Opinion: Britain must reap the tourism rewards of this special year

Opinion: Britain must reap the tourism rewards of this special year

By Steve Dunne, executive chairman of the Brighter Group

The iconic Hollywood film director of the early 20th century, Cecil B DeMille, once famously said: “The way to make a film is to begin with an earthquake and work up to a climax.”

And iconic 21st century film director, Danny Boyle, definitely took that comment to heart with his magnificent Olympic opening ceremony.

With still a week or so for the Olympics to play out we wait to see if Danny Boyle’s earthquake builds up to a climax – but the smart money seems to say that the Olympics has definitely put the UK on the map of global tourism.

For me the sense of anxiety I feel at the moment is not about how the world will see the UK as a tourist destination.

After the pomp and patriotism of the Diamond Jubilee followed by the opening ceremony of the Olympics, watched by a vast worldwide television audience, the UK was showcased magnificently (alright, the weather could have been better but we are the UK).

There is little doubt that overseas tourists will have the “British bug” and want to visit us. 

No – my sense of anxiety comes from a feeling that the government and our politicians will squander the opportunity that this past few weeks has presented.

Successive British Governments have failed to see the value of inbound tourism to UK Plc. Just look at some facts.

The 30.8 million overseas visitors who came to the UK in 2011 spent £18 billion. One in twelve jobs in the UK are currently either directly or indirectly supported by tourism.

And, overall, tourism contributes £96.7bn to the economy in England (8.6% of GDP), £11.1bn in Scotland (10.4%), £6.2bn in Wales (13.3%) and £1.5bn in Northern Ireland (4.9%).

According to UKInbound, the trade body for inbound tourism organisations, inbound tourism is the UK’s sixth largest export industry. However, depressingly, in 2007 it was the third largest.

So given those facts why is tourism a junior branch of government – the Department of Media, Culture and Sport (DCMS)? It’s not even listed in the department’s title.

And then there is the punitive airport departure tax APD, of which much has been written, which is the highest rate on the planet; crippling rates of VAT on accommodation and other services, and cumbersome visa application processes in key emerging markets.

All these act as a hindrance to the inbound tourism industry, and all impact the UK economy.

What we should all call for now is for the Government to ride the wave of goodwill this summer has produced, harness the desire for overseas tourists to visit and treat the inbound tourism industry as the economic powerhouse that it is.

Move responsibility out of DCMS and into Vince Cable’s Department of Business, Innovation and Skills. Remove the red tape and relieve the taxation burden.

As everyone says – the Olympics and Diamond Jubilee are once in a lifetime events – and with Cecil B DeMille’s words in mind we’ve started with an “earthquake’ in terms of events let’s now build to the climax and put tourism where it belongs – at the top of the agenda. 


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