British tourism needs help now

01 May 2009
British tourism needs help now

Nigel Seddon, owner of the Elgin hotel in Blackpool, says the lack of funding for VisitBritain risks ruining the opportunity the weak pound has created for domestic tourism.

The chairman of VisitBritain, Christopher Rodrigues, has been quite rightly extolling the virtues of holidaying in the UK. He points out what good value it is to eat out at home compared with dining in the eurozone.

A few weeks ago I took a trip to Dublin to see if I could muster some trade on the back of the weak pound. Twenty years ago we used to welcome more than 500 guests a year to our hotel from Dublin - happy days, with a good bar take and a good craic.

Unfortunately, when Ireland joined the euro, the strong pound led to a complete collapse in the number of Irish visitors. Today we're lucky if we welcome more than half a dozen a year.

My intention for the visit had been to call on the VisitBritain office in Dublin to find out who might be looking to sell holidays to Blackpool. Sadly, I learnt that due to a lack of budget, all of VisitBritain's activity had been scaled down, including the closing of its Dublin office.

VisitBlackpool has even had its budget for a part-time representative in Ireland pulled from under its feet. Effectively there is now no British tourism presence in Ireland - how dumb is this at a time when we have so much to offer at such great prices?

Scotland, Wales and Ireland all have sophisticated holiday advertisements on British television, and yet we seldom see any ads encouraging British holidaymakers to stay at home.

Rodrigues' answer to a hideously diminished marketing budget (cut by 18% between 2008 and 2011) is to place ads in the business sections of international daily newspapers. I can see his logic in appealing to the decision makers but sadly when it comes to holidays they are more likely to be those at home than those in the office.

To be fair, how can VisitBritain possibly market the UK on an international stage with so little money to spend? No doubt Rodrigues casts an envious eye on London's mayor, Boris Johnson, who has £2m to spend on promoting one city - with dividends guaranteed.

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