Memorandum submitted by Farm Stay UK
As Chief Executive of Farm Stay UK (formerly
The Farm Holiday Bureau), the market leading consortium for farm
accommodation in this country, I'd be pleased if our views could
be taken into account by your Committee. As the foot and mouth
disease crisis enters it's eleventh week our position is as follows:
1. Farm Stay UK (FSUK) was established in
1983 (as The Farm Holiday Bureau) through the leadership and support
provided by the four National Tourist Boards and BTA; ADAS (then
fully financed by MAFF); and The Royal Agricultural Society of
England (RASE). All members of the co-operative must have an income
from agricultural. FSUK still works closely with the founding
bodies and had nearly 1,300 members at the end of March 2001.
However, this figure is certain to be reduced substantially as
a result of FMD with many members unable to afford to pay their
fees by the 14 May renewal deadline. Since FSUK relies on subscriptions
for it's income (£278,400.00 last year), there is a strong
possibility that we will be unable to survive unless some form
of external assistance is forthcoming in the immediate future.
Action: The Government needs to identify organisations
that have been established with their support (and which are threatened
by this crisis) and agree a one-off aid package to underwrite
a percentage of fixed costs for this year only. Without such support
organisations such as FSUK may not survive.
2. The primary functions of FSUK are:
to promote the concept of farm tourism
in the UK;
to help market more effectively the
accommodation provided by its members thus helping increase occupancy
rates and incomes; and
to assist farmers in broadening their
income base through diversification.
Action: FSUK provides an increasingly important
interface between the two industries of farming and tourism. Since
FMD has impacted so specifically on this interface it is particularly
important that some form of subsidy be provided to ensure the
continuation and future of a body that provides such a vital link
between the two industries.
3. FSUK is run by a Board of 11 Regional
Directors plus a Chairman (all of whom are active in both farming
and tourism). As Chief Executive, I manage the affairs of FSUK
and drive the marketing, sales and membership programmes as agreed
with the Board. I'm a Fellow ofThe Royal Institution of
Chartered Surveyors (FRICS); The Hotel and Catering International
Management Association (FHSIMA); and The Tourism Society (FTS).
Prior to joining FSUK, I had been Chief Executive of Best Western
Hotels for nine years having previously held a similar position
with both the South East England Tourist Board and the Cumbria
Action: Identify a more effective mechanism
by which the skills of cross-industry representatives such as
myself can be utilised in drawing up plans for recovery and for
agreeing contingency plans to cover the possibility of anything
similar occurring in the future.
4. We require all members to be inspected
under the appropriate National Tourist Board Inspection Schemes
thus endorsing the efforts of DCMS to establish a set of internationally
recognised quality standards. However, the annual inspection process
is expensive and, in the current financial climate, will be increasingly
difficult to enforce. If we continue to demand adherence to this
standard then we will most certainly lose members who feel that
this is a cost that could be saved.
Action: In a time of so much uncertainty regarding
quality standards in respect of everything British, especially
in overseas markets, it is vital that Government endorses the
centralised schemes and helps underpin the cost structure. Free
inspections for the year 2001-02 would be a major source of assistance
that would have the added advantage of helping encourage higher
5. Rural tourism and the widespread appeal
of the countryside are two of the most important planks in the
successful promotion of the UK as a holiday and visitor destination.
Whilst standards in traditional seaside resorts have declined
seriously since the sixties those in rural areas have risen noticeably.
In the world of tourism marketing, country house hotels now dominate
one end of the accommodation spectrum whilst farm based bed and
breakfast/self-catering dominates the other. However, the recent
spate of animal health problems threatens to kill the image of
quality and high standards that has been painstakingly built up
in recent years thus decreasing dramatically the UK's appeal in
both world and domestic markets.
Action: We must stop feeding the media with
high profile slaughter and disposal images by introducing much
lower impact techniques eg quick, localised slaughter and disposal
of carcasses; no huge burial pits or funeral pyres both of which
feed the global media with visual images of massive impactimages
that totally distort the real picture and balance of rural life
as it continues in this country.
6. Tourism and farming are both industries
of primarily small, independent operators; operators who rely
on organisations such as consortia to provide the economies of
scale (and central leadership) that are vital if they are to market
themselves (cost) effectively. FSUK is a classic example of primary
need since our members were the first to be affected by the current
crisis and will almost certainly be the last to recover. Examples
of business losses for March alone are as follows:
||Bed and Breakfast||Self-catering
|Cumbria & Northumbria||62.2% down
|Yorkshire & North West||50.7% down
|East Midlands||25.8% down
|Heart of England||41.2% down
|South East||36.7% down
|South West||76.3% down
No self-caterers in the South East have returned questionnaires.
Action: One-off marketing grants should be made where real
hardship can be proven (as above) with the aim of ensuring that
organisations such as FSUK can provide for the future ie invest
in next year's marketing which must be funded now. Tourism always
has to pay for next year's advertising out of this year's profits
and, in the current climate, this is totally impossible for many
small operators. An example of positive support which would not
set a precedent would be funding through the BTA for guides that
they require for overseas distribution (FSUK has already been
asked by BTA for 55,000 copies of it's full colour, free guide
for next year. However, we have no income with which to meet this
demand!) Likewise, posters and support publicity material, all
of which are needed to recreate a strong UK image in tourism market
places, must be funded through the Tourist Boards.
7. England must be marketed alongside Wales, Northern
Ireland and Scotland. Heathrow, Gatwick, Stanstead and Dover are
the major ports of entry to the UK and yet we have no national
body that is empowered to promote the English product. This is
Action: Provide the structure and funding necessary for the
ETC to become a market led organisation that is also empowered
to work as a central focus for the Regional Tourist Boards, most
of whom are spending far too much time and money in competingrather
than complementingone another. This crisis has proved that
national leadership is vital.
8. Low cost loans are of only limited value to small,
rural tourism business since they carry with them the very real
danger of helping to create a longer term problem as repayments
Action: Consider the reintroduction of Tourism Development
Grants such as those provided through the Hotel Development Incentive
(HDI) and S4 Schemes under the 1969 Development of Tourism Act.
These Grants led to a major improvement in standards at a time
when our tourism industry was in the doldrums. Such funds can
be targeted at specific needs (for example, the provision of en-suite
facilities and proper central heating in farmhouse accommodation)
and demand an ongoing successful business before they can be awarded.
9. Helping the tourism industry recover fully is not
going to be easy since many of the negative images will remain
with the public for a long time to comeespecially overseas.
Publicity and high profile awareness campaigns will help immeasurably
but the industry also needs more direct action. For example, few
countries in Europe pay VAT at the high levels levied in the UKto
say nothing of fuel and alcohol taxes. Couple this with the strong
£ and our competitive ability is inevitably reduced substantially.
i. Reduce VAT even if this means introducing a two-tier
structure (I believe France has this) and reconsider the diligence
with which European Directives are implemented and monitored in
ii. Other taxes such as those on fuel, should be reduced
in line with the majority of our European counterparts. It's extremely
difficult to compete when we have so many tax disadvantages and
our rural economy is particularly dependant upon the use of private
transport ie cars.
iii. Create a feel-good factor by making provision for
an October Bank holiday coinciding with half term.
10. Current rate relief measures are of very limited
value to small tourism operators many of whom are not subject
to business rates.
Action: Reconsider the way in which rate relief is being
offered as a mechanism for assisting rural tourism businesses
affected by FMD.
The Select Committee can obviously play a very important
part in identifying mechanisms by which the tourism industry in
this country can be both re-focussed and re-launched. We must
dispel the negative images (ie the funeral pyres and the disastrous
promotional captions such as "We are Open" or
"The Countryside is not Closed", etc) and focus
everything we do on the positive eg Welcome to the Countryside.
After all, even FSUK with 1,300 active farming members has
seen less than 10% of its properties closed to the public as a
result of the crisis. In other words, we must get the sense of
perspective right and ensure that the message to the public reflects