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Lord Phillips of Sudbury: My Lords, before the noble Lord sits down, perhaps I may clarify what I said. I certainly did not suggest that there should be regional boards with offices abroad. I said specifically that there should be a modest increase in their budgets. They should continue to work under the BTA as they do now but with bespoke efforts to recruit foreign tourists.

Lord Montagu of Beaulieu: My Lords, they do not work under the BTA now.

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8.26 p.m.

Viscount Falkland: My Lords, like other noble Lords, I thank the noble Baroness, Lady Anelay, for allowing the House to address the problems of tourism. I believe that there are problems. I follow the noble Lord, Lord Montagu of Beaulieu, in trying to face a few facts which fundamentally affect the marketing of tourism in Britain. I spent most of my childhood and teenage years in south Devon, which was then one of the most desirable parts of these islands for the purposes of holidays for British people. I grew up in the area known as Torbay which, like other seaside resorts in Britain, has suffered badly in recent years from changes in the pattern of tourism, by which I mean holidays taken by British people. If they can, they replace that lost market by creating attractions for people from further afield.

A little historical perspective is perhaps necessary to understand why these changes have occurred. As with a number of seaside resorts where the climate is warmer and wetter--not so much East Anglia--Devon was an enormous attraction when holidays from work became more commonplace. The annual drift from the North, the Midlands and other industrial areas to the South West was an important part of the economy of Devon and Cornwall. So sure was it that in the years between the wars, and following the Second World War, locals in Devon in particular took it for granted and became rather snooty about visitors, who were referred to first as trippers and then holidaymakers.

A huge industry of small hotels and boarding houses grew up in Torquay. The town became well known through the television programme "Fawlty Towers", which was a caricature of a small hotel in a seaside resort. I do not think that any hotels were quite as extraordinary as "Fawlty Towers", but it was an example of the middle-range seaside hotel which in recent years has suffered incredibly badly.

Torquay actually had one of the most attractive hotels in Britain--the Imperial Hotel. It was called "Imperial" because the imperial Russian family used to stay there. For many years it drew an upmarket clientele to Devon. Rather optimistically they used to call the area the English Riviera. Torquay, like Rome, was built on a number of hills. It enjoyed a fine climate because it faced in the right direction. I look at the noble Lord, Lord Hunt, who is an expert on weather. It was known for growing palm trees and other plants which could not be found at the other side of the area, in Torbay, which faced north, and it had none of these attractions.

People came down in droves. They mostly came down by rail. As the use of the car became more common they came down in their motor cars. The roads got clogged up and were gradually improved. The war came. There was then a great expansion of foreign travel and package tours. It completely destroyed the hotel industry in Devon. People from the industrial Midlands, as they were in those days, and the North turned to foreign destinations. Places like Torquay and similar places in Cornwall have had a tough time.

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In that area there was a particular market which attracted foreign visitors as well as the more affluent British visitor. That was the yachtsmen who came to Devon. A number of hotels along the coastline were developed specifically for that market. They, too, have suffered in recent years. But they knew in those days what their market was at all levels and what they needed to provide by way of product to satisfy that market.

It is now extremely difficult for the seaside resorts of Britain, having had this decline, to recover. This is set against the general trends in Britain which make marketing a very difficult exercise. Other noble Lords have talked about the difficulties of competing with other countries. The noble Lord, Lord Hunt, mentioned France. France has put in an enormous amount of effort and tourism is one of its major industries. Tourism is fifth in Britain in importance of industries. In France it is considerably higher. The French have put a great deal of investment and energy into it. They are practical about these matters. I rather agree with the French view. They are rather chauvinistic people historically. But they look upon tourism as a business. They do not see anything intrinsically virtuous about tourism. In fact they look upon it as a necessary evil.

I agree with the noble Lord, Lord Beaumont, that, environmentally, one can see tourism as a necessary evil. But it is a business after all, and there is all the more need to raise the added value and the quality of what is offered to create income to compensate for the damage which it does by expanding and spreading the range of what is on offer to the foreign visitor. I fear that is not done

Other noble Lords have mentioned, either directly or by indirect reference, the poor quality compared to other countries of food, of hotel accommodation and certainly of travel. The noble Baroness, Lady O'Cathain, mentioned the parlous state of the railways. No one in their right mind who is planning a holiday in Britain would want to take a train to go anywhere. Indeed, would they want to take a motor car? I enjoy going to France. I only use my car in France.

Lord Hunt of Chesterton: My Lords, one can now travel to Cambridge as fast as one could in November. It takes about 50 minutes. It works very well indeed. So in some places it is working.

Viscount Falkland: My Lords, while mugging up for this debate I read that it is cheaper to make a return trip to New York than to buy a rail ticket to Preston. I am sure the noble Lord is correct; there are exceptions. As my noble friend Lord Phillips said, his area is bucking the trend because, generally speaking, the number of foreign visitors is declining overall while our own people are increasingly going abroad on holiday. There is a deficit there that needs to be addressed.

I agree with my noble friend's point that there needs to be more marketing by the regional boards. They understand best what is on offer and how it can be

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developed, particularly in the South West. The South West is so poor that it is not able even to contemplate evolving a strategy for doing this.

In preparation for the debate I had a brief from a group which has developed from a leisure company called Leisure Parcs Limited which has taken over some of the assets of First Leisure. It plans to develop Blackpool. That is another great seaside resort which has seen great decline. Depending on what the gambling review body says, it wants to develop what it will call casino hotels in Blackpool. It is an idea which is worth visiting. Perhaps in the future we shall have the opportunity to debate that matter in the House. I do not think that it can be developed as a mini-Las Vegas for the world, whatever the gambling review body reports, but it is an interesting idea. The more people who have innovative ideas of this kind the better. Blackpool may well be a good place to develop carefully controlled, high-quality casino ventures of that kind. I wish them well.

It is clear that we do not compete satisfactorily with a number of our neighbours. Let us take 500. If one takes 500 at today's exchange rate, goes around England and stays in moderate hotels the money will not last long. One needs to bear in mind the travel and so on. If one takes 500 to France, one can stay everywhere in good, clean, cheap hotels. One can stay in a room anywhere with an en suite bathroom. Food is always good and the service is excellent.

Just to round off, I take up the point about service. As the noble Baroness, Lady O'Cathain, said, service is one of the most important areas. Service in this country is, by and large, deplorable. It is deplorable because here there is a cultural aversion to serving people. That will not do. I do not know how we shall deal with the matter. I spoke to the managing director of a cinema group recently. I said, "How is it that in your cinemas you never know whether you will be treated well or rudely?" He replied, "We go to endless lengths to tell people who join us about this. We give them courses of all kinds. But there is an inbuilt resistance to serve. It is seen as demeaning". So it is better--

Lord Hunt of Chesterton: My Lords, does the noble Viscount agree that generally the service in an English pub is as good as that in a French bar? That has certainly always been my experience.

Viscount Falkland: My Lords, the Government Whip was beginning to wave his arm. I will answer that question and wind up. There are always exceptions to what I am saying but, generally speaking, service here is appalling. That needs to be addressed. I hope that the Government will do their best to generate the kind of action that is needed to attempt to solve the problem.

8.40 p.m.

Lord McIntosh of Haringey: My Lords, a winding-up speech of this kind usually begins with thanks to

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noble Lords for their contributions to the debate. However, I have to remind your Lordships that the Unstarred Question on the Order Paper is,


    "To ask Her Majesty's Government what steps they are taking to promote the marketing of British tourism to visitors from overseas".

I believe that the first step we should take is to suppress the record of this debate! Your Lordships have been candid and this has been a frank but fair exchange of views. I do not think that BTA will wish to hear some of the criticisms that have been made of tourist facilities and of this country, from its weather to its transport.

That does not prevent me from saying that this Government take tourism and the tourism industry extremely seriously. The tourism industry is of enormous economic importance to this country. I do not wish it to be regarded, by an association with dark satanic mills, in any other way. We have taken it seriously from the very beginning. Last year we published and debated in this House a strategy for tourism in the document, Tomorrow's Tourism, which sets out our strategy for the future development of tourism and our agenda for economically sustainable and, as the noble Lord, Lord Beaumont wishes, environmentally sustainable growth in the years ahead.

We have done what the noble Baroness, Lady O'Cathain, wants. We have had joined-up government in respect of this matter. In March 2000 we held the first Tourism Summit following the publication of the strategy document. We brought together government Ministers from all the key government departments to discuss the whole range of issues impacting on the tourism and travel industries. It was a great success. The Ministers who attended left with commitments to give whatever help they could to the tourism industry, and we shall have another summit of that kind in March this year.

Despite some comments that have been made this evening, tourism is a major success story. After the United States, France, Italy and Spain, we are fifth in the world in terms of earnings from visitors. I heard what the noble Lord, Lord Montagu, said about the downturn in the number of visitors to some tourist attractions. However, despite the strength of sterling, or, to be more precise, the weakness of the euro, it is still the case that expenditure in 1999 by overseas visitors was 12.5 billion. Around 25.4 million visitors spent 3.17 billion on travel with British carriers. Although there may have been a downturn in some respects, the number of North American visitors, for example, increased by three per cent in the first 11 months of the year 2000, compared with 1999. When the final figures for 2000 have been confirmed, they are likely to show that, for the first time, we shall have had 4 million visitors from North America to Britain in one year. In addition, the business sector, to which the noble Baroness, Lady Anelay, referred is steadily growing. It is a particularly important market, since business visitors spend one-third more per day than other tourists.

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As many speakers have said, it is true that we need to meet and exceed visitor expectations if we are to compete. I do not deny the points that have been made about the black spots in our tourism provision. I heard what was said about transport and what was said by the noble Viscount, Lord Falkland, in relation to the problems of seaside resorts. The English Tourism Council is addressing that problem by offering individual regeneration strategies to seaside resorts throughout the country. I do not deny that much work still needs to be done. However, I should like to say--and I am glad to have had the support of a number of noble Lords--what an excellent job the British Tourist Authority does. I am particularly grateful for the personal commendation from the noble Lord, Lord Montagu.

The BTA has won many awards world-wide. In 1999 it was voted the best national tourist office by the travel trade in Australia, Ireland, New Zealand, South Africa, Sweden and New York. It works closely with the UK tourism industry; it provides information on market trends, so that we remain competitive; it has a programme of inward press missions and a range of services and resources for international media, from which we are getting excellent media coverage. The noble Baroness, Lady Anelay, specifically raised a point about the overseas offices, to which I shall refer later.

With regard to the funding of the BTA, the impression seems to have been gained that we have been reducing funding. In practice, it was the previous government that reduced the funding for the BTA in real terms. After the first two years in which we kept to the previous government's revenue spending plans, our comprehensive spending review allowed us to give a significant increase of 5 million grant-in-aid over three years from the financial year 1999-2000 to the financial year 2001-02.

In addition, although I am congratulating the BTA, we have not been uncritical. We have carried out a very detailed review of the BTA, which was published earlier this month. The noble Baroness, Lady Anelay, asked me whether we endorsed all the recommendations. It is a little early to do that in a period of only 13 days, but we shall be producing a response to that and we shall be encouraging and taking an active part in stage two of the review, which will follow from this year, and reporting next year. The report contains many detailed points, which time does not permit me to debate, but its fundamental finding was that we have the right organisation; that it should be a non-departmental public body; that it should not be privatised; that it should not be drawn into a department; that it generally has the right relationship with the English Tourism Council and the devolved administrations; and, therefore, that no fundamental organisational change is required. I am grateful for the welcome of the noble Baroness, Lady Anelay, for the review. I hope that we shall have her continued support for stage two.

We are now looking at performance targets, which is a difficult issue. On the basis of performance targets, which are, broadly speaking, the rate of return on

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investment, which can be a crude measure--in other words, whether it is 31 of expenditure by overseas visitors for 1 of BTA expenditure or a lower or higher figure--it is sometimes possible for an organisation to make misjudgments. I am not suggesting that they have made a misjudgment in reducing the number of overseas offices. They have made other provision for the areas in which they have closed offices. But we have to consider whether there should be a development fund for markets that are going to be more important in the future, on which we might spend money without necessarily getting them immediately the same rate of return on investment. That is one of the issues to be addressed in the stage two review. Meantime, I cannot give the noble Baroness, Lady Anelay, the assurance that we shall not close any of the offices.

The noble Lord, Lord Montagu, asked for just a little more funding. Everybody asks for just a little more funding. We are doing fairly well. Not only have we given more to the BTA, but this is part only of our expenditure on tourism. Under the current expenditure plans, we are increasing expenditure on the English Tourism Council from 10 million in 2001-02 to 12.5 million in 2003-04. We have given extra money to the London Tourist Board to work with the BTA on the Focus London project. We are spending 1 billion in the current year on the arts, Royal Parks, palaces, museums and galleries, much of which directly benefits tourism. That is without taking into consideration the enormous expenditure of around 90 million by English local authorities. I certainly rebut any suggestion that the Government are being mean towards tourism. I would find that slightly odd coming from a party which felt, as the noble Baroness, Lady Anelay, said in her opening speech, that we should keep out of the way as far as possible. That internal contradiction in Conservative thinking always causes me a certain amount of wry amusement.

The noble Baroness, Lady Anelay, referred to the Culture and Recreation Bill and asked about our future plans. We shall not be looking for an opportunity to make changes in primary legislation through the Bill as a result of the BTA review. We shall not be making any changes to the 1969 Act. We shall consult widely on the full implications of the proposals in the review. We certainly do not think that it is appropriate to leap into immediate legislation.

Much valuable comment was made on the marketing of England as a tourist destination. A number of noble Lords emphasised regional attractions. The noble Lords, Lord Hunt of Chesterton, Lord Montagu and Lord Beaumont, made particularly valuable points. The noble Lord, Lord Phillips, said that we should be giving more core funding to the English regions. That is exactly what we have been doing by the change in the remit of the England Tourism Council, of which he seems to disapprove; he wants to re-establish the English Tourist Board. That has enabled us to give more money directly to the regional tourist boards, which are not government organisations but companies limited by guarantee.

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We do not think that any organisational change is called for at this time. We set up the ETC as a strategic body. It would not be able to perform that role effectively if it had a marketing remit as well. There would have to be a good deal of debate and research before we decided that the promotion of England as an entity was likely to be efficient. After all, we have the BTA and the regional tourist boards playing an important role in marketing England. We resist the suggestion in the Conservative tourism strategy that we should provide the ETC with a marketing voice.

I was interested in what was said about sports tourism and the recent all-party committee report. The BTA's Manchester marketing campaign strategy was its first specific campaign to market Manchester in Ireland. There will be an evaluation of its success. We are glad to have evidence on the ground, so to speak, from the visit of the noble Baroness, Lady Anelay, to Dublin.

I understand the point made by the noble Baroness, Lady O'Cathain, about China and emerging countries. A number of other noble Lords made comparable points. But, again, that is a proper subject for stage two of the review.

I was asked about e-tourism. In response to the noble Lord, Lord Phillips, we certainly appreciate the growing importance of the ability of people to make bookings and to gain information by electronic means. Janet Anderson, the Minister for Tourism, has set up a ministerial advisory group to advise on ways in which tourism-related businesses can exploit new technology. Again, this is not government doing it; it is the industry itself doing it. I appreciate also the point made by the noble Baroness, Lady O'Cathain, about skill shortages. Several noble Lords asked why in our country young people do not as naturally go into tourism as in other countries. What I can say from personal experience is that it does seem to be changing.

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The quality of young people from all kinds of different ethnic and national backgrounds going into tourism seems to be improving. That is helped by the national minimum wage and by the steps we are taking to improve the image of the tourism industry in its broadest sense.

I take very seriously the points made about the quality of service, particularly in the light of the derogatory comments that I have heard today. We have the quality grading scheme. It is a voluntary scheme. It is significantly increasing its coverage. It has just been extended to cover self-catering properties and caravan parks. It is a single grading scheme between the ETC and the RAC and the AA. If it does not work, we may be prepared to consider a compulsory scheme. But that would be a significant burden on business. The party which purports to seek to avoid burdens on business should be wary of going in too quickly.

There are some things we can do. There are some things, like the weather--pace my noble friend Lord Hunt--that we cannot do. But I understand my noble friend's point that we could teach people better about the weather and forecast it better than we do. I am more equivocal about the points which he and the noble Lord, Lord Beaumont, made about our gastronomic successes.

I have spoken for far too long. We have a lot to offer in this country. We have a huge diversity of climate, heritage and visitor attractions. We are continually seeking to develop innovative ways of promoting Britain. The BTA is working enormously effectively in that regard. The Government are playing their part in promoting tourism by their commitment to cutting unnecessary red tape but making sure that regulation provides proper protection, driving up quality, working to improve career possibilities and listening to the views of the tourism industry.

        House adjourned at two minutes before nine o' clock.


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