidence, in section 6, you very clearly underline the importance of the national role and indeed the importance of having marketing. The response given in the statement last week is effectively to abolish the ETC and to create one new body, which is both to market Britain overseas and to market and do all the other functions that you did centrally. It is clear from your remarks that this has taken you somewhat by surprise. Clearly whatever you put in and whatever has come out are two quite different things. Do you really think that what we are offered by the statement has a cat-in-hell's chance of working?
  (Mr Britten) Thank you very much. It is no secret that it was not our recommendation. We recommended a full service English Tourist Board with marketing added to the work which the English Tourism Council does already. We thought that was a clean and effective solution with clarity for everybody. However, what has been recommended by the Secretary of State does seem to us to be workable. The English Tourism Council board met last week and expressed directly to the Secretary of State their concern that the English identity should not be submerged in this, that it is extremely important that we continue to have a very strong English identity in the new body. It does incorporate our primary recommendation, and indeed the recommendation of your Committee, that we must have the restoration of domestic marketing; it accepts that point. What we have to do now is, working with the Chairman of BTA and the Chief Executive, Mary and myself and the DCMS, work out how we can make this as effective as it should be. I think it has a chance; it is workable. I make no secret of the fact that it was not our recommendation, but we have to work out how the England role can be strongly promoted. I do not see why it should not be.

  3. I frankly find it very significant that you talk about it being workable but you make it very, very clear that it is not at all what you would have chosen and that would seem to be backed up by all of the evidence we have had from the industry. May I ask you to make clear, because people will home in on the marketing side of things, that bearing in mind ETC itself has actually had no marketing remit throughout its existence and some £5.5 million of your grant-in-aid goes directly to the regions for them to promote and the balance of £6-odd million you have been spending, and given that you have not been completely wasting the taxpayers' money, I assume that you have been doing a good and worthwhile English nationally required job? Can you explain to us what it is that you have done and how that might be carried forward?
  (Ms Lynch) When the English Tourism Council was set up, the brief was very much to think about the long term. We have spent a great deal of time working with organisations like local government associations on issues which are very important to the industry, but not necessarily important for next week. For example, preparing as an industry for the next phase of the Disability Discrimination Act. The sorts of things we have been doing are getting all the charities, the Disability Rights Commission, Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland together to agree on new standards for the industry to welcome and accommodate disabled visitors and then support that by designing new training programmes so that the industry can equip their staff to have the right attitude as well as the right facilities. We have worked with the Countryside Agency on the development of a rural tourism strategy for the countryside well before foot and mouth became an issue and we are now into the second year of a joint programme in that area. We work very much with small businesses to provide things like this booklet, the pink book, which is a guide to all the legislation which small businesses have to comply with. For example this is a guide offering practical advice to tourism advisers in how to develop micro-business initiatives. We have developed and worked with many government departments in the area of transport policy, such as on brown signs. Perhaps our biggest achievement and the one I am personally proudest of is the work we have been doing in relation to e-tourism and the pioneering creation of a project called EnglandNet. I recall when we gave evidence to the Committee last time during foot and mouth we explained some of the disadvantages England faced; for example, a Tourist Information Centre trying to get quick information about footpaths being opened or closed was relying on an e-mail sent to an hotel which was written on a piece of paper and biked round to the Tourist Information Centre. We were not connected and we were not equipped to deal in the modern environment. As a result of EnglandNet we now have 90 per cent of Tourist Information Centres on line. In partnership with the regional tourist boards, we are working with the regional development agencies to have an England-facing website and a whole range of extra services particularly for small businesses so that they can compete. We have done a huge range of things. In addition to our given remit, because of the sorts of crises which have been in place for the last 18 months, we have actually been doing marketing activity. We have run campaigns during foot and mouth, we worked with the British Tourist Authority to organise welcome campaigns for the Jubilee and we have worked alongside them on the Million Visitor Campaign. For example, one of the things we have done this month is that if you are an overseas visitor, as you arrive in this country, when you switch on your mobile phone you will be greeted by a message in your own language directing you to a welcome telephone information line. The range of things is enormous. In a way it is the hidden part of tourism. Marketing is critical and we have been arguing very, very strongly for a marketing role for England. However, we do all recognise that marketing is the first step. It is the total quality of what people experience, both the customer in what they experience and how the business actually organises itself to relate to that customer.

  4. You have very clearly articulated the immense amount of work which a national body does and it is well accepted within the industry that ETC has done that role extremely well. Within the new organisation there is no real new money, or a very small amount of real new money going in. It is largely about "synergies" and lower overheads and all the rest of it. Is there not a very clear danger that, given the pressure for marketing, all of this kind of work will gradually be chiselled away whilst the one body gets its synergy and puts more of its resources into the coal face of marketing?
  (Mr Britten) We must be frank and say yes, there is a danger, but that is part of what we must address in structuring this new organisation. The Government have said, and it is a reasonable wish, that some of what the ETC does could be put to other people who might do it better. What we have to ensure is that before it moves, it is moving to a better place it does so. I do think, as Mary has said very clearly, those things are fundamental to the success of tourism. It remains to be worked out but the early discussions, certainly with my colleagues in the BTA, show that they are extremely aware of this and I am sure the new organisation will be.
  (Ms Lynch) At the moment we are not absolutely clear about what the funding arrangements are going to be. We did have the Secretary of State's announcement on Thursday but at present neither organisation is absolutely clear about what the starting budget will be for next year.

Mr Flook

  5. Do you think about twenty pence per head, which is what is spent on the English to promote English tourism, is enough or do you think it is an outrage?
  (Mr Britten) It clearly is not enough and it will not be enough in the future. I am not sure that per capita comparisons are necessarily the best way to compare.

  6. They help.
  (Mr Britten) Absolutely; they are an indicator. What is critical is to look at the absolute sums of money: you are looking at £40 million now for Scotland and £11 million for England. That is what does seem to me to be completely out of whack.

  7. Do you think part of the reason for that is because it is dealt with by DCMS and not perhaps a stronger government department like DTI?
  (Mr Britten) I find it very difficult to answer that. Tourism is an industry which does not really have a "right" department. There are people who argue it should be in the DTI of course. Maybe that would give us stronger advocacy. The argument against that is that we would then be in amongst all the rest of the industries and get lost. There is no clear answer. What tourism very clearly does need from government is strong advocacy from whichever department it comes. It needs resources, it needs investment to work with the private sector for the best of tourism and it needs a tremendous amount of tenacious cross-Whitehall activity.

  8. How many civil servants do you interface with or how many interfere with you?
  (Ms Lynch) I believe the current number of staff in the tourism division is 31 or 32.

  9. Thirty-one or 32 civil servants to deal with . . . What number in terms of industry ranking is tourism?
  (Mr Britten) It's the fifth largest industry.

  10. Thirty-one or 32 civil servants to bang your drum throughout Government.
  (Mr Britten) Yes, an industry worth £74 billion.

  Mr Flook: It is pathetic.

  Chairman: That is appreciably more than the one and a half civil servants who dealt with the Commonwealth Games.

Alan Keen

  11. You mentioned that you help small businesses. What happened over the minimum wage? I saw a programme on television and if it had been the Black Death about to descend on us it could not have appeared more serious. Did it have a serious outcome or did the tourism industry overcome that as most others did?
  (Ms Lynch) There was a fair degree of nervousness about the impact of the minimum wage. The tourism industry relies very heavily on labour and that is a big part of the cost of running the business. In practice, it has almost been overtaken by events because in most parts of the country the key issue for the tourism industry is that they cannot actually recruit enough qualified staff and therefore it is very much the case that most tourism businesses are paying more than the minimum wage now and are looking very hard at increasing their training and upskilling what they provide to people. In a way it is not surprising that businesses worry about anything which is going to increase their cost, but the key issue for businesses now is getting good quality people.

  12. I have had a serious complaint from somebody who went to Land's End who said it was obnoxious. I have not been so this is second hand. Is that true and if it is true what influence can you have on that? Seriously, I should hate to think that we are not spending enough money on advertising our tourism industry, but if Land's End is as bad as I am told it is, then it is going to waste an awful lot of the good money you are spending on attracting people to England.
  (Ms Lynch) The feedback on individual attractions will obviously vary. I have heard many people say that they have been disappointed by their experience at Land's End, partly because they do not feel they have the balance right between the enjoyment of the environment and the commercial aspects of it. The way we would work in relation to visitor attractions is that we have a group made up of representatives of the 6,500 visitor attractions to identify what customers want and to help them to change their business to get it. In particular we have designed a quality assurance scheme so that businesses like Land's End can invite an independent assessor to come and walk through the whole experience a visitor has and then get feedback on what was good, what was bad and how it can be improved. That has been developed over the last couple of years and has been a huge success. Many of the best attractions in the country are saying that they are learning from the experience. At the moment we operate very much on persuasion and a key thing which will make a difference in that part of the world is people looking to the successful new visitor attractions like the Lost Gardens of Heligan, for example. That is a good example of a very good quality visitor experience.

Mr Doran

  13. My colleague has raised the problem of Land's End. I spent two weeks during the summer at Blackpool for the Trades Union Congress and the Labour Party Conference and the problems there would be a lot more difficult to sort out than at Land's End, certainly by persuasion. I want to raise two issues. The first is the reorganisation and clearly your focus is on English tourism. I understand that. I am a Scottish Member of Parliament and you have quite rightly drawn a contrast with the money which is spent in Scotland compared with what is available in England. You said that an English identity should not be submerged. One of the concerns across the border—and I am sure it is the same in Wales—is that the Scottish and Welsh identities will be submerged; it will not be the English one which will be submerged. Looking at it from the outside, there does seem to be a clear conflict of interests that the body which is going to be marketing Scotland and Wales abroad in very important markets, particularly the American market for us, will be the same body which has another responsibility, which is pushing the domestic tourism market in England and Wales. How do you deal with that point?
  (Mr Britten) That is one of the many things we have to sort out. Coming from the English side, I am obviously determined that the English side should be properly represented. The new body will have to find ways of dealing with the Scottish and Welsh dimension. It is not impossible to reconcile. You will be talking to my colleagues in the BTA shortly and the chief executive there will be running the new organisation. I imagine he would tell you that the BTA has been reconciling conflicts like that for some time and they will just have to manage it.

  14. They do not have a direct marketing interest in England.
  (Mr Britten) I understand that; I understand that is a problem. The things which attract us about the new organisation are that, from an England standpoint, we have always been frustrated by the fact that the BTA produces excellent material overseas and we have not been able to use it in this country. We had one example at the time of the Jubilee when we took Hidden Britain and used that, but the opportunities from having two groups which use each other's material are very high. The opportunity of having a bigger and stronger organisation is why, in answer to Mr Thurso's question, I said this is certainly workable. There are benefits in here.

  15. When we established this inquiry it was to look at the effects on tourism after September 11. I am a bit of a novice as far as the tourism industry is concerned but when I did look at the papers and the previous Committee's report, it did strike me that the response to the foot and mouth crisis was a little bit patchy. It did not seem to me that there was a strategic plan which was there to come into place if there was a problem. Do we have a strategy for dealing with these sorts of disasters which have direct impact on tourism? When we responded to September 11, did we learn anything from the problems foot and mouth had caused just a year previously?
  (Ms Lynch) It is fair to say that the industry collectively was not well prepared for foot and mouth. I would not say we were alone in that and what we did was to react collectively very quickly: within days we had put some proposals to Government about what activity needed to be undertaken and also started doing some direct marketing to try to get customers back and to restore confidence. At the end of the summer, when we were actually coming to the end of the problem of foot and mouth, we worked with the industry to put together a set of recommendations of what we had learned as a result of foot and mouth and the chairman, with a group of industry representatives, collated all of those lessons and sent them in a document to the Prime Minister and to the new Secretary of State. In a way, those sparked the debate about tourism reform. One of those recommendations was that the department needed to work with the industry to create a long-term crisis plan. For September 11, yes, we learned many lessons because we had very recently experienced the need for a speedy response. We worked then with the British Tourist Authority who set up a tourism industry emergency response group modelled on what we had learned from foot and mouth and used that to feed information both to government and back to industry very quickly. They were very different crises. By and large it is fair to say that foot and mouth had a huge impact on rural areas and a disproportionately large impact the further away from London you got. It was a coincidence that the greatest number of cases in England were in the Lake District and the South West. It did impact on overseas visitors and therefore it did impact on London, but it was predominantly small businesses which were affected by foot and mouth. September 11 was an impact on the international marketplace most definitely and it took away confidence in travel and therefore the impact followed where overseas visitor expenditure is most important. So it hit London particularly badly and historic cities like Edinburgh which rely very heavily on overseas visitors' spending, but it did not have the same impact on rural areas. In a way, on the positive side, everybody had an opportunity to try to get some business back. On the negative side, if the first crisis did not get you then the second crisis did.

  16. So we have a long-term crisis strategy which has experience from two different types of disasters which affected the industry. How does that fit into a long-term strategy for the industry? As an amateur looking through some of the papers, it is difficult to determine that there is a strategy of any sort for the future of this industry. At the moment we are looking at reorganisation of the structures of the bodies which deal with the industry but it could be said that that is shuffling the deckchairs rather than determining a long-term strategy for the industry.
  (Ms Lynch) The last strategic document published by the department was Tomorrow's Tourism, which was published a couple of years after the new Government came into power. My expectation is that when the new body is created, one of its first tasks and first priorities will be to look at a strategy. I am sure the British Tourist Authority in their evidence will talk about their work on strategy for the international marketplace.

Mr Bryant

  17. May I just ask a small technical question first about the tourism deficit? How do you count the flight which is bought in this country to go to Spain? Is that part of spending in this country or part of spending in Spain?
  (Ms Lynch) We calculate the total amount spent by people leaving this country on their holidays. We do not try to disaggregate how much is earned in this country and how much goes overseas. Part of the reason why we do not try to do that is that there is no source, no proper data to go to. We can tell for example what proportion is spent on package holidays, but a proportion of what is spent on package holidays will stay in this country paying the wages of the travel agents who book it, but to work out the share of that cost is almost impossible.

  18. It means that it is a slightly dodgy figure then because a significant proportion of a holiday in Benidorm is the flight which is probably with a British carrier and through a British travel agent.
  (Ms Lynch) The nearest I could relate it to is if you look at the other side and look at the international passenger survey which looks at inbound. My recollection is that of the total earnings, which are about £15 billion, about £3 billion goes to carriers. So it does account for some of that expenditure, but not a dominant amount.
  (Mr Britten) We are talking here about £45 billion; we may be flaky at the margins by £1 billion or so. The number is so huge and the escalation in the last five years of £15 billion is so big that the direction is very clear. If we could persuade just one in a hundred of those people who spend their money overseas at the present moment to come back to this country, we would make £450 million. Counting double this makes nearly £1 billion difference to the balance of payments. If we are slightly wrong it is still a huge sum of money.

  19. As I understand the figures, something like one in four British people go to Spain every year and I guess that one of the reasons, as somebody who represents the Rhondda and is therefore well acquainted with the weather, is the weather and people wanting to go to a warmer place. I presume that part of your role is trying to get people not just to go to the obvious tourist destinations, but to go to the more unusual and perhaps the more individually tailored holidays which would be in the UK. Is that right?
  (Ms Lynch) It is certainly true that we have never advocated saying to people that they should not, if they choose to, go overseas and have a holiday in the sun. It is up to customers to vote with their feet. It is up to England to persuade them that we have a huge range of things that they will enjoy and that they can get access easily and they will get value for money. On your opening point about what we are doing. In practice, because we have not had an England marketing role, we have not actually been targeting any customers, but we know in all of our research that there are huge opportunities in the short breaks market, in leisure and health breaks and sport related tourism. The range is enormous. It is not just about the two weeks on a beach.

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