Culture Secretary Jeremy Hunt intends to rectify the "hugely undervalued national asset" of tourism by producing a world-beating marketing plan. Janet Harmer reports.
The hospitality industry has given a cautious welcome to the Government's plans to create £1b-worth of PR and marketing activity to establish a permanent tourism legacy off the back of the London Olympics in 2012.
In his first keynote speech on tourism, Jeremy Hunt, the secretary of state for culture, Olympics, media and sport, said that he wanted to "capitalise on the greatest tourism opportunity in our lifetimes".
As well as creating a sustainable increase in the number of overseas visitors to the UK, Hunt intends to boost domestic tourism by raising the domestic tourism spend by UK residents from 36% of the total, up to 50%.
Hunt made the speech at the Weymouth and Portland National Sailing Academy - the first Olympic venue to be ready for London 2012. He said that he and the tourism minister, John Penrose, would now seek the views of the industry on the best means of increasing both overseas and domestic tourism before publishing a detailed plan of how the fund will operate, in September. It is believed the industry is going to be asked to contribute to the fund.
While VisitBritain is expected to be the lead body in implanting the plan, Hunt said that he would be reviewing the web of quangos affecting tourism and looking at how support for the industry could be simplified. Penrose will liaise with Localism Minister Greg Clark "to see what can be done to improve the incentives local authorities have to invest in and support their local tourism industries."
"My priorities are to make sure that London 2012 gets it right and to produce the best tourism marketing plan that any country has ever had."
Bob Cotton, chief executive of the British Hospitality Association, said he welcomed Hunt's recognition of the value to the economy played by the tourism industry and the plans to review the quangos. "I hope that the review will result in VisitEngland being allowed to concentrate on domestic tourism, as its counterparts do in Scotland and Wales, leaving VisitBritain with the sole responsibility of promoting the country abroad."
However, regarding the PR and marketing fund, Cotton said that it was vital that any key players in the industry who might contribute to the fund were allowed to be actively involved in how and where the money was spent.
Neither Hilton Worldwide nor the InterContinental Hotels Group (IHG) was prepared at this stage to say whether or not they would support the fund.
Kirk Kinsell, IHG's president for Europe, Middle East and Africa, said that the company was supporting the Olympics through its Holiday Inn brand, which is the official hotel provider to the games.
"The current structure of marketing the UK is too fragmented, with the budget split between a mass of tourist boards and other agencies whose efforts are not co-ordinated," Kinsell said. "The Government needs to consolidate spend to make sure we get the most out of our public money before it calls on the private sector."
Regarding domestic tourism, Kinsell said that the Government needed to commit to not bringing in any new regulatory reform, which could further hamper the industry's ability to invest in driving up standards and creating jobs, as well as look again at capital allowances and rates revaluation. He would also like to see Government follow the lead of other European Union countries which have supported tourism by dropping VAT on hotels bills to around 5%.
Hilton Worldwide said that it would not be able to respond to Hunt's plans for a marketing and PR fund until the details of how it will work are announced. "In the intervening period, however, we will discuss the initiative internally, with industry colleagues and through the BHA, as and when further details emerge of the shape and format of the fund," said Simon Vincent, Hilton Worldwide's area president for Europe.
Meanwhile, VisitBritain said that it was well positioned to take up Hunt's challenge and has a clear strategy to enhance the UK's image as a visitor destination.
"This is the world's greatest sporting event and we intend to put on the world's biggest party to showcase all that is best about our people, arts, culture, heritage and hospitality," said Sandie Dawe, chief executive of VisitBritain.
KEY GOVERNMENT PLEDGES FOR TOURISM
• Create a new fund with the aim of generating a £1b-worth of PR and marketing activity in our priority markets in the years around London 2012.
• Harness the full potential of 2012 to create a permanent tourism legacy for the whole country, creating a sustainable increase in the number of tourists to the UK.
• Aim to increase the domestic tourism spend by UK residents to 50% of the total - up from 35%.
• Review the web of quangos that affect tourism, aiming to simplify and focus support for the tourism industry, which is worth around £9b to the economy.
Will you contribute to the UK's tourism marketing pot? Join the debate on Table Talk.
By Janet Harmer