Examination of Witnesses (Questions 1
THURSDAY 26 APRIL 2001
HAMBLIN, OBE, AND
Chairman: Good morning. Thank you very
much indeed for coming to see us today. This is an inquiry which
we have undertaken with some urgency in view of the problems that
the tourist industry is facing. We will get going right away with
Mr Fearn opening the batting.
1. Good morning. Yesterday we had a debate on
the rural economy in the House of Commons and in that debate I
asked the Minister when would the eight million which you are
supposed to get be forthcoming and he did not know, he did not
give an answer. Have you got an answer?
(Mr Donoghue) Good morning, Chairman.
Good morning, Committee Members. We put in a bid costed at £22.5
million through the DCMS to the Treasury. We project that is at
least the amount required in order to undertake a serious and
effective recovery campaign for Britain's inbound tourism industry
this year. So far, as you know both from the media and also from
the Prime Minister's Question Time yesterday afternoon, we have
received £2.2 million from the Department for Culture, Media
and Sport, which has been matched by £2.1 million from our
own existing resources. We have made it clear to the Department
for Culture, Media and Sport, who have been very eager and very
willing to support our bid, that the money that we require is
actually needed now. We put in a second request for £8 million
of the £22.1 million that we requested to be agreed to, or
released, as soon as possible in order to start the second tranche
of activities, such as tactical advertising, as quickly as possible.
What the £2.2 million from the Department for Culture, Media
and Sport has enabled us to do is to rebut some of the inaccurate
media coverage overseas of Britain's image as a tourism destination.
Hopefully we will get an announcement in the next couple of days.
2. But so far the Treasury have not said that
you can have the £22.5 million, you have only got a promise
of £8 million on top of the £2.2 million?
(Mr Donoghue) There have been two things that we are
pinning our hopes on. One is a couple of meetings with the Prime
Minister over the course of the last couple of weeks in which
he and other Ministers have said that the money that we require
in order to undertake an effective and serious recovery campaign
for Britain's inbound tourism industry will be forthcoming. The
second is the commitment that was given yesterday afternoon in
Prime Minister's Question Time which was that an announcement
of further investment in Britain's tourism industry will be made
in the next couple of days. We have not received any further information.
3. It is very much in the air at the moment.
What are you going to do with the £8 million? You have only
mentioned advertising, tactical advertising.
(Mr Hamblin) Tactical advertising. Perhaps I should
explain that a little more clearly. When we had our world tourism
leaders over last week they were able to see that for 99.9 per
cent of overseas visitors who came last year, they could come
again this year and do precisely the same things that they did
last year. We took them into the Lake District, we took them into
Dartmoor. The very strong feeling from them was that we could
now become more aggressive. They have seen the number of cases
of foot and mouth being reported on a daily basis reducing over
the past couple of weeks. It was their strong recommendation,
and indeed the recommendation of my officers overseas, that we
could now begin some marketing activity. The sort of things that
we would contemplate would be price driven. So there will be advertisements
with a clear call to action and they will be related to price,
they will be related to value. The object of that would be to
kick start the tourism industry inbound once again. There are
a number of countries we have identified where we believe the
problem is most severe: United States, Canada, Australia as far
as long haul markets are concerned; and from Europe, France, Germany,
Switzerland, Belgium, the Netherlands and Ireland. Although for
the Netherlands and Ireland at the present moment we would not
suggest any advertising activity be undertaken, perhaps some direct
mail, because the press hostility towards Britain as a tourism
destination in Ireland and in the Netherlands is still quite intense.
4. Finally, would you agree that the Government
was so slow off the markyou did a great job, the ETC did
a great job as wellthat you were on your own in the beginning
and the Government had not realised that tourism is associated
with the crisis that we have? Is that not right? I saw it that
(Mr Donoghue) This is no false flattery, Chairman,
but I think this Committee has been one of the few voices in the
wilderness for many years which has appreciated the economic importance
of tourism. I think it is fair to say that it is only because
of this crisis, unfortunately, that the appreciation of tourism's
economic importance has only become fully appreciated both in
certain areas of Government but more broadly in the media and
in the public.
5. Thanks very much for saying that. This Committee
has, throughout its existence, been pointing out that tourism
is the biggest private sector industry in this country, that it
probably attracts more foreign currency than any other industry
in the country and it certainly provides more employment than
any other industry in the country. It has been very, very sadly
undervalued indeed and I think it is important just to place that
on the record. I would like to think that it is a message that
could get across to the media in view of the fact that while the
foot and mouth outbreak is, of course, extraordinarily serious,
at the same time the hysteria with which it has been depicted
has done terrible damage to our tourism industry.
(Mr Donoghue) Absolutely.
6. Do you accept that whilst foot and mouth
has been a crucial factor in the problems that the tourism industry
has faced, it has also been a collection of other issues in terms
of transport problems, the current rate of the pound, all of those
things, and to some extent the weather, that has made it more
difficult for the tourism industry in this country?
(Mr Hamblin) If we consider last year when we had
many of the problems you have outlined, a very strong pound, the
beginnings of the weather problems, we still managed to hold our
own. We had the same number of overseas visitors in the year 2000
as we received in 1999, and indeed the amount of money they spent
increased very slightly by two per cent. It is true to say that
the down turn in the world economies has not helped but we factored
that into our estimates of tourism income for this year and we
believed that, again, there would be a small growth in income.
Therefore, we believe wholeheartedly that the projections which
we are now making about a reduction of anywhere between £1.5
billion and £2.5 billion in spend by incoming tourists is
almost entirely down to foot and mouth disease and the perception
of Britain because of foot and mouth disease in overseas marketplaces.
7. In the past has your concentration on promotion
of Britain been in the urban areas rather than the rural areas?
(Mr Hamblin) No, it has been a mixture. It has depended
very much upon the segment of the market that we have been addressing.
For example, in the past we have undertaken a lot of activity
in the Netherlands promoting walking holidays and cycling holidays.
Clearly for this year, at least for now, that is not something
we are able to do. For certain markets from Southern Europe, for
example, city tourism is very, very important. It is this balanced
portfolio of activity which I think has provided strength to what
we do as the British Tourist Authority and our colleague tourist
boards, who are sitting behind me today. London is a very big
jewel in our crown, as are other citiesEdinburgh, Glasgow,
Cardiff, Manchester, Newcastle for examplebut the countryside
too is a vitally important component of the whole.
8. Will you be changing the strategy to reflect
the greater need of the rural economy now?
(Mr Hamblin) All of us have spent time out in the
countryside talking to tourism businesses. Last week I was in
Cumbria and visited Holbeck Ghyll, a beautiful country house hotel
overlooking Lake Windermere. To talk to the owners of that property
was really quite disturbing because their business has suffered
massively. I believe that the key role of the British Tourist
Authority is to look after the interests of the 125,000 small
businesses that make up the tourism industry in this country and
I am determined that we will get them back into profitability.
The answer is yes, very much.
9. I spent Easter in the Lake District, so I
saw the issues for myself there. I understand from the information
I got while I was there that 90 per cent of all tourists in the
Lake District are domestic tourists. Whilst international visitors
spend proportionately more than domestic, by far the largest amount
is the domestic market that go there. Does that indicate that
our message has been as poor within the domestic market in encouraging
people to go to the Lake District and, indeed, other parts, as
it has abroad, and we actually need to do more to encourage the
domestic market back into those areas?
(Mr Hamblin) My role is to promote Britain overseas.
I am sure my colleagues from Cumbria Tourist Board, South West
Tourism and the English Tourism Council would be able to address
that question more effectively than I could. Because we are all
pulling in the same direction here I think it goes without saying
that it is incumbent upon all of us to ensure that prosperity
returns to rural areas.
(Mr Donoghue) It is also the case that the recovery
plans that are being put together by all of the regional and national
tourist boards, and ourselves, are entirely complementary and
they have been drawn up in co-operation with each other. If I
may come back to a point that you made about the message. I think
the message from the tourist boards has been absolutely clear:
go into the countryside if you can for all reasons and at all
possible opportunities so long as you follow some of the guidelines
which are available from Government and ourselves. If there is
a message which is destructive, however, it is the message from
the media because the pictures of burning pyres, which are featured
almost daily on the front page of the newspapers, not only affect
the decisions of people in this country to visit the countryside
but, of course, those images go right the way around the world.
Therefore, the rebuttal that we are engaged in is not only with
our overseas media but also increasingly our domestic media too.
10. I would say that the best message is to
actually go and see for yourselves because it is nothing like
the media portray it.
(Mr Hamblin) With the group that I brought over last
week, we brought the President of JALPAK from Japan and he gave
me a quote before he left relating to the Lake District. He said
"Before leaving Japan for this trip we were concerned that
the Lake District, a popular destination for Japanese tourists,
was inaccessible. The visit has clarified these misconceptions
and we are very pleased to be able to take back the message that
there is no barrier to visiting and exploring Cumbria."
11. Good morning. To begin with, when we first
had the outbreaks of foot and mouth I think we would all agree
that the Government did not take on board the impact that this
would have on tourism. I wonder if you could just give me some
idea of when it began to dawn on you that this was going to be
a crisis for our tourist industry as well? Was it when people
reported to you that people were losing bookings, or was it that
you could see for yourselves that this sort of press coverage
would not help? What action did you take then to wake up Government
that this was something that had to be tackled?
(Mr Hamblin) If I take the first question and Bernard
Donoghue will take the second. It first became clear to me that
we had a serious problem at the very beginning of March. ITB,
which is one of the world's leading tourism exhibitions, took
place in Berlin then and there was clear indication and concern
being expressed by tourists from throughout the world that we
had a major problem. By then, however, we had put in place an
immediate action group which has met daily since then, the object
being to monitor feedback from overseas, to monitor the impact
in the United Kingdom, to be able to glean accurate information
as to what was available to be done in Britain, and we pass that
out to our overseas offices on a daily basis. We update our web
site twice per day so that it is absolutely up to date about everything.
It was from the beginning of March. I will ask Bernard to answer
the second part of the question.
(Mr Donoghue) In terms of taking that information
and passing it through to Government, we have done a number of
things. Firstly, I think it is important to say that none of us
in tourism, in Government, in the veterinary profession, in farming
or agriculture anticipated the extent and duration of foot and
mouth. Therefore, if any agencies have been perceived to be slow
to respond I think it may well be that it was because none of
us had an appreciation of the extent of this. That being said,
we made sure that we made representations to Government very,
very quickly. That was both to the UK Government but also to the
devolved administrations of Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland.
In addition to that we have also ensured that a key number of
parliamentarians, of course yourselves included, receive weekly
briefings about what we have been doing and why, and crucially,
I think, to convey an impression of what the overseas media are
saying about Britain and the climate in which we are all working.
Once we fully appreciated the extent of the damage to the tourism
industry that foot and mouth could bring about we then put forward,
as I said, a costed proposal to Government which went to the Government
in mid to late March. That has already produced £2.2 million
for the British Tourist Authority and, as I said at the beginning,
we very eagerly look forward to the announcement, whatever announcement
it will be, in the next couple of days for a second tranche. We
have made it clear that the second tranche, we believe, needs
to be somewhere in the region of £8 million.
12. You said you made this recommendation mid
to late March when it was becoming very clear what was going to
happen over the Easter period. In a way, if Government dithers
any more then giving you money at the end of May is not much good,
is it, it is too late, we have lost then the Spring Bank Holiday
and June and July?
(Mr Hamblin) I think we are in grave danger unless
we can move quickly, and by that I mean within the next few days,
of losing the summer season. The feeling from the people who came
over with us last week was the advertisements that I was talking
about have got to appear in May if we are going to influence traffic
in June, July and August.
13. Talking about advertisements, did you have
any input into the advertisements that went into national newspapers
for the domestic market about ability to go into the countryside?
The full page advertsit was like a death notice actuallythat
said "you can go into the countryside" and then there
were a list of things you could not do which made one feel you
had to wear a plastic suit before you even went to the pub.
(Mr Donoghue) We were party to that although the extent
to which it fully reflected what we would want to say is doubtful.
We certainly responded very quickly when the Prime Minister asked
us to set up a web site, the www.openbritain.gov.uk web site,
which we produced in a weekend and a day. We were very quick off
the mark in order to do that. In hindsight it is quite a difficult
message to say on the one side "go into the countryside because
it is open for business, but whilst you are there you may not
be able to do these things". I think trying to bring both
of those messages, which are quite different, together in a very
simple and clear way is difficult. Our contribution to the whole
of that was to try to influence the kind of advertisement but
then also with the ETC to ensure that there were call centres
and web sites available for people to get a much more informed
view about what was open and what was not.
14. You have been trying to tell people from
abroad that you can come to this country and you said "you
can do precisely the same thing you did last year", and for
about 95 per cent that is the case, but of course we do recognise
that those areas that have been hit by foot and mouth are areasClaire
Ward said she visited the Lake District, my area is the Forest
of Dean, the South West, Dartmoor, and the Devon countrysidewhere
what a lot of people want to do in those areas is climb, walk,
bird watch, cycle, hike, mountaineer and they cannot do that because
they are in infected areas. I wonder if you could just let me
know what your strategy is because I suspect that group of tourism,
both inbound and from abroad, we have lost for this summer. When
the restrictions are off, hopefully as soon as possible, what
are your plans to bring it back in a big assault, maybe for next
(Mr Hamblin) The day before Good Friday we appointed
a worldwide PR agency who are now contracted and working with
us initially in the ten markets most affected but subsequently
in all 27 of the markets that we represent. As soon as we have
information about more and more footpaths opening up, they will
be put on to our web site, they will be shared with our PR agency
and that PR agency will be pushing that information out into the
media in those markets where we would normally welcome visitors
who come, for example, for walking. The advice we received from
one of our delegates from Denmark last week was "if you are
into soft adventure holidays, such as walking, waitand
you may not have to wait longbut all other aspects of Britain
can be enjoyed now". He very helpfully pointed out that spring
in the UKfingers crossedcomes earlier than in Denmark
so it is a great time to visit. We do have an awful lot of people
pulling for us. Provided that we are totally honest in the way
in which we portray what can be done in Britain then I think we
will continue to build confidence in our prospective visitors
and in the trade overseas.
Chairman: I am sorry, we have got to
move on. We have all got to be brisk today.
15. Just to pick up a couple of points you talked
about just now. You said that you have just appointed a worldwide
PR agency, what was your strategy before?
(Mr Hamblin) We were undertaking the PR activity in-house
but the sheer volume of the work we were having to do meant that
we simply did not have enough people to handle the volume of activity
that was being demanded of us.
16. We are a worldwide worthwhile destination,
would you not have thought it would have been even better to have
a worldwide PR agency, obviously earning a great deal of money
out of this, many years ago because of the type of product we
(Mr Hamblin) I have got to make a judgement as to
how to use the monies made available to me by the Department for
Culture, Media and Sport. My original budget for the current financial
year was £35.5 million. I am proud of the PR work that we
have undertaken over the years. With the volume of activity in
a normal year, the staff resource we have had has been perfectly
able to deal effectively with the PR work we have wanted to do.
We bring over to Britain, for example, in excess of 2,000 journalists
a year who go home and write stories that if we had to buy the
advertising space for would have cost us more than £20 million.
My judgment has been that we have not needed that PR agency but
in this emergency, quite honestly, the time which we have needed
to devote to PR activity has been enormous.
(Mr Donoghue) If I may answer that, Mr Fraser. In
this Committee's previous report into tourism you very accurately
pointed out that our budget for marketing, promotion and PR for
the continent of the whole of the Americas is less than that of
the promotional budget for the state of Virginia.
17. So would you put a bid in this morning for
future funding to better increase year on year than you have had
before, regardless of situations like this?
(Mr Donoghue) Yes.
(Mr Hamblin) I think there are two things on this.
One, the answer is yes. Two, we are not going to get through this
foot and mouth situation in one year, it is going to take some
time for the recovery to be complete and we would be misleading
you if we suggested anything other.
18. The VIP visitors you talked about and we
saw on the news at Windsor Castle, Buckingham Palace, Downing
Street and Chequers, to name but four interesting destinations,
what is the follow-up you have got with those people? They have
all gone home now and you hope that they are now going to produce
visitors. What is the plan with those people who were brought
here at vast expense to make sure that it was not just a PR coup?
(Mr Hamblin) Each of them on their departure from
Britain agreed that they will become tourism ambassadors for Britain.
On Tuesday of this week I was in Zurich. We had one representative
from Switzerland and he had been contemplating abandoning a charter
flight from Zurich into Newquay and from Zurich into Inverness,
but as a result of last week he has decided to keep those flights
on and I was in Zurich on Tuesday to discuss some marketing activity
which we can do jointly to ensure that those flights are successful.
On the same day, the three delegates from Belgium attended a press
conference held in our office which attracted Belgian media, including
television, and they were able to explain through their eyes what
they had seen in Britain. One of the journalists, trying to be
cantankerous, said "you are a tour operator, you promote
Britain, therefore it is not strange that you would say these
things", to which the gentleman responded "yes, but
there is a Trade Descriptions Act in Belgium also and if I try
to mislead any of my customers they will surely take legal proceedings
against me". We now have 40 tourism ambassadors around the
world. I have given you two examples of the activity being undertaken.
We are planning press conferences in Berlin, in Zurich, throughout
the United States. We are going to use those people who came over
for months and months to come to help reinforce the message that
Britain is as safe and as great as it has been in previous years.
19. And you are going to use well-known British
personalities as well as these people from abroad?
(Mr Hamblin) Yes, we are. We are currently in the
process of trying to recruit them. They will be British personalities
who have been identified within the marketplace as having the
impact to make a difference. For example, in Germany we are trying
to get Rosamunde Pilcher to come to the press conference in Berlin
and I sincerely hope that will happen. In Switzerland there is
a Swiss football player who plays for Liverpool, Stephane Henchoz,
and one who plays for Celtic, Ramon Vega. They have been identified
as clean-cut images of Swiss people living in Britain who will
be able to get the message over effectively.
Chairman: I am sorry, Mr Fraser, these
are important issues but I have got four other people who wish
to ask questions. Mr Wyatt?
Derek Wyatt: Good morning. Chairman,
I should confess that I am non-executive Chairman of Spafax. Spafax
sells media to 66 airline companies in the world, so it has some
sort of implication here.
Chairman: That declaration of interest
has taken up most of your question time.