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The Caterer

A better use of public funding

20 December 2007 by
A better use of public funding

After the recent funding cut, Peter Hancock, chief executive of Pride of Britain Hotels, argues that the Government might as well abolish VisitBritain and hand the money to advertising experts

Much has been said in the pages of Caterer and elsewhere about the latest cut in funding to VisitBritain and the damage this might do to our industry. Indeed, it seems crazy in the extreme to short-change our vital tourism sector when international competitors are spending more on their overseas marketing than ever before.

But are we wise simply to complain about this? The pressures on the public purse are well known. Is it reasonable to demand spending by the Government and tax breaks at the same time?

Let's look at what VisitBritain does with the millions it still receives from the taxpayer each year. It runs offices in some 30 locations around the world and employs more than 450 people. Here in Britain, it produces annual publications and grades accommodation using the same star rating scheme as the AA, which is not state-funded and arguably does it better.

The British Hospitality Association frequently calls on ministers to interfere less in our businesses, and I have yet to meet a hotelier who disagrees with that view. So, if the Government does not want to support VisitBritain, it might as well go the whole hog and abolish it altogether. Why not hand over that £47m - and falling - annual sum to a major advertising agency and tell them to spend it all in foreign media, selling Britain as a destination?

Surely a well-managed TV and press campaign on that scale would do more to grow our share of the global tourism cake than one hotel inspector following another through the streets of Bournemouth?

Domestic tourism in the UK is strong. Most of the credit for that is thanks to the operators in hospitality giving customers what they want, and spending some of their own money on effective marketing. What none of us can afford to do, however, is promote an entire country. That is why we expect the state to take on part of the burden.

Mr Brown, you have done so much to enable foreign workers to travel here, and for this we are grateful. Is there any chance you could help us attract a few customers, too?

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