Last week's Tourism Summit was somewhat light on strategies to reap the maximum benefits from the Olympic Games which will be staged in London in 2012. Kurt Janson, policy director at the Tourism Alliance, spells out the three key areas that the Government needs to address.
Shaun Woodward, the new minister for creative industries and tourism, last week outlined the Government's tourism strategy to guide the industry up to and beyond the London Olympics in 2012.
Well, that's what should have happened at the Tourism Summit, which was attended by 500 industry leaders.
Instead, Woodward talked about to need to make better use of the river Thames for transport and to develop camping and caravanning sites in North London to provide alternative accommodation for visitors.
Both worthy, I'm sure, but not what one could call the cornerstones of a strategy to increase the revenue from one of the UK's largest industries by more than 50% within six years.
So, what should the Government's new 2012 tourism strategy contain? Primarily, it must address the ongoing decline in the UK's share of global tourism expenditure.
A recent report by VisitBritain shows that Britain's global market share has fallen by 16% over the past 20 years. The average length of stay has fallen by 30% from 11.5 days to 8.1 days and average expenditure has fallen by 40% in real terms from £750 to £450 per visit.
Despite the demonstrable economic and social benefits that tourism brings to the country, Governments have tended not to address this issue.
For example, funding to market Britain overseas has stood at £35.5m since 1997. In real terms, it has actually decreased by more than 20% over the past 10 years, despite a 50% rise in funding for the Department of Culture, Media and Sport (DCMS) over the past five years alone.
Three actions are key to the new tourism strategy:
Maximising the tourism benefits of the Olympic Games
The opportunity to market Britain to the 200 countries sending teams to the Olympics is a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity that will require a certain level of marketing investment before and after the Games.
It is paramount that the Government restores VisitBritain's Grant-in-Aid to its 1997 value and provides extra funding specifically for the Games. The level required would be inconsequential in terms of DCMS's overall funding, let alone Government expenditure.
Maximising the benefit of domestic tourism expenditure
When the Government established the Regional Development Agencies (RDAs) in 1999, it devolved responsibility for domestic tourism marketing and strategic development to the regional level.
The problem is that there are now two streams of Government funding for domestic tourism (via DCMS for VisitBritain and via the Department of Trade and Industry to the RDAs) that are not connected or co-ordinated in policy terms.
As a result, it is difficult for the industry to undertake national promotions with the RDAs and for Government to determine whether it is receiving the most effective or efficient return on its investment.
There is, therefore, a need to ensure that there is better co-ordination of domestic tourism in respect of marketing, investment and organisation.
Improving tourism statistics
While tourism is one of Britain's largest industries, the accurate and timely provision of national and regional statistics is sorely lacking.
National tourism surveys have methodological weaknesses and do not disaggregate well at a regional level due to the small sample sizes and volumes.
Not only does this make it difficult for the industry to plan, it also makes it difficult for Government to measure the productivity of the industry.
To resolve this, a Tourism Analysis Unit needs to be established to fulfil both the Government's international commitments for tourism statistics and the industry's need for timely and accurate information.