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The Discover England Fund: Delivering World Class Product - some thoughts

22nd February 2016

The series of British Tourist Authority regional roadshows that are currently underway have been an excellent opportunity for Sally Balcombe to shed some light on how her new organisation plans to rise to the challenge of  November's Comprehensive Spending Review announcements around the £40m Discover England product development Fund , and the merger of Visit England into Visit Britain; plus introduce Andrew Stokes, the new England Director.

The current government loves 'Challenge Funds' so it's no surprise that the Visit England/Visit Britain Triennial Review recommended that one be established. However, even back then it looked as though this funding wouldn't support marketing programmes or regional/local tourism industry support organisations.  The problem is that whilst the tourism industry might lobby for additional national public sector support for promotion, this Government has a national priority to reduce government spend on marketing per se.  So while finding for the GREAT campaign has been increased from £45m in 2015/16 to £60m in 2016/17 there would always be a difficulty finding additional marketing spend for the national tourist board, hence one assumes the calculated formulation of a new 'product development' fund that isn't marketing!

Our understanding of Government priorities for the Discover England Fund, were that it should focus on developing 3-4 'itineraries' or 'product groupings' that were

  • 'multi-destination' and spanned a geography or area
  • international tourism focused, but also some domestic benefits
  • bookable and could involve the pricing of product eg joined-up ticketing arrangements
  • collaborative (public/private sector) and involved large and small businesses
  • able to provide integrated transport solutions
  • match-funded
  • sustainable and generates a legacy

The challenge with product development is that it requires the development of a much more complex set of relationships and interdependencies between stakeholders than a traditional marketing programme.  And quickly moving the thinking and modus operandi of reformed national tourism bodies from primarily being marketing focused to understanding how extremely complex integrated soft infrastructure bids can be assessed and managed is also no mean feat.  This will move the new organisation out of its comfort zone and will need the full support of the industry to help make this a success.

Sally and her BTA team are to be commended in negotiating a spend profile that weights the spend towards the end of the 3 year programme (Year 1: £6m; Year 2 £12m; Year 3 £22m) as they recognise a significant lead-in time is required to understand the requirements of the consumer. Additional particular challenges around the Discover England Fund are also likely to include:

  • Developing further insight into where the market has failed to provide solutions and maybe where there are lesson to be learned elsewhere in the world (on the basis that 'there is no such thing as a new idea'!)  This might be a good use for the £6m research budget in 2016/17
  • How to positively influence and engage in an industry model where traditionally tour operators bring together transport, accommodation and leisure activities as packages and then give them to travel agents to sell (or increasingly tour operators engage in direct sales to cut out travel agents).  And where travel agent are now  increasingly on-line and focused on using their power to generate commissions from providing accommodation booking services
  • Bringing together public, commercial and not-for-profit organisations that have a multiplicity of national, regional and local remits/markets/footprints
  • How to use public funds without breaking complex state-aid rules.  It would be a shame if the process became a public and commercial lawyers’ field-day.

It's in our interest for TMI to support BTA in rising to this challenge. The agenda has moved on, but as Andrew Stokes claims ' this is a once in a generation opportunity' to do something great.

The Discover England Fund: Delivering World Class Product - some thoughts