A five-point plan to boost tourism across the UK, unveiled today by prime minister David Cameron, was welcomed by VisitBritain as an “unequivocal statement of support” for the sector.
A new inter-ministerial group is being set up to co-ordinate activity across government and ensure that tourism is factored into decision making across departments in Whitehall.
The group will be headed by culture secretary John Whittingdale and include ministers from across government, including the Department for Communities and Local Government, BIS, DEFRA, Home Office, and the Foreign and Commonwealth Office.
It will focus on five key areas:
• A better co-ordinated sector: Tourism is too fragmented. The government wants to see local attractions and tourism organisations collaborating to grow the sector for everyone
• Skills and jobs: Driving and retaining talent in the sector to encourage growth
• ‘Common sense’ regulation: Reforming regulation sensibly to drive competition and improve the tourism offer for visitors
• Transport: Forging innovative links between the transport and tourism sectors to help visitors travel outside of the capital
• An improved welcome: Delivering a world class welcome at the border
Ministers from the Scottish, Welsh and Northern Ireland governments are also invited to join the group when relevant.
The plan will build upon the success of the 2011 tourism strategy, which culminated in a record year for overseas visitors in 2014 and now sees the industry contribute £60 billion to the UK economy a year.
By opening up new experiences to tourists, the aim is to ensure more visitors travel outside London.
A focus on transport as an enabler to regional exploration won the backing of the tourism agency. VisitBritain research shows that practical issues remain a barrier for visitors to venture out and explore more of the country.
VisitBritain will advocate learning from European competitors by ensuring tickets and deals are easily bookable by overseas visitors in their own language.
On a visit to the south-west today, Cameron said: "Millions of overseas tourists visit the UK every year and most take in the sights of London. But Britain has so much more to offer, from the Cornish Riviera to the Scottish Highlands and everything in between.
"For many areas tourism is a key industry bringing jobs, growth and security for working people. Tourism supports almost one in 10 jobs in the UK and we want to rebalance the economy to make sure this boost is felt right across the country.”
Whittingdale, said: “Tourism is a vital industry that brings jobs and growth to local economies across Britain. There are so many world-class things to see and do in the UK, and we need to make sure visitors are experiencing as many of them as possible.
“I am delighted to chair this new group which will put tourism at the heart of government and help to ensure that every part of the UK benefits by co-ordinating action across government.
“We want every visitor to the UK, whether from home or abroad, to have a brilliant experience and shout about it, encouraging even more tourists to choose Britain.”
VisitBritain chief executive Sally Balcombe said: “International tourism is the UK’s third largest service export and delivers economic benefits right across Britain – including jobs.
“We are one of the most diverse destinations in the world, so it’s excellent news that there will be a renewed emphasis on delivering jobs and growth to our nations and regions, with VisitBritain at the heart of this activity.
“As principal international delivery partners of the £5 million south-west and £10 million northern destination funds, we are working closely with destination partners, airlines, ferries, tour operators and local businesses to ensure that international visitors aspire to explore Britain and can easily book our wide range of world-class experiences.”
Stephen D’Alfonso, ABTA's head of public affairs welcomed the announcement, saying that he looks forward to working with the Government to deliver on the plans, he said:
"We are particularly encouraged that the Prime Minister has chosen to speak on the importance of tourism within these first 100 days after the General Election, recognising publicly the value of our industry as a key driver of jobs and growth in the UK economy.
"We welcome that focussed commitment on jobs and skills, transport infrastructure, an improved visitor experience, and a more joined up approach to tourism across Government, through the new ministerial taskforce, all of which were priority areas identified by ABTA in our manifesto ahead of the General Election.
VisitEngland chief executive James Berresford said: “The commitment by the prime minister today to grow tourism across the UK is further recognition of the enormous value and contribution of this industry, one of the decade’s biggest drivers of economic growth.
“Placing tourism at the heart of government will do much to support plans to rebalance the economy.
“We will work closely with the new inter-ministerial group and our partners across the country to deliver on these commitments and drive growth across the regions by showcasing and developing the standout product on offer in this country to key domestic and international markets, improving connectivity, ensuring England remains globally competitive and providing world-class experiences for all visitors.”
Backing for Cameron’s five-point plan for tourism, announced by Cameron at a ministerial conference in St Austell, Cornwall, has come from UKinbound.
Chief executive, Deirdre Wells, said: "It is great to hear the strong support today from the prime minister for tourism - recognising its role as the UK's third biggest service export and a major employer, particularly for young people.
“We welcome the commitment to improve the visa service for visitors and to deliver a world class transport network, both air and rail.
“Improving the service which our visitors receive from the ‘border to their bed’ - including visa processing and transport connectivity - is something for which we at UKinbound have long campaigned.
“We look forward to partnering with the government to grow this important industry right across all parts of our beautiful country."
In further reaction, Tourism Alliance director, Kurt Janson, said: “Tourism is a major UK success story. However, one of the problems affecting the sector is that the legislation that adversely impacts on the industry is spread across a wide range of government departments – Home Office for visas, Treasury for VAT and APD, DCLG for planning, BIS for regulation and DfT for access into the country and connectivity through it.
"Having an inter-ministerial group on tourism will help co-ordinate policies across all these departments so that we can maximise growth and employment opportunities.
"With the government focusing on improving business competitiveness in order to drive export earnings, regional growth and youth employment, the establishment of this group is timely and an indication of the growing recognition across Whitehall of the importance of this sector to the economy.
"However, to be effective, this group must tackle the key areas where the UK tourism industry is internationally uncompetitive such as APD, VAT and visas and resolve issues such as sub-national tourism structures and over regulation."
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