It is British Tourism Week and agents are being urged to capitalise on the domestic market.
But what support can UK tourism expect from the major political parties?
Edward Robertson asks tourism minister Barbara Follett, Conservative shadow tourism minister Tobias Ellwood and Liberal Democrat spokesman for tourism Don Foster for their views on the UK market.
For more British Tourism Week coverage go to our Back Britain page.
"We’ve got to get even more inventive in how we market the product"
Tourism minister Barbara Follett believes the UK’s tourism bodies must be more creative if they are to make the best use of their funding.
The tourism minister said VisitBritain has been too focused on the amount of money it lost in the recent funding cuts, which will see 18% slashed from its budget by 2010/11, taking its annual budget to £45.8 million.
Instead she said the body, which has more than 20 overseas offices, must focus on how to market the destination.
She added: “We’ve got to get even more inventive in how we market the product. The idea is to employ more modern forms of communication, such as the web, rather than just relying very heavily on a physical presence.
“VisitBritain was very shocked by the cut and it has come to dominate its thinking. Tourism is incredibly well funded in this country as it is fundamental.”
Follett believes this has become particularly prevalent in VisitBritain’s dealings with the London 2012 Olympics, which have become increasingly mired in bad headlines as the world economy dives into recession.
She said: “We’ve already spent huge amounts of money and time on this, we have to move away from this constant measuring of money.”
Follett is a great believer in the need for a strong domestic travel market. She said: “It is important because it means British people are experiencing our heritage, our history and some of the good things about Britain.
"All around the UK there are events (going on) and theatres and all of that gets involved in domestic tourism.”
While she accepts her ministerial brief encompasses a wide variety of different work done by different industries, from pubs to trains, Follett is working to co-ordinate decision-making affecting tourism.
She has set up an inter-ministerial group covering around eight different departments, which will meet for the first time after Easter.
Follett added she regularly takes domestic breaks, visiting Stratford on an annual basis as well as going on walking breaks every Whitsun.
She added: “My husband [the author Ken Follett] travels a lot for business to promote his books and we have a very good relationship with a local travel agent.”
"The role of the minister is to be a stronger voice for British tourism"
Shadow minister for culture, media and sport Tobias Ellwood said travel agents who want to start selling domestic holidays need to see it as an additional sales opportunity.
Ellwood said: “Going on holiday has matured into something much different; it is an add-on visit or a long weekend, it is what you’ll do at the end of a business trip.
“My concern with travel agents is perhaps they lean on promoting the overseas more. This is not a criticism as chances are they have first-hand knowledge.”
He believes the situation is improving as regional development agencies responsible for marketing different areas of their country are becoming better co-ordinated.
Ellwood said: “There’s no shortage of destinations, there’s a shortage of education as to where to go and the challenge is to market other parts of Britain that have something to offer but are not getting the message across.”
He would also like to see the tourism minister have more far-reaching powers, as currently they are only involved in passing around a fifth of all legislation that affects tourism. “The role of the tourism minister is to be a stronger voice for British tourism.”
He also believes the government has taken its eye off the ball as to the opportunities the London 2012 Olympics offers. Ellwood said: “The headlines for the Olympics have been appalling. We need to change this.
"The whole world will be watching, we need to make sure from a tourism perspective it isn’t just 17 days but a three, four or five-year legacy.”
"I believe the government has failed to treat tourism seriously"
Liberal Democrat shadow secretary of state for culture media and sport Don Foster has accused the government of failing to “treat tourism seriously”.
He said: “I believe the current government has failed to treat tourism seriously and to recognise what an important part of the economy it is.
"I want all parties to be supportive of tourism. They’ve spent a lot of time talking about the core industry but there’s very little evidence (of action).”
However, he is backing tourism minister Barbara Follett, who replaced Margaret Hodge in the job in October.
Foster said: “Follett has realised this and for the first time in a long time we have a minister that does care. I am happy to work with Barbara for the good of tourism.”
While he does not believe Brits will automatically begin taking more domestic breaks because of the recession, he believes the government should be doing more to encourage inbound tourism.
He added: “What I hope will be the case is that we will become a (bigger) destination for overseas tourists and that’s what we should be picking up on, but that’s hampered by the funding cuts to VisitBritain.”
He said prime minister Gordon Brown’s cutting of the VAT in the autumn to 15% has stimulated both the hotel and attractions markets.
He is also concerned more should be done to support the London 2012 Olympics. He said: “My fear is that little is being done to ensure the boost in tourism some people claim we are going to get is not going to be achieved.”
He believes UK operators and agents can benefit from the current climate. Foster said: “This is a great opportunity to put together quality packages for the domestic market.”
Foster added he is as prone as anyone to seeking out the best possible price and then booking accordingly. Happily for readers, Foster said this is often through an agent.
- Feeds: Voting records for Labour, Liberal and Tory tourism spokespeople [Travel Weekly Blog]
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