UK tourism is not reaching its potential, is poorly regarded in Whitehall and is in danger of slipping further behind international competitors according to an industry report from the British Chambers of Commerce and Travelodge.
The Backing UK Tourism: Destination Recovery report points the finger at Government mis-management of the industry as the reason further growth is held back, despite tourism being the fifth largest sector of the UK economy, employing 1.4 million people and generating revenues of £86bn.
Dr Adam Marshall, director of policy at the British Chambers of Commerce, said: "Tourism will play a key role in Britain's future economy, but the industry needs stronger, clearer support from Government to reach its full potential.
"This is a sector which can rapidly create jobs, even in the current economic conditions, yet it suffers from an extremely confused support structure. Ministers need to recognise the potential of the industry and make the necessary reforms, which will help underpin the UK's economic recovery," he continued.
Nominally co-ordinated by one of Whitehall's most junior departments, the Department of Culture Media and Sport (DCMS), over 100 public sector bodies operate in ‘isolation without clear co-ordination or vision from the centre' according to the report.
Another highlighted issue is that DCMS only has direct influence over £50m of the £350m the Treasury allocates annually to supporting the tourism industry. The rest is filtered through numerous different departments with little or no accountability to the Minister responsible for Tourism.
Passenger numbers to the UK have deteriorated by 18% between 1997 and 2007 and the industry has the second worst balance of trade tourism deficit in the EU.
VisitBritain estimates that by 2018, if managed properly, tourism could grow into a £113bn industry with 164,000 more jobs, emphasising the need for Government support but not necessarily extra investment. It is the British Chamber of Commerce and Travelodge's belief that no more cash is needed to create this growth, just reform of the current system.
The key recommendations from the report are:
- Remove responsibility for tourism from DCMS and give it to the Department for Business, Innovation and Skills (DBIS) to ensure better co-ordination of funding.
- Ensure that the Regional Development Agencies are accountable to DBIS for their work on tourism.
- Give Visit Britain the necessary freedom, support and funding to enable it to focus on marketing the UK abroad and co-ordinate this activity across the public and private sector.
- Tourism Statistics Agency must be adequately funded to ensure that robust statistical information about the sector is available.
A spokesperson from DCMS responded: "Since 1997 the Government's funding for tourism has doubled. We are working closely with the industry to promote and expand the sector - nationally and internationally.
"A recent report by the cross party Culture, Media and Sport Select Committee recognised DCMS is the right place for tourism, and that we are making progress in areas like skills improvement, regional engagement and seaside regeneration."
By Janie Stamford
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