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Are there troubles on the road ahead?

01 January 2000
Are there troubles on the road ahead?

You're two miles up the motorway, with another five to go, when the car in front slows down and starts blinking its hazard warning lights. You get that familiar sinking feeling in your stomach. A traffic jam looms, and horror headlines tumble before you: "M6 closed".

Your thoughts become clouded by emotion. Anger. Why didn't I check the state of the M6 before beginning my journey? Frustration. It's not fair - other motorways are trouble free, why isn't mine? Indecision. Shall I meekly take the diversion route or force a re-opening of the motorway that has always got me to my destination in the past?

The same sort of thing can happen when you read a story in The Times. "England loses its tourist board to save money" reads the text (on the front page of last Saturday's paper). It sounds so certain: "The English Tourist Board… is to be abolished because of cutbacks in government spending".

You feel angry. Why haven't I looked at the health of the English Tourist Board (ETB) before? Why have I always taken it for granted that the ETB would always exist as a channel for government funding, albeit indirectly, into the business of hospitality? You feel frustrated. Why aren't the budgets for Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland under the same threat? (You probably don't feel so frustrated about this if you operate in Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland, but you should). You feel indecisive. Should I start thinking about alternatives or should I take more direct action?

The thought of a possible jolt to the infrastructure of the English tourist industry is causing deep concern in certain circles. But, despite the certainty of The Times report, the Department of Culture, Media and Sport has yet to confirm its plans. There may be time to deflect the axe.

The cut, should it be implemented, would save only a paltry £10m of government spending. That's not much and, frankly, the job of the ETB would still have to be done by someone and the money to do that job found from somewhere else.

The breakdown of the ETB would also add to the iniquitous fragmentation that plagues our industry, and which, inevitably, causes more expenditure. Without a central co-ordinating body for tourism in England, the responsibility for visitor promotion will fall to the regions, resulting in a lot of duplication of effort.

The loss of the ETB would also have a knock-on effect on tourism in Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland, as these regions of the UK, like it or not, do benefit from a well-co-ordinated tourist trade in England.

There is a chance that the hazard warning lights that we're looking at may herald no more than one of those ripple-back blockages caused by a minor breakdown earlier in the day. On the other hand, there may be a major hold-up ahead, even permanent closure of the motorway. In which case, it's time to start making a noise in the appropriate departments and ministries.

FORBES MUTCH

Editor

Caterer & Hotelkeeper

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