Here in East Devon, we are dependent on the tourism industry so it was with interest that last week we finally got to see the Government’s Tourism Strategy. It appears the main aims are; to cut red tape, free up local businesses, and re-establish the tourism industry as a key priority for restoring the UK economy. But I was also glad to see a major focus placed on maximising the potential of tourist destinations outside London.
The strategy wants to exploit the opportunities of next year’s Olympics and Diamond Jubilee to help attract an extra four million overseas visitors over the next four years, bringing in an extra £2 billion of spending and creating 50,000 new jobs. Proposals include simplifying the process of getting tourist visas, helping to improve staff skills in the tourism sector and consulting on whether to lengthen the tourism season by moving the May Day bank holiday. It also intends to fund the most ambitious marketing campaign ever to attract visitors to the UK in the years following 2012. Another aim is to repair market failure by modifying the existing, long-established Tourist Boards to become smaller, highly focused, industry-led partnerships between tourism firms and government. And we want to help the industry prepare for changes in technology, so tourism information can be provided through i-phone and android apps, making every destination far easier and more accessible for visitors to navigate. An industry task force will be set up, led by senior industry figures, to cut red tape. They will be asked to identify sector specific rules, regulations, inspections and forms which are holding the industry back so we can cut, modify or abolish as many of them as possible.
The news will provide a welcome boost to tourist destinations across East Devon and Britain at a time when the latest available figures show that between 2008 and 2009 visitor numbers actually fell in 14 of the nation’s 20 most popular tourist hotspots.
Tourism is a crucial driver of our economy not only locally but nationally as well. In fact it is one of our six biggest industries and our third-largest export earner. It accounts for almost £90 billion direct spend each year, contains over 200,000 businesses and provides 4.4 per cent of our nation’s jobs while here in East Devon 12 per cent of our jobs are tourism related.
So why has it taken so long to produce this strategy? I think the Government wanted to provide something that was helpful and meaningful for the industry. It’s worth taking the time to get it right. In the past Tourism strategies have focussed solely on what the National Tourist Boards could do. We wanted this strategy to be different by showing what Government Departments and the industry itself could contribute.
Critics might also argue that cutting funding to VisitBritain and VisitEngland is a bad idea. As far as possible we have focused cuts to VisitBritain on administration, while maximising their investment in marketing and public relations activity in the top value and emerging international markets. As regards domestic tourism, VisitEngland will continue its domestic marketing role and will provide advice and support to Destination Management Organisations and the local businesses, local authorities and enterprise partnerships involved in tourism.
I believe the Coalition’s Tourism Strategy will make a huge difference to both our local and national economy. It is critical for us in the West Country that it does.