HC Deb 30 June 2003 vol 408 cc9-11
10. Mr. Peter Luff (Mid-Worcestershire)

What assessment she has made of the impact of international terrorism on numbers of tourists visiting England; and if she will make a statement. [122087]

The Minister for Sport (Mr. Richard Caborn)

Overseas visitor numbers fell by 4 per cent. in the three months to April, but recent evidence suggests that the inbound market is now recovering. I can tell the hon. Gentleman that the problem was not only due to international terrorism: severe acute respiratory syndrome and the aftermath of the Iraq war were other factors. VisitBritain is working with the industry on campaigns to continue to promote Britain around the world as a safe and attractive tourist destination.

Mr. Luff

I certainly share the sentiments expressed in the Minister's concluding remarks, but is not England curiously badly placed to deal with the risk to the international tourism market? The last figures that I have with me show a spending of £3.77 per head of population on Scottish tourism promotion; £4.03 for Wales; and 20p for England. Is it not time to defend more effectively one of the most successful brands and proudest nations in the international tourism market?

Mr. Caborn

If the hon. Gentleman had continued with the figures he would have shown that the spend power is £220 per head in respect of coming to England; 80 per cent. of the return on inward bound tourism is effectively inside England. We can argue the economics, but it needs to be said clearly that, although there is a perception of risk out there, quite honestly Britain—and England—are probably the safest destinations in western Europe. That needs to be said loud and clear to a lot of people. It is good to see the figures improving. BAA's figures show that in May there was a 2 per cent. increase in traffic against the same period last year. We are seeing a slight rise in the market and confidence is coming back, which is to be welcomed.

Mrs. Ann Cryer (Keighley)

I wonder whether my right hon. Friend is aware that visitor numbers at St. Paul's cathedral will be well down this year. St. Paul's feels that that is due to a reduction in the market from Japan and America. However, my right hon. Friend will be delighted to learn that passenger numbers on the Worth valley railway in my constituency are up this year. That indicates that the fall in visitor numbers at St. Paul's has something to do with international terrorism and other things. Will the Department do everything in its power to encourage back some of those visitors?

Mr. Caborn

The answer to that, obviously, is yes.

Andrew Mackinlay (Thurrock)

Team trains.

Mr. Caborn

Yes, team trains to Keighley.

What must be understood about the London market is that, last year, for the first time in history, I think, business tourism overtook leisure tourism, so there is a structural difference between the London market and those outside the UK. That may reflect on some of the visitor attractions in London. This is an important issue. Business tourism and sports tourism were two of the largest growth areas in the overall tourism industry. I take on board the points that have been made but I assure my hon. Friend that St. Paul's is reviewing its visitor plans. I am hopeful that more visitors will start to be attracted to that establishment, which is a beautiful place to go.

Nick Harvey (North Devon)

The Government responded to 11 September with a modest injection of cash for tourism promotion and have subsequently formed VisitBritain, but is the Minister satisfied that it has enough resources at its disposal? Is not tourism a very competitive international market? Is it not worth £75 billion a year to Britain? Does the Minister not think that VisitBritain needs to have at its disposal the resources that our international competitors have? Will he deal with the excellent point made by the hon. Member for Mid-Worcestershire (Mr. Luff) about the continuing anomaly between the funding of English tourism and that in Scotland and Wales?

Mr. Caborn

One of the hon. Gentleman's points may be true, in the sense that when the split came with Wales and Scotland and they set up their development agencies, English tourism was left in the Department of Trade and Industry. Recently, we have ensured that tourism comes into the mainstream economic development of the English regions. That is why we brought into play the regional development agencies, which are seen as a major part of the development—[Interruption.] if the hon. Member for Mid-Worcestershire (Mr. Luff) will listen I will tell him what we are doing. The RDAs are now seen as a major part of the development of the economies of each of the English regions. Indeed, the former chairman of the South West of England regional development agency, Sir Michael Lickiss, is playing a major role in the development of tourism in England and the United Kingdom. I think that tourism will probably play a greater part in the development of the English regions than it has in the past.

Lawrie Quinn (Scarborough and Whitby)

I congratulate my right hon. Friend on his new brief. Since 1997, we have had a Scotsman, a Lancastrian and a Welshman promoting British tourism, and it is great to see a true Yorkshireman in that post. I hope that he will remember that Britain's greatest break is in Yorkshire and that he will come during the summer and learn first hand from the Yorkshire tourist board how it has tried to redress the balance in getting international visitors to come to Yorkshire to see England's greatest county. I hope that he will take the opportunity to learn from Yorkshire.

Mr. Caborn

Occasionally, missionaries have to be sent out of Yorkshire to other parts of the UK. Last weekend, I had a fantastic time in the Lake district. The sun shone all the time. It is probably one of the most beautiful places in the world, but as my hon. Friend said Yorkshire is a fantastic region.

Mr. Luff

It is a county.

Mr. Caborn

I call it a region, if the hon. Gentleman does not mind. Scarborough is a wonderful place to visit, too. It has had fantastic success over the past two or three years in attracting visitors.

Mr. John Whittingdale (Maldon and East Chelmsford)

We, too, congratulate the Minister on his new responsibilities, but does it not say something about the priority that the Government attach to tourism that, following the botched reshuffle, the job has simply been tacked on to the end of his existing responsibilities?

As others have said, Scotland spends 20 times as much as England does on tourism, and Wales spends 30 times as much. Does the Minister accept the verdict of the Select Committee on Culture, Media and Sport that tourism in England is seriously underfunded and that the Government are not providing adequate support? In particular, when does he expect a sector skills council to be established to address the serious skills shortage throughout the industry?

Mr. Caborn

The hon. Gentleman makes an important point about the skills of the industry, which are of concern to the nine regional development agencies. We hope to make an announcement in the autumn about the sector skills council.

On funding, I have already said to the hon. Member for Mid-Worcestershire (Mr. Luff) that the return to England is considerably greater.

More importantly, we need to bring tourism centre stage. The hon. Member for Maldon and East Chelmsford (Mr. Whittingdale) may ridicule the fact that tourism has been placed alongside sport, but that was done for strategic reasons and has been welcomed by the more informed commentators. Bringing sport and tourism together is to be welcomed, particularly as we move towards the bid for the Olympic games. There is synergy and a rationale behind that change, and our approach to the Olympics and the general development of tourism will benefit.