A government pledge to “turbo-charge” tourism in the wake of the Olympics through a domestic tourism campaign in 2013 and marketing in China drew a mixed response from the industry.
Secretary of state for culture Jeremy Hunt announced the moves on Tuesday, pledging £2 million for a follow-up to this year’s ‘Holiday at Home’ domestic campaign and £8 million for a three-year campaign to triple Chinese visitors to the UK.
Hunt told industry leaders: “I want to make 2012 the turning point for domestic tourism and make sure the UK is promoted as actively to its home market as overseas destinations promote theirs in the UK.”
He promised to “look at improvements to the visa system” and to work with airlines “to improve flight connections” to China, saying: “We must use this extraordinary year to turbo-charge our tourism industry.”
Abta welcomed the announcement, but chief executive Mark Tanzer said: “High aviation taxes, visa costs and bureaucracy, inadequate infrastructure and poor service at borders must be addressed.”
Mario Bodini, chief executive of UK inbound operator JacTravel, was more critical. He said: “It would help if Hunt were to engage more with the industry as we would suggest a different focus.”
Bodini questioned the wisdom of spending £8 million to attract Chinese visitors, saying: “The reason we don’t get more Chinese has nothing to do with awareness.
“We’re missing out because we don’t have sufficient air connections, the process of obtaining a visa is so dreadful and expensive, and we have the highest aviation tax in the world.
“The government would get a better return if it allocated the £8 million to fixing the visa-application process.”
Bodini added: “One has to question the focus on one-off sporting events." He quoted the results of a study by trade association UKinbound which found the Olympics did not benefit tourism.
The study found 66% of UKinbound members reported year-on-year bookings or inbound numbers “significantly” lower during the Games, and 82% said bookings for the post-Olympic period of August 13 to September 9 were lower or significantly lower year on year.
Willie Walsh, chief executive of British Airways parent IAG said: “The UK is losing out to the rest of Europe when it comes to Chinese visitors and this is entirely in the government’s control. They need to change the visa system and change it urgently. Chinese are taking their business and new found wealth elsewhere."
British Air Transport Association chief executive Simon Buck said: “It is all very well to call for new direct services to China, but we need government action.
“Spending more money on marketing won’t do anything to address the barriers of tax and airport capacity shortages we face.”
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