Select Committee on Culture, Media and Sport Minutes of Evidence

Examination of Witnesses(Questions 60-72)



  60. Just look at the Foreign Office which probably has as many offices as the British Council. Where is tourism in the Foreign Office, in the embassies and consulates? How many people look after tourism in those offices, since they have a business role?
  (Mr Quarmby) There are none. They work with the BTA.

  61. What is the point?
  (Mr Quarmby) What is the point of what?

  62. Surely the BTA should be inside the FCO.
  (Mr Quarmby) No. Often the best place for us is on the high street where people who are interested in tourism come in. The location does not matter. The important thing is that we work closely with the embassies and the consulates in cities where we have an office and we greatly appreciate the support that the much larger organisation gives to us. In many places we are a four or five person office. We get great benefit by working and having the support of the foreign postings.
  (Mr Wright) We are running call centres, information provision, in 27 countries. It is not necessarily the right location to have those in the centre of a city.
  (Mr Quarmby) Indeed only last week the Foreign Office launched their new website, which is information all about the UK and BTA has provided a substantial chunk of material into that website and the website itself links through to the BTA websites. That is based on a project done in Japan to provide exactly that integrated website for the market in Japan.

Mr Bryant

  63. Two small issues. One is about airports and the kind of greeting you get when you arrive in an airport must surely be very important. I remember the first time I went to New York arriving and as you got off the aeroplane there was a big sign saying "Welcome home for US citizens" and there was an escalator up to immigration. Then it said "Aliens this way" and there was a very steep staircase. Sometimes it feels a bit like that in British airports. It is as though foreigners are not really welcome. Some of them are pretty manky and distressing buildings and pretty distressed for that matter as well. What work do you do with BAA to make sure that our airports are welcoming? One thing I know you did was that when we arrived at Manchester for the Commonwealth Games the first photo, the big sign I saw as I came off the aeroplane was a great big picture of Ascot which was yours, it was BTA's. I thought it was a bizarre way of advertising Britain. You cannot buy a ticket to Ascot if you have only just arrived, it is a very curious aspect of Britain to be publicising.
  (Mr Quarmby) The Only in Britain campaign which has run this year has included—and the English Tourism Council administered this on our behalf, for which we are very grateful—a considerable amount of activity within the UK, including welcome posters at airports, welcome packs, welcome packs through tourist information centres, etcetera. For the first time, we have seriously addressed the question of welcoming foreign visitors. Whether it is a picture of Ascot in Manchester, okay, that might not have been the appropriate image there, the important thing is that it is a welcoming image of Britain and a welcome message. In fact there was plenty of other welcome to say "This is the home of the Commonwealth Games", as you will have been aware. We have been very assiduously auditing the quality of welcome that visitors to the UK get. In fact we did a study two or three years ago.
  (Mr Donoghue) Yes, we undertook a study about two years ago called First Impressions and we sent a copy to all the members of the Committee. One of the things we did was to try to identify how the greeting and the services at British points of entry could be benchmarked against other international competitors. We drew up a number of recommendations which we passed not only to DCMS but to all relevant government departments. One of the things which has arisen over the course of the last two years is the ministerial summit on tourism, which brings together a number of ministers from across Whitehall and now also the devolved administrations to look at their joint responsibilities for tourism, picking up on something Mr Wyatt said. One of the things we think the Department of Transport and BAA and others, ports as well, can do is to improve their welcome to overseas visitors, to improve some of the facilities, particularly signage, which in some cases is poor and in other cases excellent. If you would like another copy of First Impressions I am happy to send it after this session.

  64. Sticking with airports, you may be aware that quite a few potential travellers when arriving for internal British flights and when asked for photo ID of course do not necessarily have photo ID and perhaps if you are an unusual traveller, which might perhaps be because you are going to a funeral or something like that, not only will the carrier refuse to carry you, but also will insist that they will not repay you. Do you think that is fair?
  (Mr Quarmby) I am afraid I personally am not aware of that practice at the moment.
  (Mr Donoghue) Yes, that is exclusively for domestic flights. One of the things we do have is a concordat or a memorandum of understanding with the Immigration Service and that is where we have our interface in terms of overseas visitors coming in, who will of course have sufficient ID. As far as I am aware the issue of not having ID has not been raised if you travel domestically.

  Mr Bryant: Several of us will have stories of somebody realising that they had to take ID, taking along their birth certificate, being the only thing they have because they do not drive, in the normal course of life they do not have a cheque guarantee card or anything like that, going to a funeral and not being able to attend the funeral because the carrier refused to carry them and then subsequently British Airways refusing to refund the cost of the flight even. That seems to me patently unfair.

  Rosemary McKenna: It is the low cost carriers. If you book through the internet it actually says on the booking form, but not everyone reads all the small print on the booking form, that you have to take ID with you, usually a passport.

  Chairman: May I add to that? In fact Ryanair lies about what their responsibilities are. I had a constituent who had booked a ticket with Ryanair to Dublin and it said on the ticket that it was refundable. She had to go back to Manchester for a medical emergency and they would not refund it. The only way I got it back for her was by writing to the Prime Minister of Ireland who forced them to do it.

Mr Bryant

  65. You say in your evidence that the exchange rate is the single largest external influence on inbound tourism. Does that mean that you think the British tourism industry would benefit if we were to join the euro?
  (Mr Quarmby) Whether or not the exchange rate at which we would join the euro, if we did, were to change—and I am afraid I do not have evidence to support this—my own belief is that the fact we are a different currency from the rest of Europe does have a small though probably significant effect on inbound tourism from Europe and also for long-haul travellers who do Europe as well as do the United Kingdom. If I were pressed on an estimate, I would say it was probably worth a percentage point or two on our inbound tourism earnings. Certainly I have been aware when I have travelled in Europe and met some Americans they say that it is just so easy because the euro is about the same as the dollar but they have to change when they go to the UK. I am just speaking purely from the visitors' point of view.

  Mr Bryant: Your one or two percentage points are exactly the same as the English Tourism Council is hoping it could achieve in transforming the number of people staying in the UK.

Mr Doran

  66. On the issue of the proposed new body—to follow up a point John Thurso made, but mainly because he thrust a piece of paper in front of me so showing some solidarity with my Scottish colleagues—it strikes me, looking from the outside that there is a real danger of conflict of interest and even though it is not actual, it is certainly likely to be perceived. If you have any experience, for example, of the press that VisitScotland has had over the last year, you will maybe see what is coming to the British Tourist Authority. In the VisitScotland website they say that for some of Scotland's more established markets they would like, if they had sufficient resources, to drive their own marketing from the front using their own overseas representations, supported where necessary by the BTA. So they put you in a very minor role as far as their own ambitions are concerned, certainly in the established market. How do you see that operating in practice and what effect will this have on your standing, at least in Scotland?
  (Mr Quarmby) I can understand entirely the concern that either the Scottish media or Scottish Members of Parliament, Members of the Scottish Parliament or others in the industry might have about us and about the ability to manage what you described as a potential conflict of interest. My own view is that it is manageable and it is reinforced by the measures we have already described, such as the ring-fenced funding, such as the shape and accountability, such as the BTA's new overseas marketing strategy which has been developed in very close consultation with the Scottish and Welsh Tourist Boards, indeed as with the regions of England too. Of course there will be a perception problem. There are still some in the Scottish media now who say that BTA cannot possibly do a decent job for Scotland because they are London-centric and London based. Fortunately those who know us in the Scottish industry, those on Scottish Enterprise and the Lifelong Learning Committee, in front of whom we appeared only two or three weeks ago in Inverness, have seen the whites of our eyes, understood something of our work, seen our outputs, do not share that view. We have a basis on which to provide the reassurance about how we manage this.
  (Mr Wright) May I just explain to you how we work and will continue to work with VisitScotland? VisitScotland have a number of priority markets around the world, but by no means all of the 27 markets which we currently represent Britain in. Therefore the strategy is very clear. They can choose their primary markets. They have four or five core markets which they are critical for inbound tourism to Scotland and they can piggyback all our infrastructure and resource and focus all their marketing investment on adding value very specifically to Scotland. Then there are other markets where they want us to take the lead because they are secondary markets and the same is true for the Wales Tourist Board. The Wales Tourist Board already have an overseas representative who sits in our New York office, focuses very specifically on promoting Wales as being two hours from London and piggybacks all the work we do collectively for Britain in those markets. It is horses for courses and every overseas market is different in the way it sees Wales, England, Scotland, Britain. We have that understanding, we have a specialism; we have the call centres, the websites. That then allows the devolved nations to really focus their marketing investment on making a difference for the markets which are most critical. They are very comfortable with that strategy, as are we, moving forward.
  (Mr Quarmby) We provide trade relations on the spot, we provide the call centres, we provide the facilities to bring journalists over; something like 130 journalists have come to this country to write about Scotland from overseas. We provide the facility to handle all enquiries, we distribute the print, even in Scotland's established markets. We provide the platform on which every pound which VisitScotland spends goes straight into the market.

  67. Let me move on to a general question. You heard the point I raised earlier with the English Tourism Council. As an amateur and an outside observer what I picked up when I read through the papers, or it seemed to me anyway, was a lack of long-term strategy. Just developing some of the points which have come from colleagues, the reference Mr Wyatt made for example to British Council, it does seem to me that you tend to operate in a bit of a vacuum. For the fifth biggest industry that we have, that is a dangerous place to be. It strikes me, and we had the suggestion from Ms Lynch at the English Tourism Council, that the new body will be responsible for developing longer-term strategy. I can understand that. How will that merge in with the point Mr Donoghue made about the ministerial conference? It seems to me it has to get below ministers and work alongside the Department of Trade and Industry and the various other departments which are appropriate to boost this industry and give it a proper profile.
  (Mr Quarmby) There are levels here. There is a level at which the professionals in the tourist boards can draw together the elements of a strategy, which it has not been easy to do up to now with four different bodies. You may know of an initiative by the three current national tourist boards of England, Wales and Scotland, to come together, it is called Tourism UK, to work with the industry and to develop a clear strategy for tourism and BTA has been part of that. The new organisation will make it easier to generate that synergy between the national tourist boards and with the industry to help take a lead at the professional level. It needs to be supported and endorsed and owned by ministers. One of the things we look forward to is UK ministers getting together.
  (Mr Donoghue) It can be argued that there are several different tourism strategies for the United Kingdom. There is certainly a Welsh strategy, there is a Scottish tourism strategy, there is a DCMS tourism strategy which was launched three years ago and which ministers accept needs a great deal of refreshing now.


  68. Whatever happened to that?
  (Mr Donoghue) It was launched very successfully and we implemented those bits we had responsibility for.

  69. Please let me make absolutely clear—and I am sure this goes for my colleagues as well—that not a single word of questioning is meant as criticism of yourselves.
  (Mr Donoghue) Thank you very much. In that spirit, I shall continue. It does need refreshing now because it spoke of another age, it spoke of a tourism time before Foot and Mouth and before September 11. It clearly had not anticipated the announcement, as indeed we had not anticipated the announcement of last week, and it also created the English Tourism Council out of the English Tourist Board. Clearly the British strategy, and the English strategy as far as DCMS is concerned, need refreshing. More than that, however, it needs to take account of the realities of devolution, not least of which is that it has been the case over the course of the last 18 months that each of the nations of the United Kingdom has had differing and sometimes conflicting demands of BTA. One of the things we drew this Committee's attention to when we appeared before you last April was the need for clarity about growing the size of the tourism cake for the whole of the United Kingdom rather than perhaps individual Scottish or Welsh slices of that cake. The announcement last week enables us to do two things. One is to have a lead agency bringing together for the first time England's national coherent domestic marketing and that is something I think everybody applauds. The second is to plough more resources, in terms of personnel or money, into the promotion of the whole of Britain and therefore more money and more promotion of Scotland and Wales overseas with the intention of closing that deficit gap. All of that is going to be difficult to achieve, but not impossible. We are incredibly enthusiastic about the new role we have been given. We are greatly heartened by the fact that the devolved administrations have welcomed this decision and are prepared to work with us. Only yesterday I was in Cardiff liaising with the tourism units in the Welsh Assembly government about what some of those objectives might be and similarly will be in Edinburgh tomorrow doing the same thing with the Scottish Executive. It is going to be a tough job, but we will do it.

Mr Doran

  70. That is still tourism talking to tourism. I did raise the point about the vacuum. Locate in Scotland, the regeneration body which attempts to draw resources into Scotland, works very closely with VisitScotland. There is a synergy there. Scotland is a good place to live, to visit, to invest in. You made a throwaway remark earlier about training; you said you are not responsible for training and that is somebody else's job. That strikes me as a problem if you are responsible for quality. Who can address the training issue but you because you know the standards you require. You operate in a vacuum. How are you going to get out of that vacuum?
  (Mr Quarmby) You make a fair point and when government sets up agencies such as ours to do specific jobs, government has to own the task of providing the glue which brings them together. For example, in terms of overseas, tourism is not the only thing which Britain is concerned about in its dealings with the rest of the world. One of the initiatives which we greatly welcome, which Tom Wright is involved in, is Sir Michael Jay at the Foreign Office now chairing the Public Diplomacy Strategy Board, which is attempting to bring together all different agencies which deal with the rest of the world, whether it is tourism, whether culture and education, whether trade development, whether investment, as well as the Foreign Office's own diplomatic tasks.

Derek Wyatt

  71. When is that going to report?
  (Mr Wright) It is an ongoing board.

  72. Who takes over when he goes to Washington?
  (Mr Wright) The dates for that board are arranged so that Sir Michael is there. We meet fairly frequently.

  Chairman: I am very sorry, I am going to have to bring this to an end. We have overrun our time. We could have gone on for a lot longer. May I thank my colleagues for their lines of questioning and restraint in terms of time? May I compliment you on standing up to the fusillade of questions about a situation which is not of your making, but which you have to make work? Thank you.

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