HC Deb 02 February 2004 vol 417 cc512-5
2. Mr. David Heathcoat-Amory(Con) (Wells)

Whether she seeks to spend an equivalent sum per head of population in England on tourism promotion as is spent in other parts of the UK. [151921]

The Minister for Sport and Tourism (Mr. Richard Caborn)

I am satisfied that the current level of funding is producing excellent results, particularly in England. For the first time for many years, as I think the right hon. Gentleman knows, we are now promoting England domestically. Last November, VisitBritain launched its domestic marketing strategy for England, which has a strong emphasis on the public-private partnership. Building on the success of last autumn's enjoy England campaign has given us good results indeed.

Mr. Heathcoat-Amory

Will the Minister confirm that Government expenditure on tourism promotion is 24p per head of population for England per year, but that the equivalent figure for Scotland is £5.50 a head and in Wales it is £8.10? Does he think that that is in any way reasonable or fair? What would he say to a west country tourism operator who sees tourists and tourism jobs going across to neighbouring Wales simply because of the large state subsidy, much of which is paid for by English taxpayers?

Mr. Caborn

Not to be too pedantic, the expenditure is actually 21p in England and 570p in Scotland—[Interruption.] I said "not to be too pedantic". Output is relevant as well. I am sure that the right hon. Gentleman is a good Conservative and wants good value for money. We spend that 21p in England and receive £208 per head spend from inbound visitors. In Scotland, the spend from visitors is £159 per head and in Wales it is £86 per head. It is real value for money when 21p brings in £208 in England and 570p brings in £159 in Scotland. As a very good Conservative, the right hon. Gentleman should welcome those figures.

Jim Knight(Lab) (South Dorset)

I certainly praise the value for money we receive in England for our tourism spend and press the case for the south-west to get even more value for money by getting more money.

The Minister will know from talking to the Secretary of State following her big conversation in Dorset, how important the tourism industry is to the south-west but tourism is not just about spending; other issues matter as well. Will the Minister spread some light on his conversations with the Department for Education and Skills about the six-term organisation of the school year and its effect on the tourism industry?

Mr. Caborn

The school year is a matter for local authorities.

On the south-west, we recently moved all matters relating to tourism into the development agencies so that they could become a major part of the economic driver. [Interruption.] The right hon. Member for Wells (Mr. Heathcoat-Amory) just crowed on about putting more money into tourism and if he just would listen, he would hear me confirm that the South West of England Regional Development Agency is now putting £14 million into the south-west. One NorthEast is investing £13.1 million in its area. That dwarfs the 21p per head that he mentioned. The regional development agencies are taking tourism seriously and see it as one of the major developments in terms of inward investment and employment. Many of them are doing a first-class job with VisitBritain.

Mr. Patrick McLoughlin(Con) (West Derbyshire)

If the Minister is correct that the Government are giving more importance to the amount of money spent by individuals when they visit areas, will he consider ways in which he could help the peak district, which gets more than 20 million visitors a year who, on average, spend very little? That is not good for the rural industries in the area.

Mr. Caborn

The hon. Gentleman raises an interesting and serious point: how can we get tourists, especially those who come to see day attractions, to stop overnight? It is a good question. The industry is working hard on that. VisitBritain and VisitEngland are also working to that end. The major visitor attractions are trying not only to get people to stay overnight, but to extend the tourist year. A lot is going on. We have regional development agencies and I hope that tourism is now seen as a major part of the economic development of the regions.

The trade deficit in tourism is £15 billion a year, but the business reaps in around £75 billion a year. By 2010, that will have reached £100 billion. We have to grow it at 3p to 3.5p per annum to stand still. That is the challenge to the industry.

Mr. Kelvin Hopkins(Lab) (Luton, North)

My right hon. Friend mentions the trade deficit in tourism. Is he concerned about the depreciation of the dollar and the continuing high parity of the pound, which must be having a serious effect on tourism? Has he made an assessment of that and will he look into it to see what can be done about it?

Mr. Caborn

We always make a continuous assessment. In terms of tourists from north America, it is not so much the dollar that matters. We are working hard to get those visitors back into the UK, but it is about confidence. VisitBritain's work and its million visitor campaign in north America has paid dividends, but the parity of the dollar and the pound is not that important at this stage for north American visitors.

Mr. Malcolm Moss(Con) (North-East Cambridgeshire)

According to Tourism Alliance, 85 per cent. of overseas visitors to the UK come to England, but we heard the derisory and paltry figures that are spent on promoting England In view of the balance of payments deficit in tourism, to which the Minister alluded, does he agree that we should invest more, not less, in promoting England as a destination?

If we adopt the Government's present strategy of investing more through the regions, will we not pit region against region instead of concentrating on promoting the whole?

Mr. Caborn

It is unfortunate that the hon. Gentleman finished in that tone, because there has been nothing of that sort involving the regional development agencies. When the agencies were set up, there was the negative argument that region would be set against region, but that has not been the reality: on the contrary, the agencies have worked together. There have been many examples of such collaboration over the past three to four years.

We must address many structural weaknesses in the tourism industry as we seek to develop it, for example, the industry's skills base. If we ask young people in schools and career offices whether they would consider going into the tourism industry, they reject it as second- rate. To help the industry, we have set up a sector skills council that will begin to operate within the next two months. As a result, I hope that we will be able to put tourism alongside any other industry by ensuring that it offers opportunities, well-paid jobs and a career structure. It is important to change current attitudes, because that is how we shall see a growth in tourism.

Chris Bryant(Lab) (Rhondda)

Is it not true that we need to get the tourist associations from Wales, Scotland, England and Northern Ireland working far more closely together? The vast majority of international visitors coming to the UK visit only London. If they leave this country without having seen the beauties of Scotland or Wales, we have not served them very well.

Mr. Caborn

We all work together through VisitBritain, which is a UK-wide organisation that my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State set up. We also meet the Tourism Ministers of the devolved Administrations. My right hon. Friend has developed that joint structure much more firmly and has brought the Tourism Alliance together so that, for the first time, the industry speaks with one voice In that sense, we are trying to bring the UK tourism industry together. I hope that we are working with a much stronger partnership because we want to tackle some of the structural weaknesses in the industry.