Select Committee on Culture, Media and Sport Minutes of Evidence

Examination of Witnesses(Questions 20-37)



  20. How do you drive up quality standards? Most of us could give some story of a hotel in Blackpool at some point because we all have to go there at least once every three years for party conferences. Having stayed in Stalag Luft 3 on several occasions now, I am keen to see the quality of hotels improve and the price of hotels come down.
  (Ms Lynch) As we all are. That is one of the biggest challenges we face. Blackpool is an example. I was there myself only a few weeks ago. What I would say to the Committee is that as people who are very much influencing tourism policy and tourism development, is that we could provide some information to you about what Blackpool is trying to do. It is trying to get from where it is now, which it recognises is not an ideal situation, it has a lot of old accommodation stock, it has a lot of limitations in terms of size and space and so on, it has a changing customer base, and it has identified where it wants to get to. It is doing a whole range of things such as using European funding to help businesses to invest in new developments, improving their quality. It is advocating for example that in future only businesses which are part of some quality scheme will be promoted and that is a very brave thing to do when a place like Blackpool just two years ago only had 15 per cent of its accommodation stock in any kind of quality inspection scheme at all. It has a vision for how things can be better. It certainly is not right yet, but it is actually making great strides to get there.

  21. I am not trying to encourage snobbery, which can be quite predominant in British attitudes about British holidays; things are maybe improving and many people find that they have an excellent, good value holiday in Blackpool. Many of my constituents go every second or third weekend, so it would be wrong to criticise. However, there is still an issue, is there not, about Britain being perceived as an expensive place for people to go on holiday?
  (Mr Britten) It is perceived as an expensive place and it is an expensive place relative to straight price comparison, but tourism is not all about price. None of us would ever say that you should not go on a cheap package holiday to Spain or should not go to the Algarve to play golf or Tuscany or wherever you want to go to. What we are saying is that we have never been able to put forward the alternative, and you are not just talking about price, there is also value. There are wonderful things in this country. The country has invested a huge amount of money, some of it through the Lottery, in places like the Lowry Centre, the Imperial War Museum, the south bank of the Tyne, the new art gallery in Walsall, the Eden Project, Tate Modern. It goes on and on and on. There are wonderful things to do here. Some of the museums are free, so it is not a cost thing there. There are wonderful walking and countryside holidays. My contention is that people go abroad and nobody is making the case for a good alternative in this country. Perhaps once in a hundred we could stop people going to northern Germany and Amsterdam. There are places where they would love to come here and we have not been making the case. That is how I see it.

Michael Fabricant

  22. You said that tourism was the fifth largest industry. Can you tell me in terms of overseas exports, in other words people coming to the United Kingdom from overseas and spending dollars and euros and whatever, where we rank?
  (Mr Britten) We think it is sixth, but you had better ask our colleagues in the BTA because they know more about the inbound traffic than we do.

  23. It has always struck me when the name was changed from National Heritage to Culture, Media and Sport that within the Department tourism is the biggest industry, so it seemed remarkable that they put in the culture, the media and the sport, but chose to leave out the tourism. You talked about £11 million being the total money being spent in England. I just want to ask about how you focus that money. You talked quite rightly about the value of places like the Eden Project and the Lowry Museum and so on. One of the problems nowadays is with cheap flights. It is not just people going to Spain but people going to the United States and to Australia, as I do, for a couple of weeks and you can do this very cheaply. Do you think that the marketing of England—and I know you are doing the marketing—to the English is focused enough with the limited resources which are available?
  (Mr Britten) The £11 million is the grant-in-aid which is given to the English Tourism Council. There is a lot more money promoting England given by local authorities to the regions and so on. One of the problems we have at the moment is that that is not co-ordinated, it is not focused, everybody is doing their own thing in all directions.

  24. Will that be overcome by the merger?
  (Mr Britten) It should be, because you are going to have a stronger group with, I hope, more clout, with a marketing role, a given responsibility to try to encourage co-ordination. The other thing which is totally lacking, if you go entirely for a decentralised system where destinations promote themselves, is any kind of promotion of things which cross regional boundaries. Nobody is marketing cathedral tours, for example.

  25. You only said that because I represent the great cathedral city of Lichfield.
  (Mr Britten) I never knew that!

  26. Following on remarks about seaside places like Blackpool, I am afraid I do have to agree with Chris Bryant and wonder whether it is worth promoting seaside resorts—dangerous stuff this because I was born near Brighton—as seaside resorts per se any more when presumably people go to a seaside resort primarily to go on the beach?
  (Mr Britten) It depends. In some cases it certainly is. We did a paper in response called Sea Changes recommending what you should do at seaside resorts. We were unequivocal that some of them should pack their bags and stop trying to be that. They should do something different. On the other hand, you look at the statistics today and you see that Torquay, for example, has had its best year in 20 years.

  27. Why is that, do you think?
  (Mr Britten) Because it is working hard to offer some things which people want. Your colleague mentioned that people do want to go to Blackpool. People want different things and our business is to find a market and satisfy that market. I would not by any means write out all seaside resorts. They should all reconsider what they are offering. Some, like Margate for example, are now trying to introduce a Turner Centre. It is an excellent idea to try to find a cultural icon for that place. They need to rethink their identities. If they are flogging on down the same old road, then they are set for disaster, but they can rethink themselves and recreate themselves and they do have attractions.

Derek Wyatt

  28. I did take my family to England and Scotland for their holiday this year. We booked our Scottish holiday via the VisitScotland website, but we could not book our holiday in England via a decent website. It is depressing 34 years after the internet was created, ten years since websites started being around. When we asked you last year hardly any of the regional tourist councils in England had a website so where are we with those?
  (Ms Lynch) When we gave evidence to the Committee last time, seven out of ten regional tourist boards had a consumer website. Now all ten have consumer facing websites, but the outstanding need and the point you have made very well is that if you are thinking of going somewhere in England but have not yet decided where you want to go, then there is no equivalent to the VisitScotland website, the Wales website or even for overseas visitors the VisitBritain website. There is no VisitEngland. That is part of the vision for EnglandNet and we are on track to have that in place by January. The reason why it has taken from the time we last met to now is that it took over 12 months to persuade the Treasury that this was a worthwhile investment for England. VisitScotland came into being because of investment over five years ago of £11 million. The key reason why we have been able to persuade the Treasury of the need for this is partly because of your experience as a customer, that it is absolutely the way people are researching and buying travel these days and partly because individual businesses cannot do it for themselves. If you are Hilton you can do it for yourself, but if you are one of 128,000 small businesses, you actually need the tools so that you have something to link into. That is why it is one of the key achievements of the English Tourism Council. That was not there, it was a major weakness for England and it will be there.

  29. Another factor is that as a result of RyanAir and EasyJet and Go, which is now part of EasyJet, and other cheaper airlines it is possible to go to Barcelona for £25. It is not possible to go anywhere in England for £25, certainly not by air. Certainly when I tried to go to Manchester during the Commonwealth Games it was not possible to go for £25 and it is only half of the distance to Barcelona. My point is that airports are key here. What people want is point to point contact as fast as possible for the holiday. What impact have you had on the Government's airport strategy which is currently going the rounds and which closes at the end of the month?
  (Mr Britten) It is perfectly true that air travel is very expensive within England. I imagine it will come down because competition will sort things and it is a very competitive market. Our prime contribution to the airport debate is to stress what in our view is important, which is the development of regional airports. We feel that we want to diversify tourists out of London. I have said several times that when you go to the Algarve you do not fly through Lisbon and I do not see why people going to the Eden Project should fly through Heathrow. There is a very good airport down there in Newquay which could well be developed. We could spread tourists actively around England by developing more regional airports which would to some extent alleviate the pressure on London.

Ms Shipley

  30. Everybody who wrote to us agrees that England needs to be marketed. How much? How much money does it need to market England?
  (Ms Lynch) Part of the debate over the summer was to answer exactly that question. The English Tourism Council, along with representatives from the commercial sector, came together, many of them marketing directors of big organisations, to address that issue: how much should we put on the table? Their unanimous view was that you needed to put £10 million as a minimum which would then be matched by the private sector to do an effective marketing job for England.

  31. How much does Scotland spend?
  (Ms Lynch) In total the allocation is £40 million.

  32. Yes, but how much does it actually spend on marketing?
  (Ms Lynch) Because the £40 million is for the next financial year, I cannot answer precisely, but it is going to be about £25 million.

  33. What percentage was it in Wales?
  (Ms Lynch) About £18 million.

  34. So England, a much bigger country, only £10 million. That is not viable, is it? Ten million is not enough, is it?
  (Ms Lynch) When we had a debate on this subject with representatives of the Treasury present, we came to the conclusion that it was almost impossible to answer the question, how much is enough? What you had to say was: what level of business do you want to generate? The industry focused on the question of what they felt the minimum was to have an impact.

  35. But to have significantly less than either Wales or Scotland ... Surely a mean around what Scotland and Wales have got would be a more viable figure as a bottom starting point. Look at what Scotland are doing, look at what Wales are doing and some figure near that. Is it industry which is not willing to back or is it the Treasury which is not willing to upfront? Where is the problem?
  (Ms Lynch) The view from the industry, and this is supported in their submissions, particularly from the Tourism Alliance, is that they want to work with government, they will work in partnership, they will put match funding on the table, but they think it has to be a partnership and that means there has to be some funding on the table.

  36. I have got that point. What I am saying is that £10 million is clearly not enough, it really is not. If Wales is £17 million and Scotland £25 million, then England has to be at least up there. Is it the Treasury which is not putting in the upfront money, the £20 million that it probably needs, or is it the industry which says it is not going to back that amount of money, a bit lower, a bit lower? Which is it? Where is the problem?
  (Mr Britten) It is certainly not the industry saying a bit lower, a bit lower.

  37. So it is Government.
  (Mr Britten) I agree entirely with Mary; you can never say what is enough. It is certainly an intention that this new, larger, stronger organisation will make better use of the money which is out there now, because it is not just the money coming from the English Tourism Council.

  Chairman: Thank you very, very much indeed. It has been extremely useful, though, I have to tell you, from my point of view rather depressing. Thank you very much indeed.

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