The Government is now ‘changing gear' to start implementing its Tourism Strategy launched earlier this month.
That's the message from Tourism Minister John Penrose, responding to criticism from British Hospitality Association chief executive Ufi Ibrahim that the Strategy was "long on vision, short on implementation".
"I'd love to implement it all on day one but we have to launch it first," Penrose told Caterersearch.com. "You will be seeing a steady flow of announcements of stuff that is in there being done over the next several months. It is a very big agenda."
"My department is now changing gears and we need to change what we are doing and how we are doing it to move into implementation and delivery mode rather than vision and policy development. That is going to be a big change for us and we are talking to VisitBritain and Visit England about how we do that."
Penrose, who was speaking ahead of his address to the Best of Britain and Ireland tourism show in Birmingham today, said that he would make a taskforce aimed at cutting red tape in the hospitality and tourism sector his first priority, although it is still not clear when the taskforce will begin its work or who will be involved.
Speaking to hospitality and tourism operators at the event, Penrose told them that the Government wanted to set out a new industry-led approach to tourism with the Strategy. "You will not see coming out of my office or out of Whitehall a grand Stalinistic central plan about how we are going to market this destination or that destination," he said. "What you are going to see instead is we are going to work out how to help you do what you do best and then get the heck out of the way while you do it."
Meanwhile, in a question and answer session covering a wide range of topics, there appeared to be broad support among operators for a ‘double summertime' which would see the clocks go forward by one hour in the summer and winter. However Penrose said he recognised that the Scottish Government had some reservations and the Government would not express a preference on what should happen on the issue until a full study on the effects of moving the clocks had taken place.
On the issue of the Government's plan to withdraw official backing for the hotel star rating system in England, Penrose sought to reassure hoteliers that it did not mean the scheme was being abandoned altogether. "What we do want is for the industry in England to take them forward and develop them in whatever way they see fit," he said.
And he added that a scheme owned and operated by the industry itself was more likely to succeed, than one a Government bureaucracy was in charge of. "We want it to carry on and we want it to be much more closely associated to the people who understand the customers," he said.
When asked if the Government wanted to see the likes of TripAdvisor replace star ratings, he said: "People already use website like TripAdvisor and all we are saying is that they clearly provide an additional richness and perspective which customers already know. They are voting with their mouse, but this isn't an either-or."
And in a question on whether Britain's marketing budget of £100m, which is being match-funded by the private sector was sufficient, it emerged that Ireland's marketing spend in Britain alone is larger than Visit Britain's budget for the entire world.
But Penrose defended the settlement for Britain, highlighting the constraints on Government spending. "We are trying to make sure we are using the available marketing money that we have most efficiently," he said. "I think everyone here knows that in any business if you doubled your marketing spend you could do a lot more but you can't always because you have to cut your cloth to fit. We have a budget which we managed to expand quite a lot by doing a partnership marketing approach - £100m is pretty big money by anyone's standards over the next four years."
In addition to that Penrose said the he would work with the Foreign Office and UK Trade and Industry and the British Council to promote tourism in Britian.
Productivity and competitiveness
Penrose called on the industry to help Government improve the productivity and competitiveness of the sector. "We have to be offering good value at every single price point from the five-star luxury to backpackers and everything in between if we are going to maintain our status as the top few most popular destinations in the world," he said.
And he highlighted the importance of domestic tourism, which VisitEngland chief executive James Berresford highlighted accounts for 80% of all tourism in the UK. "We need to boost domestic tourism as well. The last couple of years have been pretty good for domestic tourism and we don't want to let that slip," Penrose said.
By Neil Gerrard
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