§ 7.36 p.m.
§ Baroness Anelay
of St Johns rose to ask Her Majesty's Government what steps they are taking to promote the marketing of British tourism to visitors from overseas.
The noble Baroness said: My Lords, why should the Government be involved in promoting the marketing of British tourism to visitors from overseas? Who are the main players in the marketing world, and how can the Government help? Those are some of the issues which I hope to touch upon tonight. I thank the British Tourist Authority not only for its briefing in advance of this debate but also for making it possible for me to learn a little more about its work by sponsoring two visits to its offices overseas. I went to Paris for one day in 1999 and to Dublin for one-and-a-half days last year.
This month, the Department for Culture, Media and Sport published the report of the first stage of the five-yearly review of the BTA's work. I welcome the recommendation in that report that the BTA should continue to function as a non-departmental public body at arm's length from the Government and its conclusion that the functions of the BTA are necessary and should not be abolished. In particular, I also welcome the recommendations which endorse the proposals which we made in our policy document, Tourism Today, published in March last year.
My main question to the Minister tonight is: do the Government now endorse all the recommendations in that report and, if so, what is the timescale for their implementation? Will they, for example, take the opportunity offered in the Culture and Recreation Bill to implement specific recommendations? Of course, in order to be ever-helpful in that regard, I have tabled some of my own amendments on such subjects.
The tourism industry is vital to the health of the United Kingdom economy. It is one of the country's largest industries, employing approximately 7 per cent of our workforce, and it contributes £64 billion each year to our economy. We are, of course, in competition with the rest of the world. The United Kingdom ranks 424 fifth in the international tourism earnings league. Only the United States, Italy, France and Spain are ahead of us.
However, as the volume of tourism increases, it is estimated that we shall not benefit from that increase as much as will our competitors in the rest of Europe. We cannot afford to be complacent, and, indeed, the tourism industry is not. It recognises the challenges that lie ahead. The very diversity of the industry means that it cannot act strategically.
Therefore, I believe that it is right that the Government should take a close interest in the marketing of tourism to visitors from overseas. They should help the industry to succeed but without interfering in it. They should avoid unnecessary regulation which would impede the tourism industry. The Pink Guide published last year by the English Tourism Council provided an education about the nightmare of regulations which affect the industry.
The Government should ensure that the BTA works to the best of its ability and that it is funded appropriately. They should recognise that a variety of organisations have an interest in marketing Britain overseas and that they should be encouraged to complement and not conflict with each other in their work.
The BTA is of course the premier organisation which markets Britain abroad. It has offices in 27 countries overseas and works in partnership with the national tourist boards in England, Wales, Scotland and Northern Ireland to promote an attractive image of Britain. It has demonstrated the benefits which Britain, the economy and the taxpayer receive for the public investment in BTA. It estimates that its work produces £30 for every £1 of public investment.
Under the previous Conservative government, a useful start was made in encouraging greater coordination and co-operation between the BTA, the British Council and the trade promotional functions of the Department of Trade and Industry. We believe that there is further scope for developing active links between those organisations.
When I visited Paris I saw at first hand how effectively the British Council works to promote British culture overseas and how it enhances the UK's reputation in the world as a valued partner. I therefore welcome Recommendation 9 of the report, which states that the BTA should consult the British Council and the Foreign and Commonwealth Office about developing more widely the scope for joint working in countries where the BTA is not currently represented. Will the Minister also give a commitment that no more BTA offices will have to be closed down in countries where the authority is currently represented?
We on these Benches also commend the important contribution that has already been made to the tourism industry by the private sector. It ploughs back large sums in marketing investment. We believe that destination marketing is best achieved at a macro level through government involvement. That is why we 425 propose to offer a commitment, in partnership with the private sector, to invest in the marketing of Britain worldwide.
We have made a commitment that the next Conservative government will secure greater funding for the BTA through the introduction of a matching scheme. Government support will match, pound for pound—up to a maximum of £15 million per year—industry's sponsorship of the BTA. That additional £30 million could enable the reopening of some international offices and speed up the introduction of new technologies, which are increasingly essential to the marketing of British tourism internationally.
Other organisations naturally also play a vital part, either directly or indirectly, in marketing Britain overseas. I have already referred in passing to the valuable work of the British Council. The English Tourism Council, regional tourist boards and local authorities are key players, too. The work of individual local authority marketing campaigns should never be underestimated. Their established responsibilities for planning, transport and recreation, and their substantial support for the arts, will naturally give local authorities a key role in the industry's future development.
When I visited Dublin last year I was lucky enough to be present at the launch of the Marketing Manchester Campaign. It is very aware of the strength of its relationship with the BTA. It has already proved itself a success, with nearly 4,000 potential Irish visitors responding to the campaign and asking for more information about Manchester. The highlight, of course, of any campaign for that city is that it will host the Commonwealth Games in 2002.
In December, the All-Party Group for Tourism and the All-Party Group for Sports had a joint meeting, at which there was unanimous agreement about the fact that Britain could do more to promote its sporting events. I shall describe some of its recommendations. First, it said that promotion could be achieved only if a connection was made between sports groups and tourism organisations. Secondly, it recommended that Ministers should be made to realise that sports tourism needs sponsorship and funding from the government. Thirdly, it said that for smaller sporting events it would be useful to obtain tax cuts such as those allocated to films in the entertainment industry. It also recommended—its shopping list grows a little longer—that better promotion could involve the huge international fan clubs that exist worldwide. I was made aware in Dublin of the enormous size of Manchester United's fan club. People regularly fly to Manchester to watch their team. I had not previously appreciated how large is the team's fan club in China and America. Finally, the All-Party Groups recommended that events could be advertised abroad and holiday packages arranged to include those events; more effort could be made in that regard than is presently the case.
Have the Government had an opportunity to take note of those recommendations? Will they, for example, be discussed at the next tourism forum and/ or the next tourism summit?
426 I also pay tribute to the work of the business tourism sector in attracting overseas visitors. I am grateful to the Association of Recognised English Language Services for its briefing, which points out that English language courses are a vital part of tourism marketing. Figures show that Britain attracts almost half of the 1.2 million worldwide market share for English language students. They are invaluable to the British tourist industry not only because they are potential tourists of the future but because, I am advised, they are very high spenders, which boosts local economies. That is a success story to which I wish even more success in the future.
I was interested to note that the report recommends that the BTA should encourage awareness of business tourism. How do the Government anticipate better achieving that?
For the most part, people in the business world want the Government to keep out of their way, but there are issues that require leadership. Governments can provide that in a common-sense way by promoting the marketing of Britain to visitors from overseas.
I thank all noble Lords who have put down their names to speak today, and I look forward, as ever, to the Minister's response.
§ 7.46 p.m.
§ Lord Hunt of Chesterton
My Lords, I thank the noble Baroness, Lady Anelay of St Johns, for introducing this debate on a subject that is of great importance to every part of the United Kingdom. It is especially vital to some of the holiday tourist areas, which suffer from low wages and limited prospects for other business opportunities and fulfilling employment. I agree with many of the points that the noble Baroness made, and I look forward to the response of the noble Lord, Lord McIntosh, on behalf of the Government.
I have some specialist points to make, but I shall begin from my experience of having had enjoyable holidays in many parts of the UK and in many foreign countries. I am concerned about UK tourism. Very few of my foreign friends ever choose to have family holidays in the UK. Why? That question is particularly pressing because England is only 22 miles from arguably the world's most successful tourist country— namely, France. I shall make some suggestions about what the Government and their agencies could do and about the way in which other organisations, including, perhaps, the House of Lords, could contribute.
Several factors make for successful holiday tourism, the chief of which are people, scenery, recreational activities, cultural events, accommodation, food and finally—this is my speciality—the weather. The UK has marvellous people who are welcoming to tourists. We have magnificent scenery and interesting recreational activities, especially minority pursuits that are suitable in a northern climate, such as sailing, walking and fishing. As the noble Baroness, Lady Anelay, said, sport could be encouraged further.
The Government and UK organisations generally need to do better with regard to the other factors. One of the great attractions of holiday-making on the 427 continent is the opportunity to enjoy numerous cultural events, such as concerts in squares, town halls and churches. One can do so in holiday areas, and even in coastal resorts. Those events are well sponsored and publicised by regional governments, and I note are always well attended by British tourists. There is absolutely nothing like the same level of attendance at similar events in UK holiday areas. That is particularly surprising, in view of our weather.
Surely the Department for Culture, Media and Sport should ensure that in holiday areas which need to attract tourists there is greater sponsorship of concerts, plays, exhibitions and so on. Of course, we have our great cities, cathedrals and science and arts festivals, but they are not necessarily found in areas in which tourism is important and in which tourism may be declining.
When arts and science events are held—this point was made in an earlier debate—they greatly add to local tourism, as we have seen in the Bristol and Edinburgh science centres. Universities—I speak as a university professor—can help to ensure greater publicity and wider use of those centres, some of which, we read in the press, are in a precarious financial position. In France, the University of Poitiers, in central France, is close to a futuristic public science centre. To publicise it, the university regularly holds scientific conferences, and has even changed its postal address, which refers no longer to Poitiers but to Futuroscope. British universities could take similar steps. In fact, next month, London University will hold an open conference at the Science Museum. That is the sort of event that we should see more often.
On the last two factors in my list—food and the weather—tourism could benefit from more information. There are many excellent varieties of food and cooking in the regions of the UK, but they are not well known abroad, or even in the metropolis. I wonder whether the House of Lords could help in this context. Perhaps we could follow the example of the French Senate, which helped to popularise local dishes and to establish better links with the regions. Last summer, as Le Figaro described, there was a splendid occasion in the French Senate when it entertained more than 1,000 mayors from all over France, resplendent in their republican sashes, to a great party with all sorts of regional food. That is an excellent way of publicising the regions. There was doubtless a political element of schmoozing in order to be voted in, as they do in the French system.
Perhaps the UK Tourist Authority could organise something like that in the House of Lords. Within our regions there are some mouth-watering regional delicacies—Scottish herrings, Cornish pasties, our whisky, our beer and our cider.
Finally, I come to the UK weather which is major factor stated in relation to UK tourism. A recent visitor to the UK told me that he expected the weather to be dreadful but he was pleasantly surprised both by the weather and by reasonably good forecasts and a good presentation on the Met Office website. There is 428 now a very good BBC weather website which also includes information on air pollution which, for some people, is as important as the weather.
Tourists to the UK are put off by erroneous impressions about our weather and would be encouraged to come to this country if the UK tourist boards, hotels and travel companies provided more information and in appropriate ways. Reasonably reliable—at about a level of 70 per cent reliable—forecasts are available for the weather up to 30 days ahead and sometimes even longer range forecasts are available. Those are issued not only by the Met Office but also by the European centre in Reading.
Another feature of the British weather which we should remember is that in local areas of the UK, local forecasts are available and are very important. It needs to be explained to tourists that there is extreme local variability in the weather. The average rainfall on Exmoor is 70 inches per year whereas 15 miles away on Saunton Sands it is often very sunny and the rainfall is only 25 inches per year. So that great British secret should be more widely shared and by doing so, we should attract more tourists.
§ 7.53 p.m.
§ Lord Phillips of Sudbury
My Lords, I too thank the noble Baroness, Lady Anelay of St Johns, for introducing this debate. I hope that I can make a modest contribution to it. I should declare an interest. For 30 years, I have been non-executive chairman of a small hotel group in Suffolk. Indeed, if any of your Lordships are in Bury St Edmunds, the Angel Hotel or the Marlborough Hotel in Ipswich awaits your presence.
What is anecdotally true of that small but significant group in Suffolk tourist terms is true of many others, certainly in the eastern region of England; that is, that foreign tourism is vital. Not only do foreign tourists, particularly from mainland Europe, visit all year round and provide a steady stream of visitors but they are also on the increase, despite the problems of exchange rates. To some extent, they have compensated for the decline in American visitors who, of recent times, have tended to go more to mainland Europe because they get a bigger bang for their buck.
In 1999, there was a radical rearrangement and reorganisation of the tourist industry as a whole when the English Tourist Board was done away with and the English Tourist Council was created. Today, we do not have an English Tourist Board but we do have a British Tourist Authority and under it, as has already been mentioned, the country boards and seven or eight English regional boards.
My first suggestion is that there is an apprehension among many in the tourist industry in England that the demise of the English Tourist Board has been a drawback; that there is today no formal focus for the English tourist industry. There is an informal linkage between the regional boards but they lack a national focus, a national driving force. At a time when the difference between the countries comprising Britain is growing and when the Scottish and Welsh boards are 429 making great play of their independent or quasi-independent identity, there is a sense within England that it would be a good idea to try to resuscitate the English Tourist Board, even though that would leave the BTA with strategic responsibility for what would then be four national boards.
My next suggestion is that the Government could assist the English Tourist Council, which has responsibility for quality in particular in the tourist industry and for a degree of strategic planning, in a project which it has identified as being crucial for the industry as a whole—an integrated national booking network. I echo that from the experience I have. To create such a national network in the present age would be of immense national benefit. We have a high proportion of what one might call discriminating, high-spending tourists. To enable them to log onto a reliable network which would give them instant access to all the places which they may wish to visit or stay in could only be of considerable long-term value to British tourism as a whole. As has rightly been said, in the modern age, tourism, especially for countries with a declining manufacturing base, is not only hugely important now but will go on being more and more important.
Next, I want to refer to the regional boards related to the BTA. In saying what I am about to say, I do not want in any sense to detract from the appreciation which is felt for the work of the BTA, which is, principally, selling Britain abroad. But the regional boards could be given more core funding to enable them to do more of their own overseas selling. Of course they have significant internal obligations too but I am told and believe that if they could have a modest amount of extra core funding devolved to them, they would be able to use that highly effectively. After all, we live in a tourist world in which difference, distinctiveness and diversity are key to success and where more and more, the tourists of the future will look for those qualities in their favourite destinations. It is partly because of that that I believe that there should be an increase in funding for regional boards, still working with and under the BTA, and with an increased level of independence, so that they can come forward with their own very regional, very different initiatives to bespoke groups and audiences abroad. That is very often done in partnership with the private sector, whether it be transportation firms, hotels or travel agents and—let us not forget—local authorities. As your Lordships will know, they show great adeptness in gearing up the core funding that they receive by those joint ventures with the private sector and with local authorities. In terms of value for money, I suggest to the Government that they might look at increased spending in that direction.
Lastly, a point on deregulation which has already been mentioned, and the Pink Guide. In the country, most of the hotels are family businesses. They are not part of national or international hotel chains. They do not have access to the sort of capital to which the public companies have access. The regulatory overburden strikes them particularly hard. I should like to think that the Government would, wearing their 430 deregulatory hat—and earlier this afternoon, we have been thinking of nothing else—focus closely on what further action may be taken to diminish the existing burden of regulation and to make some distinction in relation to the smaller outlets when it comes to further regulation.
The growth of tourism is particularly important for rural areas. Their economic viability has been sapped, particularly in relation to agriculture. There is some potential for compensation in the continued steady growth of tourism in real terms. Again, I thank the noble Baroness, Lady Anelay, for introducing this debate.
§ 8 p.m.
§ Baroness O'Cathain
My Lords, first, I have an interest to declare. I am a director of British Airways which is a company that is heavily involved in the tourist industry. It is active in the marketing of British tourism overseas. In fact, the noble Lord, Lord Marshall of Knightsbridge, the chairman of British Airways, dearly wanted to take part in this debate but unfortunately it clashes with an engagement promoting tourism.
As my noble friend Lady Anelay has said, tourism is one of the country's biggest industries. I sometimes think that the term "industry" conveys the wrong impression when talking about the tourist sector. Many people still consider that the term conveys the concept of large organisations involved in one or two major product lines such as the motor industry, the steel industry or the shipbuilding industry.
However, the tourist industry is different in so far as it is extremely fragmented. Therein lies its strengths and its weaknesses. The fragmentation ranges from bed-and-breakfast establishments on remote Yorkshire moors to large international hotel groups spread throughout the country, car hire companies and visitor attractions such as, if I may say so, the London Eye.
That fragmentation results in a fragmented approach to marketing. Some tourist organisations are brilliant at marketing and others do not have a clue. That is where help is needed, in view of the huge earnings of the industry, detailed by my noble friend Lady Anelay.
The funds available from the British Government to help to market British tourism are minimal. The British Tourist Association received a grant of £33.5 million in 1998–99. In that year overseas visitors spent £12.5 billion in this country, not to mention the £3. 17 billion that was spent on carriers for their journeys to and from this country. That equates to a total of £15.7 billion and the grant of the British Tourist Association of £33.5 million equates to a marketing spend, according to the back of my envelope, of about 0.4 per cent of sales. The Minister, with his great background in marketing, must find that figure quite derisory.
I want to make four short points. First, tourism is a world industry, a global industry. Nearly all countries compete for tourists and promote their countries to a greater or a lesser extent than we do. We still have the 431 edge. I am told by so many people that the United Kingdom is one of the top places that people throughout the world want to visit. However, it is essential that we do not rest on our laurels. We must not think that, because we have a great history, wonderful attractions, marvellous museums, wonderful scenery and all the other things of which we all aware, we can get away with being passive in our marketing.
I believe that it is essential that we extend our marketing to new countries in the tourism field; for example, to countries like China or Russia or some of the central European countries. Many people will say that there is not a lot of money nor many wealthy people in such countries who can afford to travel to countries such as the United Kingdom for holidays and tourist visits. I believe that that is a myth. In almost every country there are many wealthy people who, at this moment, are being wooed to visit other European countries, America, South America or other continents.
I am told that our embassy in Beijing is attempting to acquire "approved destination status" enabling wealthy Chinese to travel as tourists to the United Kingdom. There seems to be a problem with disjointed, as opposed to joined-up, government. The FCO is all for it, but the Home Office is not at all happy. The reason for the latter is that apparently the Home Office is concerned about the cost of people jumping ship. If we acquire "approved destination status" in China, that would enable the BTA to develop a market for UK tourism there. I am afraid that the Treasury would probably have to provide a little more money. That is a serious point. Australia and New Zealand have "approved destination status". They will benefit hugely and we need part of the action. Secondly, we have to ensure that every experience that a tourist has in the United Kingdom is a good experience. Tourists will not have ecstatic experiences all the time, particularly if they are caught in the middle of the Yorkshire moors in a shower of rain, although, according to the noble Lord, Lord Hunt of Chesterton, there is no rain!
Currently a "Britain Assessment" exercise is being carried out, comparing our tourist offering with that of our major competitors in the world tourist market. We have to be absolutely certain that the reality matches the hype. First impressions are so important and I fear that frequently we fall down in that area. The Government really must help the sector by endeavouring to make arrival in this country a pleasant event and seamless onward travel the norm.
Not all our points of entry can be classified as being pleasant and sometimes there appears to be a complete lack of co-ordination with regard to onward transportation. I am sure that all noble Lords read with shame the description of tourists, and our fellow countrymen, who after the Christmas break arrived at Stansted airport to find that the last train into central London had left 30 minutes before the inbound flight arrived. What a welcome to the United Kingdom that 432 must have been. In the dead of night and freezing cold, people spent four hours or more attempting to get taxis or other forms of transport into central London.
This House is truly bored by recurrent complaints about transport in London, but I am convinced that it has a negative impact on our tourist sector. Up to now we have been able to balance that with all the good things in London, but if the transport is not fixed— and fixed fairly quickly—we are in danger of losing a large chunk of our tourist industry.
Thirdly, another area where government assistance would be most valuable, and would not cost much, is hotel classification. Currently, there is a voluntary scheme which is an experiment that is planned to last three years. At the end of the three-year period (at the end of calendar year 2002) if it is thought that the voluntary scheme does not work, the Government will do a great service to tourism if they introduce a compulsory scheme. There is such a huge variation between hotels within the same classification band, particularly at the lower end of the market. It is imperative that every tourist has confidence in the classification system. If they know they are going to a three-star hotel, they should have some idea of the basic provisions in that classification. I hope that the Minister can give us some assurance on that.
Fourthly, the shortage of skilled labour is hitting tourism as it is hitting other sectors. We really must encourage more young people into the sector. About two years ago when I visited a resort in Arizona, all the staff appeared to be young—up to 25 or 26. They were bright American students or young American men and women who seemed to have a great enthusiasm for making each of the guests feel extremely important and satisfied. They encouraged visitors to think positively about doing things outside the particular resort, asked whether they could get more tennis partners for you and so on. I wonder whether that could be replicated here in a similar type of organisation. I doubt it.
We need to build up respect for careers in the tourist sector. People in the sector can have really interesting and worthwhile careers, but in this country there is still a stigma attached to the idea of serving people. How many people who come from, say, Portugal or France want to be served by or received in the hotels by Portuguese or French people? Tourists do not visit London or anywhere in the UK to be served or met by people from their own country. I would not want to go to France and be met and served by English people.
§ Lord Phillips of Sudbury
My Lords, I am grateful to the noble Baroness for giving way. Has she observed the nationality of the people who serve us in this House?
§ Baroness O'Cathain
My Lords, I have but this is a working organisation not a tourist organisation. The staff are wonderful in this House, but I do not want them to encourage me to go out and play tennis or whatever.
433 Training courses specifically promoted by the DfEE could be helpful. Those are four areas in which the Government could help in the marketing of UK tourism. None involves huge expenditure but they all involve encouragement and an enabling role. A force for good taken from various departments is truly joined-up government. Because of the fragmentation of the sector, such help could be highly beneficial and I hope that the Government agree.
§ 8.11 p.m.
§ Lord Beaumont of Whitley
My Lords, the noble Baroness, Lady Anelay, was kind enough to tell me outside the Chamber that she welcomed what I, as a member of the Green Party, might say on sustainable tourism. I hope that she will not regret that, but I welcome the fact that only three speakers follow to savage me. I suspect that I shall be the irritant in the debate.
The BTA has a commitment to sustainable tourism, which is splendid. But in no way can it be said that visitor satisfaction and industry profitability, which are also commitments, are necessarily compatible with that. I am not suggesting that we should discourage tourism but that the tourism we offer should be of a qualitative rather than a quantitative nature.
I do not want to pose as a puritan on this matter. During the past year I have sailed through the Yangtze gorges and I have visited Mexico. But wherever one goes there is an obvious need to limit tourism. Indeed, my grandchildren were probably among the last children to climb down the mountainous steps of Chichenitza, the wonderful monument in Mexico, before they close to the public in three months' time.
My first point relates to the crying scandal of the non-taxation of aviation fuel in an industry which seriously affects the whole business of global warming. I do not underrate the complexity of that, but steps should be taken at European level to tackle the problem. Meanwhile, I suggest that if any of your Lordships travel abroad as tourists they should, like me, send a donation to Future Forests in order that trees are planted to compensate to some extent for the damage they will be doing to the ozone layer and climate change.
Furthermore, where possible, tourist provision should be on as small a scale as possible. The hotel group referred to by the noble Lord, Lord Phillips, was probably a small-scale operation and much preferable to the big chains of often foreign investment around our country.
Our bed and breakfast accommodation is largely admirable. I speak from personal experience because I use it as often as I can. It is often infinitely preferable to staying in big hotels. The food they serve is good. Food is most important in tourism—it is to me but that is possibly because I am a greedy person! The founder of the Good Food Guide once said that the only first-class meal the British produced was breakfast and that they could produce it at any time of the day, whether at 8 a.m., 1 p.m. or 7 p.m., and that it was always very good.
434 We have moved on since then, although we should never underrate our basic local home-produced foods; for instance, kippers in Scotland. I remember that when I was a member of your Lordships' delegation to the Council of Europe and it came to the British turn to give a party we had a great success with a veal and ham pie with eggs in it. That pâté en croute was regarded as a notable gastronomic find by the members of the Council of Europe and we were much congratulated on it.
Now we have first-class young chefs and a great eclectic school of cooking. We also have good food and restaurants everywhere in the country. That is a good change on which we must concentrate because almost invariably—I know that there are exceptions— good food must be produced on a fairly small scale.
Where possible, money should be ploughed back locally. That will come from small-scale developments and encouragement of local tourism. Furthermore, in our efforts to be sustainable and to deal with climate change, we should encourage the use of public transport. We must make certain that it is such that we can do so with a clear conscience.
Several changes in taxation should be made in order to encourage the right kind of tourism developments and to discourage the wrong kind. I mentioned the possibility of a European tax on aviation fuel. The developments which are expensive as regards natural resources, and for which the proper external expenses are not paid—for instance, the immense amount of water used on golf courses—must be examined.
I believe that we can promote tourism with a clear conscience provided that we do our best to ensure that the tourism is as sustainable as possible. Where there is a clash, sustainability should have priority.
§ 8.18 p.m.
§ Lord Montagu of Beaulieu
My Lords, we have just been taken on a nice journey down the gastronomic lane and are all grateful to my noble friend Lady Anelay for raising this timely debate. It occurs just before the forthcoming tourist season. Concerns have been expressed about the future of the greatest success story of post-war Britain; that is, the growth of our tourist industry. I have been involved in it for almost 50 years. Until recently, year by year the number of overseas visitors to Britain has increased and the BTA certainly deserves congratulations on all it has done to contribute to that. It has occurred despite disruptive reviews by all governments from time to time.
Tonight we must face the facts. For the first time a downturn in the number of overseas visitors is evident. That is particularly depressing as the millennium year, with the attraction of the Dome, was meant to have been a bumper one for Great Britain. Attendance figures at many famous tourist sites up and down the country, including Madame Tussaud's, are down, some seriously. The situation has not been helped by a large number of new attractions financed by the lottery with no apparent future assessment of what damage they will inflict on well established local attractions and their ability to be viable without further financial help from the Government.
435 Despite BTA's most effective efforts, in the past two years not only has Britain's share of world tourism declined but it has fallen in real terms in comparison with the growth of our key European rivals. The situation is made worse by an unfavourable exchange rate which makes us appear to be expensive and encourages British residents to go abroad. But increased competition goes much deeper. Make no mistake that Rome, Paris and Amsterdam are increasingly attractive and cheaper. Further, their national tourism offices are annually more aggressive in the quest to attract new businesses which for years have tended to regard London as their first choice.
The activities of the BTA are rightly applauded. Having worked with BTA tourism promotions for the past 50 years, I can confirm that it is a dedicated and effective team which is the envy of our competitors. It is also well respected in the trade. Although we sometimes hear criticisms that its work reaches only a small proportion of visitors from overseas, the promotional programmes and the initiatives undertaken by the BTA have much wider impact. Having evolved and been sustained over many years, its work has become much more sophisticated and has had a cumulative effect. More than any other body, the BTA moulds the image of Britain in all our key markets and increases knowledge about England, Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland as potential holiday destinations. The BTA knows what attracts tourists to this country and how to do it. Government should not believe that they know best: past experience has proved disastrous.
Such marketing and promotional activities have a direct impact at the margin and tip the balance for potential visitors who are undecided into a positive decision to visit Britain. Therefore, when the final choice is made, instead of picking another European destination, they choose Britain. It is, therefore, very puzzling that in recent years the budget of the BTA has been limited and reduced in real terms. The budget has not kept pace with inflation or the promotional spending in our most important markets by our competitors.
Another worrying feature is that overseas visitors stay here for less time. Shorter stays have a much more serious effect because, although London may do well, fewer people tour the country. This is potentially very serious for all the regions as overseas visitors spend more money per day on their holidays than domestic visitors, who lately appear to prefer Sunday shopping. Many tourism enterprises are small businesses working on very thin margins, so any reduction in visitor numbers may force them into deficit. The result is less opportunity for reinvestment and to survive as healthy businesses. As they lose trade, many choose to close earlier because they cannot cover operating costs. Therefore, our tourism industry has a shorter season, or businesses may be tempted to reduce quality and the spiral of decline will begin to bite even harder.
In the spectrum of government spending, the funding of BTA is a relatively small sum. The fact is that it generates a direct incremental return. With just 436 a little additional funding, the BTA would have the opportunity to fight back against competitors and to boost tourist visits throughout Britain to the benefit of all regions.
In considering the need for further support of the work of the BTA, we must not forget that a key element of the product is critically weakened because it does not have a nationally co-ordinated marketing effort for England and in England. It is of great importance that the Government perhaps make a policy U-turn with regard to the English Tourism Council. They should give it an appropriate marketing remit so that it is represented at the table alongside Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland and can play a full part in helping the BTA to help to win back tourists. I suspect that the noble Lord, Lord McIntosh, will tell me that more money has already gone to the regions. As president of the Southern Tourist Board, I am well aware of that. However, it is not the same thing. We must have a central body to speak for England as a whole.
I should like to pick up one point raised by the noble Lord, Lord Phillips. He said that money should be given to the regions for overseas publicity. I believe that that would result in total chaos. The situation is bad enough anyway with all the different tourist offices in New York. To allow every region to have its own little office there would be totally confusing and self-defeating.
At the moment, tourists who arrive in Britain face a fragmented tourist information service provided by the different regions which, naturally, are competitive. That can lead only to difficulties when tourists try to plan an itinerary in the UK. There is a strong belief that the abolition of the English Tourist Board and the creation of the new English Tourism Council were dictated and influenced more by the policy of regionalisation than tourism, the interests of which may have been sacrificed to bolster the regional government policies of the Government. Not even the boundaries of the tourist regions and the regional governments always coincide.
I was always taught that it was wise to invest in success. The reduction of financial resources of the BTA clearly shows that this is not a philosophy that the present Government embrace. I believe that in dealing with one of our most important industries which is vital to employment, our heritage and thousands of small business, it is high time that the Government did embrace it. I believe that the health of our tourism industry could be put at risk.
§ Lord Phillips of Sudbury
My Lords, before the noble Lord sits down, perhaps I may clarify what I said. I certainly did not suggest that there should be regional boards with offices abroad. I said specifically that there should be a modest increase in their budgets. They should continue to work under the BTA as they do now but with bespoke efforts to recruit foreign tourists.
§ 8.26 p.m.
§ Viscount Falkland
My Lords, like other noble Lords, I thank the noble Baroness, Lady Anelay, for allowing the House to address the problems of tourism. I believe that there are problems. I follow the noble Lord, Lord Montagu of Beaulieu, in trying to face a few facts which fundamentally affect the marketing of tourism in Britain. I spent most of my childhood and teenage years in south Devon, which was then one of the most desirable parts of these islands for the purposes of holidays for British people. I grew up in the area known as Torbay which, like other seaside resorts in Britain, has suffered badly in recent years from changes in the pattern of tourism, by which I mean holidays taken by British people. If they can, they replace that lost market by creating attractions for people from further afield.
A little historical perspective is perhaps necessary to understand why these changes have occurred. As with a number of seaside resorts where the climate is warmer and wetter—not so much East Anglia—Devon was an enormous attraction when holidays from work became more commonplace. The annual drift from the North, the Midlands and other industrial areas to the South West was an important part of the economy of Devon and Cornwall. So sure was it that in the years between the wars, and following the Second World War, locals in Devon in particular took it for granted and became rather snooty about visitors, who were referred to first as trippers and then holidaymakers.
A huge industry of small hotels and boarding houses grew up in Torquay. The town became well known through the television programme "Fawlty Towers", which was a caricature of a small hotel in a seaside resort. I do not think that any hotels were quite as extraordinary as "Fawlty Towers", but it was an example of the middle-range seaside hotel which in recent years has suffered incredibly badly.
Torquay actually had one of the most attractive hotels in Britain—the Imperial Hotel. It was called "Imperial" because the imperial Russian family used to stay there. For many years it drew an upmarket clientele to Devon. Rather optimistically they used to call the area the English Riviera. Torquay, like Rome, was built on a number of hills. It enjoyed a fine climate because it faced in the right direction. I look at the noble Lord, Lord Hunt, who is an expert on weather. It was known for growing palm trees and other plants which could not be found at the other side of the area, in Torbay, which faced north, and it had none of these attractions.
People came down in droves. They mostly came down by rail. As the use of the car became more common they came down in their motor cars. The roads got clogged up and were gradually improved. The war came. There was then a great expansion of foreign travel and package tours. It completely destroyed the hotel industry in Devon. People from the industrial Midlands, as they were in those days, and the North turned to foreign destinations. Places like Torquay and similar places in Cornwall have had a tough time.
438 In that area there was a particular market which attracted foreign visitors as well as the more affluent British visitor. That was the yachtsmen who came to Devon. A number of hotels along the coastline were developed specifically for that market. They, too, have suffered in recent years. But they knew in those days what their market was at all levels and what they needed to provide by way of product to satisfy that market.
It is now extremely difficult for the seaside resorts of Britain, having had this decline, to recover. This is set against the general trends in Britain which make marketing a very difficult exercise. Other noble Lords have talked about the difficulties of competing with other countries. The noble Lord, Lord Hunt, mentioned France. France has put in an enormous amount of effort and tourism is one of its major industries. Tourism is fifth in Britain in importance of industries. In France it is considerably higher. The French have put a great deal of investment and energy into it. They are practical about these matters. I rather agree with the French view. They are rather chauvinistic people historically. But they look upon tourism as a business. They do not see anything intrinsically virtuous about tourism. In fact they look upon it as a necessary evil.
I agree with the noble Lord, Lord Beaumont, that, environmentally, one can see tourism as a necessary evil. But it is a business after all, and there is all the more need to raise the added value and the quality of what is offered to create income to compensate for the damage which it does by expanding and spreading the range of what is on offer to the foreign visitor. I fear that is not done
Other noble Lords have mentioned, either directly or by indirect reference, the poor quality compared to other countries of food, of hotel accommodation and certainly of travel. The noble Baroness. Lady O'Cathain, mentioned the parlous state of the railways. No one in their right mind who is planning a holiday in Britain would want to take a train to go anywhere. Indeed, would they want to take a motor car? I enjoy going to France. I only use my car in France.
§ Lord Hunt of Chesterton
My Lords, one can now travel to Cambridge as fast as one could in November. It takes about 50 minutes. It works very well indeed. So in some places it is working.
§ Viscount Falkland
My Lords, while mugging up for this debate I read that it is cheaper to make a return trip to New York than to buy a rail ticket to Preston. I am sure the noble Lord is correct; there are exceptions. As my noble friend Lord Phillips said, his area is bucking the trend because, generally speaking, the number of foreign visitors is declining overall while our own people are increasingly going abroad on holiday. There is a deficit there that needs to be addressed.
I agree with my noble friend's point that there needs to be more marketing by the regional boards. They understand best what is on offer and how it can be 439 developed, particularly in the South West. The South West is so poor that it is not able even to contemplate evolving a strategy for doing this.
In preparation for the debate I had a brief from a group which has developed from a leisure company called Leisure Pares Limited which has taken over some of the assets of First Leisure. It plans to develop Blackpool. That is another great seaside resort which has seen great decline. Depending on what the gambling review body says, it wants to develop what it will call casino hotels in Blackpool. It is an idea which is worth visiting. Perhaps in the future we shall have the opportunity to debate that matter in the House. I do not think that it can be developed as a mini-Las Vegas for the world, whatever the gambling review body reports, but it is an interesting idea. The more people who have innovative ideas of this kind the better. Blackpool may well be a good place to develop carefully controlled, high-quality casino ventures of that kind. I wish them well.
It is clear that we do not compete satisfactorily with a number of our neighbours. Let us take £500. If one takes £500 at today's exchange rate, goes around England and stays in moderate hotels the money will not last long. One needs to bear in mind the travel and so on. If one takes £500 to France, one can stay everywhere in good, clean, cheap hotels. One can stay in a room anywhere with an en suite bathroom. Food is always good and the service is excellent.
Just to round off, I take up the point about service. As the noble Baroness, Lady O'Cathain, said, service is one of the most important areas. Service in this country is, by and large, deplorable. It is deplorable because here there is a cultural aversion to serving people. That will not do. I do not know how we shall deal with the matter. I spoke to the managing director of a cinema group recently. I said, "How is it that in your cinemas you never know whether you will be treated well or rudely?" He replied, "We go to endless lengths to tell people who join us about this. We give them courses of all kinds. But there is an inbuilt resistance to serve. It is seen as demeaning". So it is better—
§ Lord Hunt of Chesterton
My Lords, does the noble Viscount agree that generally the service in an English pub is as good as that in a French bar? That has certainly always been my experience.
§ Viscount Falkland
My Lords, the Government Whip was beginning to wave his arm. I will answer that question and wind up. There are always exceptions to what I am saying but, generally speaking, service here is appalling. That needs to be addressed. I hope that the Government will do their best to generate the kind of action that is needed to attempt to solve the problem.
§ 8.40 p.m.
§ Lord McIntosh of Haringey
My Lords, a winding-up speech of this kind usually begins with thanks to 440 noble Lords for their contributions to the debate. However, I have to remind your Lordships that the Unstarred Question on the Order Paper is,To ask Her Majesty's Government what steps they are taking to promote the marketing of British tourism to visitors from overseas".I believe that the first step we should take is to suppress the record of this debate! Your Lordships have been candid and this has been a frank but fair exchange of views. I do not think that BTA will wish to hear some of the criticisms that have been made of tourist facilities and of this country, from its weather to its transport.
That does not prevent me from saying that this Government take tourism and the tourism industry extremely seriously. The tourism industry is of enormous economic importance to this country. I do not wish it to be regarded, by an association with dark satanic mills, in any other way. We have taken it seriously from the very beginning. Last year we published and debated in this House a strategy for tourism in the document, Tomorrow's Tourism, which sets out our strategy for the future development of tourism and our agenda for economically sustainable and, as the noble Lord, Lord Beaumont wishes, environmentally sustainable growth in the years ahead.
We have done what the noble Baroness, Lady O'Cathain, wants. We have had joined-up government in respect of this matter. In March 2000 we held the first Tourism Summit following the publication of the strategy document. We brought together government Ministers from all the key government departments to discuss the whole range of issues impacting on the tourism and travel industries. It was a great success. The Ministers who attended left with commitments to give whatever help they could to the tourism industry, and we shall have another summit of that kind in March this year.
Despite some comments that have been made this evening, tourism is a major success story. After the United States, France, Italy and Spain, we are fifth in the world in terms of earnings from visitors. I heard what the noble Lord, Lord Montagu, said about the downturn in the number of visitors to some tourist attractions. However, despite the strength of sterling, or, to be more precise, the weakness of the euro, it is still the case that expenditure in 1999 by overseas visitors was £12.5 billion. Around 25.4 million visitors spent £3.17 billion on travel with British carriers. Although there may have been a downturn in some respects, the number of North American visitors, for example, increased by three per cent in the first 11 months of the year 2000, compared with 1999. When the final figures for 2000 have been confirmed, they are likely to show that, for the first time, we shall have had 4 million visitors from North America to Britain in one year. In addition, the business sector, to which the noble Baroness, Lady Anelay, referred is steadily growing. It is a particularly important market, since business visitors spend one-third more per day than other tourists.
441 As many speakers have said, it is true that we need to meet and exceed visitor expectations if we are to compete. I do not deny the points that have been made about the black spots in our tourism provision. I heard what was said about transport and what was said by the noble Viscount, Lord Falkland, in relation to the problems of seaside resorts. The English Tourism Council is addressing that problem by offering individual regeneration strategies to seaside resorts throughout the country. I do not deny that much work still needs to be done. However, I should like to say—and I am glad to have had the support of a number of noble Lords—what an excellent job the British Tourist Authority does. I am particularly grateful for the personal commendation from the noble Lord, Lord Montagu.
The BTA has won many awards world-wide. In 1999 it was voted the best national tourist office by the travel trade in Australia, Ireland, New Zealand, South Africa, Sweden and New York. It works closely with the UK tourism industry; it provides information on market trends, so that we remain competitive; it has a programme of inward press missions and a range of services and resources for international media, from which we are getting excellent media coverage. The noble Baroness, Lady Anelay, specifically raised a point about the overseas offices, to which I shall refer later.
With regard to the funding of the BTA, the impression seems to have been gained that we have been reducing funding. In practice, it was the previous government that reduced the funding for the BTA in real terms. After the first two years in which we kept to the previous government's revenue spending plans, our comprehensive spending review allowed us to give a significant increase of £5 million grant-in-aid over three years from the financial year 1999–2000 to the financial year 2001–02.
In addition, although I am congratulating the BTA, we have not been uncritical. We have carried out a very detailed review of the BTA, which was published earlier this month. The noble Baroness, Lady Anelay, asked me whether we endorsed all the recommendations. It is a little early to do that in a period of only 13 days, but we shall be producing a response to that and we shall be encouraging and taking an active part in stage two of the review, which will follow from this year, and reporting next year. The report contains many detailed points, which time does not permit me to debate, but its fundamental finding was that we have the right organisation; that it should be a non-departmental public body; that it should not be privatised; that it should not be drawn into a department; that it generally has the right relationship with the English Tourism Council and the devolved administrations; and, therefore, that no fundamental organisational change is required. I am grateful for the welcome of the noble Baroness, Lady Anelay, for the review. I hope that we shall have her continued support for stage two.
We are now looking at performance targets, which is a difficult issue. On the basis of performance targets, which are, broadly speaking, the rate of return on 442 investment, which can be a crude measure—in other words, whether it is £31 of expenditure by overseas visitors for £1 of BTA expenditure or a lower or higher figure—it is sometimes possible for an organisation to make misjudgments. I am not suggesting that they have made a misjudgment in reducing the number of overseas offices. They have made other provision for the areas in which they have closed offices. But we have to consider whether there should be a development fund for markets that are going to be more important in the future, on which we might spend money without necessarily getting them immediately the same rate of return on investment. That is one of the issues to he addressed in the stage two review. Meantime, I cannot give the noble Baroness, Lady Anelay, the assurance that we shall not close any of the offices.
The noble Lord, Lord Montagu, asked for just a little more funding. Everybody asks for just a little more funding. We are doing fairly well. Not only have we given more to the BTA, but this is part only of our expenditure on tourism. Under the current expenditure plans, we are increasing expenditure on the English Tourism Council from £10 million in 2001–02 to £12.5 million in 2003–04. We have given extra money to the London Tourist Board to work with the BTA on the Focus London project. We are spending £1 billion in the current year on the arts, Roy al Parks, palaces, museums and galleries, much of which directly benefits tourism. That is without taking into consideration the enormous expenditure of around £90 million by English local authorities. I certainly rebut any suggestion that the Government are being mean towards tourism. I would find that slightly odd coming from a party which felt, as the noble Baroness, Lady Anelay, said in her opening speech, that we should keep out of the way as far as possible. That internal contradiction in Conservative thinking always causes me a certain amount of wry amusement.
The noble Baroness, Lady Anelay, referred to the Culture and Recreation Bill and asked about our future plans. We shall not be looking for an opportunity to make changes in primary legislation through the Bill as a result of the BTA review. We shall not be making any changes to the 1969 Act. We shall consult widely on the full implications of the proposals in the review. We certainly do not think that it is appropriate to leap into immediate legislation.
Much valuable comment was made on the marketing of England as a tourist destination. A number of noble Lords emphasised regional attractions. The noble Lords, Lord Hunt of Chesterton, Lord Montagu and Lord Beaumont, made particularly valuable points. The noble Lord, Lord Phillips, said that we should be giving more core funding to the English regions. That is exactly what we have been doing by the change in the remit of the England Tourism Council, of which he seems to disapprove; he wants to re-establish the English Tourist Board. That has enabled us to give more money directly to the regional tourist boards, which are not government organisations but companies limited by guarantee.
443 We do not think that any organisational change is called for at this time. We set up the ETC as a strategic body. It would not be able to perform that role effectively if it had a marketing remit as well. There would have to be a good deal of debate and research before we decided that the promotion of England as an entity was likely to be efficient. After all, we have the BTA and the regional tourist boards playing an important role in marketing England. We resist the suggestion in the Conservative tourism strategy that we should provide the ETC with a marketing voice.
I was interested in what was said about sports tourism and the recent all-party committee report. The BTA's Manchester marketing campaign strategy was its first specific campaign to market Manchester in Ireland. There will be an evaluation of its success. We are glad to have evidence on the ground, so to speak, from the visit of the noble Baroness, Lady Anelay, to Dublin.
I understand the point made by the noble Baroness, Lady O'Cathain, about China and emerging countries. A number of other noble Lords made comparable points. But, again, that is a proper subject for stage two of the review.
I was asked about e-tourism. In response to the noble Lord, Lord Phillips, we certainly appreciate the growing importance of the ability of people to make bookings and to gain information by electronic means. Janet Anderson, the Minister for Tourism, has set up a ministerial advisory group to advise on ways in which tourism-related businesses can exploit new technology. Again, this is not government doing it; it is the industry itself doing it. I appreciate also the point made by the noble Baroness, Lady O'Cathain, about skill shortages. Several noble Lords asked why in our country young people do not as naturally go into tourism as in other countries. What I can say from personal experience is that it does seem to be changing.
444 The quality of young people from all kinds of different ethnic and national backgrounds going into tourism seems to be improving. That is helped by the national minimum wage and by the steps we are taking to improve the image of the tourism industry in its broadest sense.
I take very seriously the points made about the quality of service, particularly in the light of the derogatory comments that I have heard today. We have the quality grading scheme. It is a voluntary scheme. It is significantly increasing its coverage. It has just been extended to cover self-catering properties and caravan parks. It is a single grading scheme between the ETC and the RAC and the AA. If it does not work, we may be prepared to consider a compulsory scheme. But that would be a significant burden on business. The party which purports to seek to avoid burdens on business should be wary of going in too quickly.
There are some things we can do. There are some things, like the weather—pace my noble friend Lord Hunt—that we cannot do. But I understand my noble friend's point that we could teach people better about the weather and forecast it better than we do. I am more equivocal about the points which he and the noble Lord, Lord Beaumont, made about our gastronomic successes.
I have spoken for far too long. We have a lot to offer in this country. We have a huge diversity of climate, heritage and visitor attractions. We are continually seeking to develop innovative ways of promoting Britain. The BTA is working enormously effectively in that regard. The Government are playing their part in promoting tourism by their commitment to cutting unnecessary red tape but making sure that regulation provides proper protection, driving up quality, working to improve career possibilities and listening to the views of the tourism industry.
§ House adjourned at two minutes before nine o' clock.