Marketing England - Plus ca change?
28th January 2016
We all knew that November's Comprehensive Spending Review was going to be a tough one for all government funded agencies with continued austerity measures leading to further budget reductions and some bodies at threat of abolition. Government has also made it clear that it wants businesses to export more in its bid to address the current unfavourable national balance of trade. Therefore some structural and policy changes to Visit England and Visit Britain would not have been a surprise to many. However, it’s likely that few of us expected the full-scale merger of Visit England into Visit Britain as this decision ignored the findings of both the Triennial Review and the Culture, Media and Sport Select Committee, plus the views of trade bodies such as the Tourism Alliance.
Sally Balcombe announced on 20 January that the priorities of the new British Tourist Authority would be
- Market the nations and regions of Britain overseas to drive growth in international leisure and business tourism
- Maintain distinct activities to develop and market England tourism
Of principal concern to the industry is whether the promotion of inbound tourism will be at the expense of domestic. While there is an economic argument that domestic tourism re-circulates an existing pot of money within an economy and that inbound tourism generates additional new expenditure, there is also an argument that a healthy domestic tourism industry results in fewer British visitors holidaying and spending their cash overseas. If one was being cynical, a view might be that the only way the Treasury could be persuaded to fund tourism was to focus activity on the export side of the equation.
One can't help but feel that we've been here before. The English Tourist Board with its policy, development and marketing remit became the policy focused English Tourism Council, which was then dissolved when the Regional Development Agencies were given responsibility for tourism and the English Marketing Advisory Board was created to sit within the British Tourist Authority. However with the announcement that 'VisitEngland’s focus will be on the development and delivery of the Discover England fund for product development to ensure that bookable regional product is being sold in international markets' one starts to wonder how the second priority of marketing England tourism will be achieved. DCMS/BTA's view is that this 'activity will also benefit the domestic industry by building engagement and partnerships between and across regions and developing product that will be attractive to both domestic and international markets'.
What will be of concern to destinations is that many are heavily reliant on domestic tourism for their business. Let's not forget that London accounts for 54% of total inbound visitor spend in the UK and that overseas visitors are a small fraction of the tourism market for many parts of the country. With local government funding of destination marketing steadily being consigned to history, many destinations and their stakeholders will be wondering who is going to be developing and promoting long and short holidays to the domestic market when this will neither be carried out nor funded at a national level. Commercially funded DMOs may provide part of the answer, but some will succeed while others struggle. And we'll continue to look longingly at what other countries manage to deliver.
Whilst the £40m Discover England Fund is welcome, we must be genuinely concerned that this is not used to strengthen the hand of already powerful offshore based Online Travel Agents (OTAs) at the expense of independent accommodation providers that have developed their own bookability in a bid to avoid extremely high commission rates. While a number of independent traditional travel agents still exist, there has been a steady move from the High Street to OTAs. Therefore a question exists around how 'bookable regional product' can be generated without using public funds to underpin new booking engines or subsidising existing major OTAs (many of whom pay little tax in the UK)? Or avoid the inevitable State Aid challenge from OTA’s and self catering agencies who pursued the case against Visit England’s last excursion into offering on line bookable product – Englandnet.
It is therefore important for as many destination managers as possible to attend the Discover England Fund regional briefing events, starting in London on 3 February, and constructively work with Visit Britain/BTA to support domestic tourism – and explore exactly what Visit Britain mean by online bookable product. . We don’t want plus ca change! Event dates, locations and booking details on the Visit England web site
If you have views do let Andrew Bateman, Head of Policy and Advocacy at TMI know so that we can advocate for the sector : email@example.com