The Government should hold its nerve and continue to spend on tourism marketing, as new figures revealed a record tourism spend in 2012.
That's the view of Christopher Rodrigues, chairman of marketing board VisitBritain, who was speaking as official figures showed there were 7.6m visits from overseas in the final three months of 2012, up 387,000 on 2011. Visitors from Denmark, Germany, Australia and Belgium all showed strong double digit growth. Visitors from China were also up 20%.
Meanwhile tourism spend for 2012 as a whole stood at a record £18.6b, up 4% on the previous year. The average spend per visitor is now £600.
Rodrigues said the figures, and the fact that visitor numbers had remained high even after the Olympics had ended, were testament to the effectiveness of the GREAT marketing campaign, which aims to add £2.3b to the UK economy by 2013.
But Rodrigues said that he was worried that VisitBritain could become a victim of its own success, having already showed that it could do more with less - it was announced in 2010 that the marketing board's budget would be cut by £7.6m over four years, and it has relied on match funding from private businesses to boost its marketing spend. VisitBritain currently receives around £21m a year from the Government, which it has matched to £40m through the private sector.
With the Treasury's Comprehensive Spending Review coming up at the end of this year, set to determine VisitBritain's budget for the coming two years, Rodrigues said it would be a mistake to cut further.
"If most Government departments doubled the amount of money they got with partner spending, you would be pretty happy. That is exactly what should happen in austerity Britain. It would be perverse to be penalised for being good," Rodrigues said.
He also highlighted that there was an economic benefit to the Government, thanks to high levels of Air Passenger Duty (APD) and a VAT rate of 20%, to bringing in foreign tourists.
"Do we love APD where it is? No we don't, but if you charge that APD and if you have 20% VAT then every foreigner contributes much more to the Treasury than it costs to get them here. It is an immediate return on investment within the year."