Now that Labour has been re-elected for its third term, what does it mean for tourism? How will the outcome of the Olympic bid affect the industry? Will the government recognise tourism’s true potential? Independent tourism advisor Ken Robinson shares his views
Scottish and Welsh devolution drives have energised tourism policy in both countries
So Labour is back for another term. Labour’s weakened election result undoubtedly frustrated the Prime Minister’s reshuffle plans. Tessa Jowell remains secretary of state at DCMS despite her pre-election goodbye messages to DCMS quangos. Staying on, she battled to keep tourism which was destined for the DTI in its re-energised format. However, the appointment of Number 10's former DCMS advisor and rising star James Purnell as tourism minister is good news.
The leadership of Labour will shape policy changes. Blair will surely stay on to reap the world statesman benefits of our EU presidency and the chairing of the G8 Summit at Gleneagles in July. The Olympic decision in July will hopefully enable him to claim another success. He could then go, without facing the outcome of the referendum on the EU constitution.
So, with DCMS leadership unchanged, are we stuck with a continuation of Labour’s current tourism policies? Do we just watch as the Tourism Reform Implementation Group (TRIG) and its sub-committees implement Labour’s Tomorrow’s Tourism Today policies? What will become of the Liberal Democrats and Conservatives pre-election promises?
LABOUR'S IMPACT ON TOURISM
Since taking power in 1997, Labour has made many changes to the long established relationship between government and the tourism industry, transforming the British Tourist Authority (BTA) into a marketing-only body, and abolishing England’s national tourist board. Labour’s devolution drive has liberated and energised tourism policy in Scotland and Wales. In the regions of England, the transfer of power to the Regional Development Agencies has eroded the Regional Tourist Board network, giving impetus to the growth of destination management organisations, but often upsetting the organisation and cohesion of the industry at a local level.
Clearly the Scottish and Welsh devolution changes were a reflection of strongly held national aspirations – yet most other Labour changes have been the result of politically inspired policy, not the requests of industry. Tessa Jowell as secretary of state expressed an individual agenda through the so-called Hartwell House meetings, citing her priority topics as quality, skills, research and marketing. So what’s been achieved?
On quality – Alan Britten has skilfully persuaded the motoring organisations, and England, Scotland and Wales to create a unified quality assurance (QA) scheme for accommodation, as a result of which Visit Britain will promote only QA accommodation from 1 January 2006.
On skills, People1st has been created as the Sector Skills Council for the hospitality sector, yet the diversity of tourism puts several key elements under other sector skills councils, several yet to be formed.
On research, DCMS initiated a review known as the Tourism Statistics Improvement Initiative. Its findings emphasised the critical requirement for improvements in data for this great wealth-producing industry, but DCMS has so far failed to commit to implementing the findings, due to budget constraints.
Marketing was Labour’s main motivation in the reorganisation of Visit Britain and the creation of its England Marketing Advisory Board. EMAB has achieved a great deal in a short time despite being under-resourced, but has been too dependent on the RDAs funding mutually competitive marketing. Visit Britain is inadequately resourced for its globally competitive task and has to curtail spending in core markets to invest in new ones.
LOBBYING FOR CHANGE
With the formation of the Tourism Alliance, the industry is beginning to get its lobbying act together, meaning the opposition parties are better informed and more outspoken on tourism issues than ever before.
The Liberal Democrats produced a tourism policy review in 2003. This criticised the disparity between Labour’s support for incoming tourism with Visit Britain, and its lack of support for domestic tourism. The Liberal Democrats alone among the three main parties mentioned tourism in its election manifesto, and published a separate tourism-specific mini-manifesto, as did the Conservatives. The Liberal Democrats key policies are to create an England Tourism Board, promote domestic tourism and encourage local authorities not to introduce tourism taxes. The party also pledged to replace air passenger duty by a per-plane emissions charge and to encourage migrant worker schemes as to meet industry needs.
The Conservative publication Action on Tourism promises to raise the profile and status of tourism within government and DCMS; curtail the role of the English RDAs; re-establish regional tourist boards in England; fund England tourism marketing with an additional £10m pa; implement the tourism statistics improvement initiatives; and require local authorities to have a local tourism policy.
By contrast, Labour made no new commitments, beyond its current policy direction outlined in Tomorrow’s Tourism Today, and the initiative announced at the pre-election tourism conference - to finally join the World Tourism Organisation.
Labour’s 1969 Development of Tourism Act is hopelessly outdated after devolution to Scotland and Wales, the abolition of England’s national board and the impact of the RDAs on England’s regional tourist boards. There’s a rising groundswell of support for revision of the Act, supported by the Conservatives and Liberal Democrats, as well as officials in DCMS and in the Welsh and Scottish administrations.
But, as former tourism minister John Lee has often said, for tourism to be taken seriously by government, the Prime Minister and the Chancellor must believe in its potential and appreciate its needs. The Treasury has cut DCMS funding throughout Labour’s term, so should we fear that if he becomes Prime Minister, Gordon Brown would continue to turn a blind eye to the great wealth creation potential of tourism? The signs aren’t all bad. It was a direct appeal to Gordon Brown by Visit Britain officials while on a trip to the USA that persuaded him to release funds to counter the aftermath of Foot and Mouth and the September 11 terrorist attacks; something that DCMS hadn’t managed to achieve.
After July, win or lose the Olympic Bid, the needs of tourism will come more sharply into focus. If we win, then although the demands of sport and new infrastructure will dominate the immediate agenda, the need to up our game in hosting the world will soon demand more attention. Recruitment, skills, information services, quality assurance, and e-tourism networks and services will require planning and investment. The tourism rewards of winning the Olympic Games are truly massive.
And what if we lose? Then the need to invest in tourism will be even greater. If Paris wins, the risk to London’s long term status as a prime global hub and European gateway for tourism will be under severe threat. The financial case for underpinning our tourism assets will be undeniable.
So, what will be the key influences on tourism policy in the term of this Labour government? Two issues stand out. Firstly, the government may finally recognise the true potential of tourism. As Britain’s economy falters and the negative tourism balance of payments stubbornly widens, the government may be persuaded to provide the essential support the fragmented industry needs to achieve its potential. The Liberal Democrats and the Conservatives have tourism in their sights. Public funding for tourism funding is an investment, not an expense, producing wealth and tax take for the Treasury on multipliers not available through any other industry. With someone new at the Treasury, Prime Minister Brown (if he’s elected) may find it more attractive to fund tourism than when he was the frugal Chancellor.
Secondly the changing impetus behind the regionalisation agenda will be a key factor in England. Brown is thought to be frustrated by some of the profligate spending by the richer, northern, RDAs and the growing disparity and lack of cohesion that the system has induced. The Liberal Democrats would reign in the autonomy and spending of RDAs, and the Conservatives would probably abolish them.
As a dyed in the wool Scot, Gordon Brown might be expected to be an enthusiastic fan of unrestrained regionalism, but we may be in for a surprise. In 2004 he gave a major keynote address on ‘the British’, saying:
“Take devolution and nationalism. While the United Kingdom has always been a country of different nations and thus of plural identities … the issue is whether we retreat into more exclusive identities rooted in 19th century conceptions of blood, race and territory, or whether we are still able to celebrate a British identity which is bigger than the sum of its parts and a Union that is strong … I believe, stand for and champion a Union that, because it reflects shared values, has achieved - and will in future achieve - far more by us working together than we could ever achieve separate and split apart.”
After Blair, New Labour (second edition) will be with us. The opposition parties now have thoughtful policies for tourism, and the numbers in parliament to make their voices heard. It could be a very hopeful time for tourism; the industry must ensure that the opportunities are clearly understood.
Ken Robinson is chair of the Tourism Society Think Tank and the Visitor Attractions Forum
DEPARTMENT FOR CULTURE MEDIA AND SPORT
Following the post-election cabinet reshuffle, Tessa Jowell will remain secretary of state for culture, media and sport. She also becomes minister for women.
Richard Caborn remains as minister for sport, with responsibility for the 2012 Olympic bid, gambling and the Lottery. James Purnell joins the department as minister for media and tourism, and David Lammy joins as minister for culture.
The outcome of the Olympic Bid in July will throw the spotlight on tourism, whether the UK wins or loses
Editor's letter:Sporting partnerships The industry must fight to prevent the closure of sport and leisure facilities due to the recession. Our non-statutory status makes us more of a target than most other areas of local government
Design:Design profile In October, Real Studios completed the design of six new
luxury Berber tented suites at the Kasbah Tamadot, a Virgin Limited Edition retreat set in the former home of renowned antiques dealer Luciano Tempo.