§ Motion made, and Question proposed, That the sitting be now adjourned.—[Mr. Fitzpatrick.]9.30 am
§ Mr. Tom Clarke (Coatbridge and Chryston)
I am particularly pleased this morning to be debating the future of tourism in the United Kingdom. It is an appropriate time for such a debate, given that the World Travel Market, the main event in the global travel industry—it is now in its 22nd year—is taking place in Earls Court this week.
My concern is for tourism throughout Britain. I am aware that some aspects of tourism and travel have been devolved to other assemblies, including the Scottish Parliament and the Greater London Authority. Nevertheless, I am particularly happy that the British Tourist Authority, which has a crucial role, is working in partnership with the national tourist boards of Scotland, England, Wales and Northern Ireland. I congratulate the Scottish Parliament on its wisdom in accepting the logic of the BTA's argument that it should project tourism abroad for the whole of Britain, including Scotland: we can already see the benefits.
Tourism and hospitality is a big industry, with the potential for enormous growth. Tourism and travel drive the UK economy. Last year, the industry was worth £64 billion, and tourism accounts for about 4 per cent. of Britain's gross domestic product. In 2000, the industry employed 1.8 million people. That is 7 per cent. of the UK work force and five times as many people as are employed by the car industry. In 2000, 25.2 million overseas visitors came to Britain, spending £12.8 billion. Our top five overseas markets last year were, first, the United States of America, followed by France, Germany, the Irish Republic and the Netherlands. At the start of last year, we had every reason to feel confident and optimistic, and the industry's hopes were high.
That confidence should be set against the backdrop of the publication in 1999 of "Tomorrow's Tourism: a growth industry for the new Millennium" by the Department for Culture, Media and Sport. That important document presented a strategy for the industry, and I congratulate my right hon. Friend the Member for Islington, South and Finsbury (Mr. Smith), the former Secretary of State, and my hon. Friend the Member for Rossendale and Darwen (Janet Anderson), the former Minister for Tourism, Film and Broadcasting, on the heavyweight contributions that they made to that document. I hope that I, too, was able to make some contribution to it.
Hopes were high until we were struck with foot and mouth disease, which was followed by the terrible events of 11 September. Before the outbreak of foot and mouth disease, spending by overseas visitors was expected to rise by 2 per cent. to about £13 billion. The presentation 184WH overseas, night after night, of television scenes of the outbreak had a severe impact on inbound tourism, and not only in contaminated and restricted areas. The BTA estimates that losses for 2001 attributable to foot and mouth disease represent 10 per cent. or £1.5 billion fall. It welcomes the £14 million that is being given in addition to existing Government grant in aid to implement an intensive marketing strategy to encourage overseas visitors to come to Britain.
Passengers' fears of air travel following the terrorist attacks in the United States have also had a serious impact. On 26 September, the BTA announced that Britain's inbound tourism industry stood to lose about £2.5 billion because of the combination of foot and mouth disease and terrorism. Spending by overseas visitors is likely to drop by about 20 per cent., which will be a big blow to the industry. In September, the number of overseas visitors decreased by 11 per cent. and spending decreased by 16 per cent. compared with the same period last year. The BTA said:This is deeply worrying for the tourism industry—the critical months for inbound tourism are from July to September when a third of all visit ors come to Britain.
In common with my right hon. and hon. Friends, I sincerely thank everyone in the industry for applying themselves positively and with dedication to an extremely difficult challenge that could not have been predicted. We also thank the Department for Culture, Media and Sport, the BTA, the Foreign and Commonwealth Office, the regional tourist authorities and the local authorities, which have not had an easy time.
I recently visited Cumbria—I have a soft spot for that beautiful part of Britain—and I saw evidence of that dedication, particularly in the Lake district. I congratulate those who serve the Cumbria tourist board, including its chief executive, Chris Collier. I also congratulate Vicky Robinson and Graham Lamont, the joint chairmen of Theatre by the Lake, which they kept packed almost every night even as they were surrounded by the problems that I have described. I saw Zeffirelli's cinema, which serves two cultures in Ambleside, in the heart of Wordsworth country. That is important to me and many others and represents something very attractive for Cumbria.
I was reminded again this week of the fact that those associated with the Cumbria tourist board do not rest on their laurels. They reminded me of the importance even today of opening all footpaths, including the coast-to-coast footpath, which they have been told might not open until Easter. The path is important to them, and I hope that things will be cleared up long before then.
I want to base my remarks about Scotland on a comprehensive letter that I received from Jim Torrance, the Scottish policy convenor of the Federation of Small Businesses—we must remember the huge number of small businesses involved in tourism. For the most part, the letter was upbeat, which is consistent with the situation in Scotland. Tourism is our fourth largest industry and employs 7.9 per cent. of those in employment. Let me give a flavour of the letter. Among other things, the federation said:There is strong—but anecdotal—evidence (official statistics are not yet available) that tourism is doing relatively well in many areas of Scotland … Argyll for example had had its best tourist season since 1997. The main widely expressed concern was about finding adequate staff.185WH On a less positive note, perhaps, the letter continued with the important point thatBusinesses experiencing a bad season have cited the strength of sterling"—I would describe it as the weakness of other currencies—fuel prices, staff problems, competition, foot and mouth, the effects of the 11th September and inadequacies at Area Tourist Board and visitscotland/STB.I do not necessarily share that view of the last of those perceived problems, but it is fair to put it in context. The letter stated:The individual impact of these differing variables has not been assessed.
I would not do justice to the letter or the views of the people of Scotland if I did not repeat its main point, as I want to underline the plea made by the Federation of Small Businesses. It reminded us of the delicate decision still to be taken about the need for the ferry link between Rosyth and Zeebrugge. It welcomes, as I do, the fact that my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Transport, Local Government and the Regions has given his stamp of approval for it, as well as funding. The FSB also knows that what is happening in Europe is important to that decision. The link is vital not only to tourism in Fife, but the rest of Scotland, and we would all welcome its spin-off effects on other industries.
My right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Culture, Media and Sport and my hon. Friend the Minister my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State and my hon. Friend the Under-Secretary of State for Culture, Media and Sport set up the Tourism Alliance, an umbrella body designed to deal with the fragmentation that my right hon. Friend said was taking place in the industry. I would like to hear from my hon. Friend how that matter is progressing.
My hon. Friend would be extremely surprised if I did not mention the document published by the Department for Culture, Media and Sport last month. "Tourism—The Hidden Giant—and Foot and Mouth" as the Government's response to the report of the Select Committee on Culture, Media and Sport, which is chaired by my right hon. Friend the Member for Manchester, Gorton (Mr. Kaufman). I hope that the debate will give my hon. Friend the opportunity to respond further to three important points that it raises.
Page 3 of the document tells us that the Select Committee took the view thatthe English Tourism Council had been designed more…to the needs of the Government than…the customer".Page 4 states that the spread of funding was uneven geographically, according to the Committee, and that the Committee talked ofunder-investment by the public sector in tourism".Page 7 refers to claims of slow response by not only the Government, but other public bodies, on the outbreak of foot and mouth disease. I look forward to what my hon. Friend the Minister has to say about those points, as I seek to understand the complex issues.
I want to be much more positive now, and have every reason to be so. Much in the 1999 review offered great practical and welcome encouragement to the many people who contributed to its conclusions. Its 186WH recommendations were based on making the most of the talents of all our people in the tourism and hospitality industry. During my short time as a Minister, the issue that seemed to dominate every discussion was the minimum wage. We do not hear much about it now. It seems to have settled down to offer fulfilment to those in the industry, which is important to them. The evidence that I have seen suggests that staff turnover is falling. I welcome that, as I do the new deal, which has substantially contributed to jobs in the industry.
Transport is important to tourism. The terrible events of 11 September hit London tourism hard, as my hon. Friend will know from his meetings with industry representatives. However, he will also know of opportunities for the public to visit local attractions and to take time to enjoy a vast array of theatre performances and concerts in cities, including London. As transport is of the essence for successful tourism, will my hon. Friend join me in welcoming the excellent initiative of the Heathrow, Gatwick and Stansted express air-rail links, which allows the public to buy a return ticket on any of the three express routes into central London for only £10, having parked their cars without extra cost at any one of the three south-east airports? That is good for families, it is good value for money, and it is a good way to keep cars away from busy London roads.
In addition to that achievement I shall cite others in my constituency. I hope that the Summerlee heritage park in Coatbridge will serve as a model of how to attract tourists and visitors to see the best industrial archaeology. Yesterday I took part in discussions with representatives of North Lanarkshire and East Dumbartonshire councils. I am sure that my hon. Friend the Member for Strathkelvin and Bearsden (Mr. Lyons) will welcome the reassurance that they are highly aware of the importance that we accord to attractions such as the Antonine wall and the Roman fort. Perhaps those responsible at the heritage lottery fund are following our discussions; I assure them that the two councils are paying great attention to the opportunities that are no doubt on offer.
Among the very welcome action points in the strategy document are the development of several creative industries, including film and sports, in relation to tourism. I congratulate the BTA on the various film maps that it has produced. I understand that, for example. it and other tourist boards plan promotions such as a Harry Potter map of Britain.
§ Mr. John Lyons (Strathkelvin and Bearsden)
I remind my right hon. Friend of the importance of film in developing tourism. I know that he recently suggested that the film "The Full Monty" had created a lot of potential for Sheffield and that he was criticised by Mr. Johnson and others for that. However, there are good examples—such as, in Scotland, "Braveheart"— of films helping to increase tourism.
§ Mr. Clarke
I was a little amused by Mr. Frank Johnson's sketch when the matter was raised in the House last week. He is entitled to laugh at his own jokes, but sometimes he must feel a bit lonely. It is rather distressing that he does not seem to read his own newspaper. The Daily Telegraph perceives the link between film and tourism. It stated that researchers had recently concluded that a tourism location featured in a successful film can expect the number of visitors to 187WH increase by 54 per cent. over four years. My hon. Friend was right about Scottish films. "Rob Roy", "Braveheart" and "Loch Ness" together produced an extra £7 million to £15 million in tourism revenue. Any sensible person would welcome that.
The strategy for tourism covered the importance of marketing and of quality control and the need for development of skills and training. It called for more integrated promotion of our wonderful cultural heritage and countryside attractions. It welcomed, as I do, the regeneration of our traditional resorts. I am pleased that my hon. Friend the Member for Morecambe and Lunesdale (Geraldine Smith) is to initiate a debate on that subject later this week. The English tourist board tells us that about 900,000 people—almost 1 million potential holidaymakers—have changed their plans between now and the end of September and will now holiday at home instead of abroad.
It is important to make the most of the outstanding regeneration of our cities and what is happening in the resorts. I have seen the regeneration of Newcastle, Manchester, Liverpool, Cardiff, Glasgow, Belfast and London, with huge improvements to the dockyards here. That represents a welcome invitation to domestic and international tourists. There is a plea in the document for more central Government support for the regions. That debate will, rightly, continue. The Minister will want to comment on the annual tourism summit, bringing together industry and Government, which is also very welcome. The new technology of the internet and computerised booking services is important as we seek to serve a growing public.
I would like to conclude by wishing the industry well. The people serving the industry—in restaurants, hotels, castles and theme parks, as well as those working in transport to bring people to every region of the country—matter. They represent the best of Britain and we wish them and their industry the very best of British.
§ Mr. Elfyn Llwyd (Meirionnydd Nant Conwy)
First, I congratulate the right hon. Member for Coatbridge and Chryston (Mr. Clarke) on securing this important debate. I agree with almost everything he said, except that I think that the Scottish, English and Welsh tourism products are quite different. I believe that it is better to advertise them separately, not for political reasons but because they are distinct and should be marketed distinctly.
I was born and brought up in Betws-y-Coed, which is probably the most famous tourist village in Wales and probably one of the first tourist areas in Wales, so I am well aware of the benefits of good, sustainable tourism to the local economy. Gwynedd council has had a film site officer for the past 10 years, so it agrees with the right hon. Gentleman about the importance of film to tourism. Tourism is obviously an important component in the British economy. In the Welsh economy it brings in about £2 billion per annum, which is approximately 7 per cent. of Welsh GDP. In many coastal areas, and some rural areas as well, the relative contribution of tourism is even higher.
Several external factors, however, have had an impact on the performance of the tourist industry during the past 12 to 18 months. Even before the outbreak of foot 188WH and mouth disease there was the question of the strength of the sterling against the euro, which has already been referred to. Recent research demonstrates that there is a direct link between the value of sterling and international tourism receipts. Every 1 per cent. rise in the external value of the pound leads to a decline in UK international tourism receipts of about 1.3 per cent. The relative strength of the pound has an effect, as the right hon. Gentleman said.
A second factor is the relatively high price of petrol and the unfortunate publicity surrounding the petrol blockades in the UK. Those were brakes on growth for some key international markets. Added to that there are, unfortunately, signs that the US economy is slowing down, and growth in consumer spending throughout Europe remains sluggish. Despite these constraining external factors, the British Tourist Authority was forecasting before the outbreak of foot and mouth disease that spending by overseas visitors in Britain would rise by about 2 per cent. in 2001—In other words, that it would rise from £12.8 billion to slightly more than £13 billion, which is a huge sum. By the end of May, that figure had to be revised down by between 10 and 20 per cent. to take into account the consequences of foot and mouth disease. Even after that revision, the market is still significant.
Foot and mouth has hit many parts of the United Kingdom, and not uniformly. It has hit harder in some areas than others. Areas such as my constituency where, fortunately, an outbreak did not occur, were constrained by the closing of footpaths. The right hon. Member for Coatbridge and Chryston said that they should be opened, and of course they should. I am sure that the time is right for that to be done. Those constraints had a heavy impact on Snowdonia, for example, which is part of my constituency. I understand that the Minister climbed Snowdon on Saturday morning, so he is doing his bit for tourism and for my constituency.
§ Mr. Llwyd
Perhaps that was not the greatest loss, but I will not pursue that red herring.
Some businesses record a downturn of about 75 per cent. in their receipts. We know about that because there have been several debates on the subject in the Chamber and elsewhere. Turnover fell by 22 per cent. in the Easter period, and more than two thirds of businesses said that the bookings for the rest of 2001 have declined by about 60 per cent. on average. That is a huge drop. On the basis of previous experience, the UK domestic market is likely to recover first. That is good news for Wales because at least 80 per cent. of spending from overnight visitors derives from the core UK market. I hope that there will soon be an urgent recovery.
In summary, the Welsh tourist board estimates that tourism spending in Wales during the first six months of the year declined by 15 per cent., which is equivalent to £182 million. As a direct result of the impact of foot and mouth disease and the awful events of 11 September, the board estimates that further losses of at least another £100 million will be incurred by the end of the year. That 189WH amounts to a loss of some £280 million in the year. Such an impact could place 10,000 jobs at risk in Wales. The multiplier effect from tourism means that the total number of jobs affected could be as high as 15,000.
However, we must not dwell on all this doom and gloom. The right hon. Gentleman finished on a high note and he is right to talk up the tourist industry. One positive outcome of the foot and mouth outbreak—if there can be such a thing—is that it has shown the business community and the public the important contribution made by tourism to local economies. That does not happen merely in rural areas but in cities such as York and London. People have now realised that it is a poor industry that needs nurturing and that benefits will accrue to all businesses as a spin-off from a healthy tourism industry.
In Wales, the industry supports around 100,000 jobs which is about 10 per cent. of the work force. It is Wales' largest industry. It is estimated that it supports around 25,000 jobs directly in rural Wales, and others indirectly. Farm-based tourism is a growth area that needs developing, especially with the forthcoming changes to the common agricultural policy. Green tourism needs to be considered and diversification should be introduced when possible. Of course, all farmers will not be able to diversify—that is common sense. However, diversification will be possible in many areas, and we should work to assist the process in those areas.
The future of the £2 billion tourism industry in Wales depends on nurturing a highly skilled work force to provide the high quality holiday experience that is expected by an increasing number of discerning visitors. The tourism training forum, which is a new independent body that was set up by the Welsh tourist board, Education and Learning Wales and the National Assembly is considering ways of matching available training with what is required in terms of work in the tourism business, whether we are talking of restaurants, hotels, leisure facilities or visitor attractions.
I recently had the great pleasure of attending a function at the Porthmeirion hotel, which is unique, to note the launch of a flagship project in my constituency. The Meirionnydd chef project is a publicly supported venture by the tourist board and the local further education establishment. Young chefs go to 10 or 12 flagship designations within the constituency, moving from one hotel to another and learning best practice in each one. It is an excellent step forward that will raise our game immensely. I am proud that it is being piloted in my constituency.
We need to raise our game, and we have done so during the past 15 years or so. The standard of accommodation is generally better, as is the standard of fare at local pubs. Standards are improving, but the dreadful events of 11 September pose a considerable challenge. The impact will vary from country to country, but recent information from the BTA suggests that the number of visitors from the USA will fall by 40 to 60 per cent., those from Canada by 30 to 40 per cent., those from Australasia by 20 to 25 per cent., and those from Europe by 10 to 15 per cent. Those are only estimates, but there is a huge challenge ahead.
190WH I am pleased that a rural recovery plan is now being discussed in the National Assembly for Wales and that a similar initiative is being pursued in this place. I am also pleased that the Minister for Rural Affairs has realised that tourism is an integral part of rural life and must form a central plank of any rural recovery strategy to be pursued by Westminster. He pointedly restated that at a function last week, and we all hope that that aspiration will be transformed into urgent action to arrest the sharp decline in the rural economy in recent years. That is of particular moment to Wales because many rural areas support our Welsh-speaking communities, which are under threat. I welcome that indication from the Minister and hope that there will be progress in the coming weeks and months. We must make it possible for young people to work in good, well-paid jobs in high quality tourism, to branch out into the industry and to think positively about remaining in their local communities and developing their careers locally.
One area that is ripe for further development is diversification in the agriculture sector. Agri-tourism is an untapped resource and we should look for high-quality diversification projects that are sustainable in terms of local economies and the environment. We must also have regard to our competitors. The marketing budget in Wales is only £300,000, but in Illinois in the United States it is £24.5 million, in Florida it is £16.6 million and in Canada it is £21.3 million. In Wales, alas, where the industry is hugely important, the budget is only £0.3 million. That is a plea for greater assistance for the Welsh tourist board and the tourist industry generally—[Interruption.] The Minister seems to disagree. The marketing figures were printed in the Western Mail a week or so ago.
§ Mr. Llwyd
As the Minister says, they must be right. The Western Mail was also right in what it said about the Welsh Affairs Committee.
We in Wales are proud that the Ryder cup will be played in Wales. That is a vote of confidence in the tourism infrastructure of the country and there will be a considerable spin-off. I do not want to fall out with my Scottish colleagues, but I have no doubt that they will learn from the Welsh experience—I say that with tongue in cheek and humour.
We in this Chamber realise the importance of tourism, but we must ensure that everyone realises that it is important. Tourism needs to be developed further and in a sustainable manner. We must concentrate on this great, untapped potential, and rise to the challenges to which I have referred.
§ 10.5 am
§ Mr. Bob Blizzard (Waveney)
I, too, want to congratulate my right hon. Friend the Member for Coatbridge and Chryston (Mr. Clarke) on securing this debate. One can have nothing but the utmost sympathy for anybody who is trying to run a tourism business in this country or, indeed, anywhere in the world. The events of 11 September have had a devastating effect on tourism and travel worldwide. I was on holiday in the 191WH United States at the time of the attack, and I remained there for a further 10 days. After touring some of the beautiful national parks of the south-west of America, it was disheartening to return to Las Vegas to discover that it was 90 per cent. empty. Indeed, Las Vegas was to prove a pointer for the deep impact of 11 September on other places, including this country.
Yesterday's crash underlines a difficult situation. In the past, we might have overcome such a terrible disaster relatively quickly. We know that air travel is statistically very safe, but in spending considerable time wondering about the cause of yesterday's crash, we add to the pall of uncertainty and fear that this new era of terrorism—with the fear of anthrax in the background—has cast over the world, and which has put people off travelling anywhere. There are those who still say, "What are we doing in Afghanistan and is it our war?" However, 11 September was an attack on us all: on the world economy, and on tourism as much as any other sector. The sooner we can put an end to this business, the sooner we will rebuild people's confidence in travelling, so that they can sample the delights we have to offer in the UK.
There has been a clear impact on the home-grown business of sending people abroad, and on the number of visitors to this country. The foot and mouth crisis showed us the value of tourists from America and other parts of the world, and recent events have only compounded the misery of foot and mouth. Although the business of Hoseasons—a great company in my constituency that specialises in holidays in this country—is not concentrated in the main areas affected by foot and mouth, it nevertheless took quite a hit.
Tourism is alive everywhere. Every town, village and community in this country has something of interest to show to visitors. My constituency, for example, has some great natural assets, but we do not make enough of them so we do not benefit from tourism as much as we should. I should say that Lowestoft officially has the best beach in the country. Although the English tourist board granted the award back in 1991, the contest has never been held since, so I say that we are still champions.
The River Waveney, which gives its name to my constituency. forms the southern boundary of the broads, and Oulton Broad, Beccles and Bungay all have delights to offer. However, there is a worry in my constituency that a wind of change is blowing through the Broads Authority. Certain proposals have caused disquiet. Some are saying that perhaps the business of attracting people to enjoying the broads—an activity that will always remain water-based—may be downgraded in the interests of conservation. I ask my hon. Friend the Minister to keep a close eye on this matter because it will take an Act of Parliament or an order to make changes, should the Broads Authority propose them. I am keeping an eye on the issue, and I hope that he will too.
The other great asset in my constituency is the fact that Lowestoft is Britain's most easterly point. The hon. Member for Caithness, Sutherland and Easter Ross (John Thurso) is present, so perhaps we can form a cardinal points club. Unlike John o'Groats and Land's End, Lowestoft is not famed as a cardinal point, but the potential is there.
192WH To exemplify my point, I shall tell a brief story about our efforts to address the fact that we are not well known as the most easterly point in Britain. We have tried to develop a landmark because we do not have a natural point like Land's End—I must confess that I have not been to John o'Groats. We planned to install a great sculpture, and we found an artist to design it, but it has proved difficult to obtain funding. When we applied for European objective 5b funding, we were told that the site was 50 yards on the wrong side of a boundary, even though a landmark would clearly benefit the whole local area. When we tried the lottery, our case was considered to be funding for the arts. The fine art buffs thought, "We have never heard of this artist: the sculpture would not be of a high quality." They should have considered the case from the perspective that a sculpture could regenerate an area that has suffered from declines in manufacturing and fishing.
Although tourism is arguably Britain's biggest industry, it is not treated as such by the various layers of government. For example, many councils consider tourism with leisure services. Tourism connects with running swimming pools and parks, but people who run tourist businesses say, "Why can we not work with the economic development department that helps other industries?" It is difficult to access assisted area status funding. My constituency has that designation, but it is difficult to access those funds, which are considerable, for tourism. I have already described the difficulty that we had in accessing European funding, in which we currently have objective 2 status. There are unwritten rules that hinder tourist businesses and prevent them from accessing funds.
We can obtain funding to develop physical facilities. When my right hon. Friend the Member for Coatbridge and Chryston was Minister with responsibility for tourism, he was proud to come to Lowestoft to open our new yacht marina, which was a grand occasion. We have had funding to put on events such as Lowestoft airshow, which brings many people into the town. Events are a good way in which to draw in visitors and to attract attention to one's area, but tourism today involves looking after people when they arrive. Businesses that look after people need support and help to raise their game.
My remarks are mirrored in national Government. The previous Government had a Department of National Heritage, which created the impression that people would be attracted here if we merely preserved historic buildings, pageantry, Stonehenge and castles. The Department for Culture, Media and Sport is broader than that, but I am sometimes concerned that tourism, the country's largest industry, is tucked away where it could easily be lost. People sometimes ask, "Who is responsible for tourism?" We have an excellent Minister and he is doing wonderful work. However, it is difficult for him to push tourism in the way in which the Department of Trade and Industry pushes the industries that it serves.
This is hard to say at a time when the tourist industry is suffering, but we must confront its biggest failing. Tourism is about not only attractions but the standard of hospitality that we offer to visitors. Hospitality is an important word, and I am pleased that we now talk about the hospitality industry. In general terms, our standard of hospitality is dismally low. When I travel 193WH around the world it is clear to me that we do not compare well with other places in terms of what we have to pay at hotels.
It is a similar story with our standards of service—in hotels, restaurants and shops, we are found wanting. Whenever I return from a holiday in the United States, I wonder why Americans want to come here, given the standard of hospitality that they receive. We sometimes mock them for their "Have a nice day" culture, but it counts for a lot—it is part of a national effort to train people to be pleasant and welcoming. Having returned from holiday, I went to the Labour party conference in Brighton. I queued for 10 minutes to get a bottle of water at a place where the four or five people who were behind the counter all thought that stacking boxes was more important than serving me. When I asked for a bottle of cold mineral water, the woman rummaged in the fridge and produced one that was not remotely cold. I said, "I asked for a cold one," and she replied, "Well, it's just come out of the fridge." That spoke volumes about the relationship between the service industry and the customer. During my three weeks in America, I visited public conveniences in deserts, mountains and cities that were spotlessly clean; those that I found on my return to Heathrow stank. That is not a good advertisement for this country.
The main task is to drive up our standards of hospitality, and I hope that my hon. Friend the Minister will take that as an important part of his mission. As well as naming and shaming the worst examples, we should give a helping hand to people who want to improve. We must find better ways of using existing funds to help our tourist businesses to invest to modernise and to improve their standards. We have so much to offer in the United Kingdom; I hope that we do not throw it away.
§ Mr. Edward O'Hara (in the Chair)
For the benefit of hon. Members, given the time available I intend to start the Front Bench replies at half-past 10 and to call the Minister no later than 10 minutes to 11.
§ Mr. John Lyons (Strathkelvin and Bearsden)
I compliment my right hon. Friend the Member for Coatbridge and Chryston (Mr. Clarke) on taking the time to secure the debate.
My right hon. Friend referred to diversity. That is important, because all too often we think about tourism only in terms of foreign visitors coming to the United Kingdom. Yet nowadays much of the market consists of visitors from other parts of the UK. People come to this country to travel around for many reasons—we should never underestimate the diversity of their tastes and interests.
I support my right hon. Friend's comments about the contribution of the film industry. When it comes to film, there is only one issue: location, location, location. It is a great plus to an area's local economy when a film is shot there, because hundreds of people—actors, actresses, sound recordists, and so on—live locally meanwhile. Moreover, once the film is made it brings a tremendous boost to the area's profile. For example, the second series of the BBC's "Monarch of the Glen" stimulated tourism in the area where it was filmed—people saw it on the screen and wanted to sample it for themselves.
194WH The UK has traditional tourist areas, but many other areas want to be opened up and be considered attractive to tourists. Tourist boards must assist areas that have not been flavour of the month or even of the year, as they need help, too.
Many of these areas have great potential as tourist attractions. The Forth and Clyde and Union canal, which goes across central Scotland nearly all the way from Edinburgh to Glasgow, is one example. It was closed for 30 or 40 years and has been reopened with hundreds of millions of pounds of public money. There is a towpath for cyclists and walkers, a line of Roman forts and the Antonine wall alongside the canal These features make it attractive to many people, not only to those who want to use it for boating. Such areas need support because often industries and tourist attractions need to be reinvigorated and made attractive to people from abroad and throughout the UK.
I agree with what was said about service and making ourselves attractive to visitors; we need to get the basics right. I would be happy to talk all day about the good examples, of which there are many, but unfortunately, there are bad examples. If we do not face them, people will not revisit attractions. I had visitors from Italy for four weeks in the summer and I had to show them round Scotland. which was a pleasure, but it was discouraging that information at some major attractions was not translated into Italian or, in many instances, any other language. That makes it appear that we are turning our back on foreign visitors. It would not take much to get the basics right. We want to attract people to the UK for the first time, and then see them come back again and again. That is the most important issue for the tourist authorities, and, if they can get it right, tourism has a healthy future.
§ Mr. John Grogan (Selby)
The debate this morning has a Scottish flavour. Listening to my right hon. Friend the Members for Coatbridge and Chryston (Mr. Clarke) and my hon. Friend the Member for Strathkelvin and Bearsden (Mr. Lyons) made me want to get on the GNER and go up to Scotland. It could not be colder there than it is in the Chamber.
Scotland has a lesson for England and Wales, which would help to boost the tourist industry. It has nothing to do with "Monarch of the Glen" or "Rob Roy" but with the Scottish liquor licensing laws. In that respect, England and Wales are at a competitive disadvantage compared with Scotland, and that affects tourism. When he introduced liquor licensing laws in England and Wales, Lloyd George famously remarked: "We are fighting three enemies: Germany, Austria and the drink, and the greatest of these is the drink." That legacy has lived with us since that day, inhibiting entrepreneurs in the hospitality and tourist sectors.
All political parties now believe that it is time to reform the liquor licensing laws. During the last days of the election campaign, a significant number of the people working with me received a text message on their mobile phones saying, "If you don't give a 4X for the liquor licensing laws, vote Labour." I was waiting for one myself when I realised that it was being sent only to those under the age of 25.
195WH I make the point seriously: it is wrong to advertise the advantages of reforming the liquor licensing laws as being only in the interests of the young, who perhaps go to pubs and clubs most. The main advantage of reforming the liquor licensing laws is that it would boost the tourist sector, and towns and cities in England and Wales would have a more civilised environment. Entrepreneurs could open premises where there was a demand. Tourists in London, York or Manchester cannot understand why pubs have to shut at 11 o'clock at night and they have to move on to a venue where they must pay over the odds to get in and for drinks when often all they want to do is have a quiet drink.
Large organisations like London First that represent our tourist industry and big cities say that in our current tight market the liquor licensing laws are a big disadvantage to London in attracting conferences and conventions, for example. When the all-party beer group went to Scotland to hear evidence on this matter, one Scottish pub executive, who shall be nameless, looked at us pitifully and said, "Even Cinderella was allowed to stay up until midnight." We are hampered by these laws in England and Wales. I know that their reform is high on my hon. Friend's agenda, and all power to him. I hope that we will have a Bill to reform our liquor licensing laws in the next Queen's Speech. I hope that there may even be the prospect of a draft Bill before then, because it would be widely welcomed by many Members and certainly by a hard-pressed tourist industry.
§ Annabelle Ewing (Perth)
I, too, congratulate the right hon. Member for Coatbridge and Chryston (Mr. Clarke) on securing this important debate. As he will know, tourism is vital for my constituency. Obviously this has been a truly dreadful year for tourism. The foot and mouth crisis devastated tourism for many months in Perth and many parts of rural Scotland. The countryside was closed, and in places such as Perthshire it is a principal attraction. Some hotels in places like Crieff lost all their advance bookings for June and July overnight. It is hard to imagine how any small business that is already suffering is supposed to cope with such a devastating reduction in its cash flow.
Not only did we have foot and mouth, we had the terrible events of 11 September, which many hon. Members have mentioned. We must now work out ways to get Americans to fly to Scotland and elsewhere in the United Kingdom, and that is a difficult task, not least because of the awful crash yesterday in New York.
All these issues have had a serious impact on tourism, but I should like to focus on two specific structural points relating to UK Government policy. Although tourism per se in Scotland is devolved to the Scottish Parliament, economic policy continues for the present to be set in London. The high pound policy is terribly damaging to tourism, as the right hon. Member for Coatbridge and Chryston alluded to when he quoted the Federation of Small Businesses in Scotland. The high fuel tax policy is equally devastating, as my hon. Friend the Member for Meirionnydd Nant Conwy (Mr. Llwyd) mentioned.
It is a puzzle to us in Scotland how, as the oil rich nation of the European Union, we pay the highest fuel taxes in the industrialised world. These two aspects of 196WH economic policy are extremely damaging to tourism. How does the Minister feel that the interests of the tourism industry can be promoted and fostered against the backdrop of such damaging economic policies? We also have high value added tax rates in the tourism sector. We have swingeing business rates that are once again higher than business rates in England because our former Finance Minister, Jack McConnell, soon to be our latest First Minister, I believe, decoupled the rates poundage between Scotland and England. Our tourism sector, which mostly comprises small businesses, is struggling.
In short, Scotland is in danger of being perceived as a high-cost destination, and that, allied with the poor transport infrastructure links in certain places, is causing serious problems. The right hon. Member for Coatbridge and Chryston talked about the direct ferry link between Rosyth and Zeebrugge, which the Scottish National Party welcomes. We have been calling for a link for many years, and want any such measure expanded to include direct air links. We also want an undertaking that the Government will secure a public service obligation for flights from Inverness to Gatwick and Heathrow, which are vital for business and tourism in Scotland. I agree with the hon. Member for Meirionnydd Nant Conwy that the potential for tourism in Scotland and elsewhere in the UK is huge. I laud those involved in the industry.
§ John Thurso (Caithness, Sutherland and Easter Ross)
Before I begin, I should declare my interests because I am involved with several tourist bodies. I am president of the Tourism Society, patron of the Hotel and Catering International Management Association and chairman of the British Hospitality Association leisure panel. I am involved in many other bodies and I especially want to declare my presidency of North of Scotland Hospitality, which goes under the great acronym of NOSH. I am also a director of several companies and own a small hotel in the village of Halkirk in my constituency.
I have spent my entire life working in the industry and I am delighted that we are having this debate during World Travel Market week, as the right hon. Member for Coatbridge and Chryston (Mr. Clarke) said. I am grateful to him for giving us the opportunity to debate this important industry. He mentioned the size of the industry and the number of people it employs. Tourism is the third largest industry in the United Kingdom and is projected to be the largest employer and the largest industry in the world in the next five years. We want to be a key part of that market.
I agree with the right hon. Gentleman that much of Scotland has had a surprisingly good year. I lost a great deal of money in March and April, May was dicey, but things picked up from June. Hoteliers in my constituency tell me that they have had a rather good season after a terrible start because of foot and mouth disease. Indeed, Dornoch has had one of its best seasons ever, which might have something to do with the fact that Madonna got married there last winter.
§ John Thurso
Absolutely. Even the Dornoch caravan site has had an excellent season. It is well run, and if the hon. Member for Waveney (Mr. Blizzard) is looking for superb quality, that is what the site offers.
Scotland has, however, had a bad time in the international market, which was badly hit by foot and mouth disease and the events of 11 September. I have no doubt that yesterday's tragic accident will have a further effect on the industry.
Fuel prices are definitely a barrier. That is not only because of the high cost of fuel, but because of the 15p a litre differential between Inverness and Thurso. It would be a great help if the Government could deal with that.
The UK tourism industry faces challenges in three areas: structure, quality and productivity. To state the obvious, tourism is an economic activity and is no different from a factory in that it creates social and environmental damage if it is not properly located. To take an extreme case, allowing passengers from 20 buses to get out in a Cotswold village of 50 houses, wander round, leave their rubbish and move on without spending any money would result in great inconvenience and disruption but no economic benefit. The key question for tourism must, therefore, be how to extract the maximum economic benefit with the minimum environmental and social damage.
Of the three challenges that I mentioned, I shall deal first with structure. The current structure of the BTA, visitscotland.com and the English Tourism Council is not working. In another place four years ago, I predicted that the way in which tourism was being devolved would be bad for the workings of the industry, as the industry itself now largely accepts.
There is a curious anomaly. I agree with tourism being wholly devolved to the Scottish Parliament and visitscotland.com, which has a full budget and responsibility for marketing. The BTA is a cross-border authority with responsibility for marketing Britain, but has all the money and marketing for England. The ETC, which was created some years ago from the ashes of the English tourist board, has no marketing budget. That is perfectly ludicrous, and I urge the Minister to rethink it. We must give it marketing clout. I am a federalist. I believe in the union, and a key point is equal devolution for England and Scotland. We also need a much clearer idea of what the BTA can do.
I disagree with the criticisms of quality made by the hon. Member for Waveney. The United Kingdom has some bad products and some superb ones. Talk of rip-off Britain and ghastly products does an immense disservice to those in the industry who work hard to achieve quality. I shall give an example. Skibo castle, Morangie house and Ackergill tower in my constituency are world-class properties. They are world beaters. One would not find a finer conference venue in the world than Ackergill tower.
We have many great products—London is now the world leader in food—but we need to root out the bad. There is only one way to do so, which is to grasp the nettle of statutory registration of accommodation providers. Until every accommodation provider is registered, we will not be able to deal with the problem. I advise the Minister of the consensus in the industry, which was not there five years ago. The Government should act on it.
198WH I want to touch briefly on productivity and squaring the employment circle. The industry is a large employer and pays out—not to individuals, but in bulk—a great deal in wages. The industry has to become more productive, so that fewer people earn more money. Until they do, the sort of careers that we would like to see will not be possible. The right hon. Member for Coatbridge and Chryston mentioned the minimum wage, and I agreed with him. In another place, I voted and spoke in favour of it. My businesses had a minimum wage of £4 an hour two years before the Government brought in their minimum wage, and I always raised mine ahead of that. Happily, I am now out of the business and I do not know what it is doing. The minimum wage did a tremendous amount to force the industry to understand that it had to improve conditions. We must find new ways to work, to re-engineer businesses in the industry and to be more productive.
It is important to consider the Government's role. They must create a structure that works, as I mentioned, by considering the relationships of the national tourist boards and the regional tourist authorities in England and ensuring that they can be made to work better. The Government must also decide whether they want to sponsor the industry, or whether it is appropriate—there is an intellectual argument for this, although I do not accept it—simply to let the industry get on with its job. However, the Government must not dive in from the touchline to administer the occasional pat or, as has more often happened in the past, the occasional kicking, and then dive back again. The industry views the Department for Culture, Media and Sport in an unfavourable light. Much has been done, but there is a pretty clear consensus in the industry in favour of a return of tourism to the Department where many people think it properly belongs—the Department of Trade and Industry, where there are Ministers who understand the concept of supporting an industry. I ask the Minister to realise that the industry really desires the Department for Culture, Media and Sport to do something to help it.
§ Mr. John Greenway (Ryedale)
It is good to debate tourism in your presence, Mr. O'Hara, as you and I had a very happy visit, with the Inter-Parliamentary Union, to Athens last week, where we saw something of the Greek tourism industry and perceived the need to promote Britain abroad. I, too, congratulate the right hon. Member for Coatbridge and Chryston (Mr. Clarke) on securing the debate, and particularly on doing so to coincide with the World Travel Market. I agree with him and the hon. Member for Strathkelvin and Bearsden (Mr. Lyons) about film tourism. Television tourism is very big in Ryedale. After "Brideshead Revisited", the number of visits to Castle Howard increased dramatically. Some people in the villages affected would still say that we have almost more tourists than we want, because of the "Heartbeat" programme. My view is that that is a tremendous advertisement for North Yorkshire.
The well documented difficulties experienced by many tourism businesses in this difficult year still overshadow any debate on tourism. The right hon. Gentleman highlighted the losses. The English Tourism Council's estimate of losses from foot and mouth disease this year 199WH is £4.2 billion. Many of those losses will never be made up. That sum translates into the losses sustained by individual businesses and organisations. We all, I am sure, could tell of personal tragedies in our constituencies or, for those of us pursuing a tourism brief, in other parts of Britain. Today's news that the National Trust, which owns an important property at Nunnington in my constituency, has this year suffered losses from foot and mouth estimated at £7 million to £8 million, suggests the impact on many organisations.
§ Dr. Julian Lewis (New Forest, East)
Kate Mount and Christine Ames of New Forest Tourism have urged on me the point that in areas like the New Forest, where there was no outbreak of foot and mouth, the effect on tourism was nevertheless catastrophic because of a perception that people should not go there. It was almost as bad as if the disease had broken out. The losses were just as serious.
§ Mr. Greenway
I fully endorse that. My experience in Ryedale was the same. We had only one foot and mouth case there, in the north-west part of the constituency, as part of the Thirsk cluster. However, the impact on tourism has been devastating because most of the tourism in Ryedale is rural.
Other hon. Members have spoken about the events of 11 September and yesterday's horrific accident. Today we should say only that we recognise the importance of putting across the message that the skies are safe and that we are doing all we can to continue to improve passengers' safety and security.
Tourism is a £64 billion industry. There were signs in the immediate aftermath of the foot and mouth crisis that the Government and opinion formers recognised the value and importance of tourism to the economy. That recognition has not been followed through with sufficient action and zeal, although I do not believe that that is entirely the fault of the Department for Culture, Media and Sport. The difficulty is in the Government as a whole, and particularly in the attitude of the Treasury. Back in the spring, it was mooted that the Government were considering making an additional £50 million available to the BTA and the ETC for promotion. In the end, only £18 million was provided, £14.2 million of which went to the BTA.
It is our view also that support for small businesses in many areas is inadequate. especially in the foot and mouth hot spots. The right hon. Member for Coatbridge and Chryston mentioned Cumbria, which I have visited three times. More could have been done to help, especially with interest-free loans, but the problem now is that many of these cash-strapped businesses will have to start making some of the deferred payments of rates and VAT.
The Government have been reasonably generous in providing additional funds for the British Tourist Association—I have already said that it has received £14.2 million. I warmly congratulate the BTA: its tourist promotion programmes show great ingenuity and originality. However, they need to be repeated again and again if we are to win back lost customers from overseas.
I shall concentrate on Government support for the domestic market— particularly that in England, which represents four-fifths of the tourist industry. Support for 200WH the domestic market remains inadequate; post-11 September it is even more likely that revival of tourism businesses will come essentially from domestic business and perhaps from the near continent. A further ferry link from Zeebrugge was mentioned; we have such a link in Yorkshire at Hull.
I agree with the right hon. Member for Coatbridge and Chryston—I have been saying so for the best part of a year—that the ETC must have a marketing role. It is nonsensical that the Government should still refuse to accept that fact. Funding for English tourism needs to be increased in order to catch up with that for Scotland and Wales. The hon. Member for Meirionnydd Nant Conwy (Mr. Llwyd) said that Wales, Scotland and England are different; he is right, but tourism businesses in England look with envy at the resources that the Welsh Assembly and the Scottish Parliament are giving those parts of the United Kingdom.
Our regional tourist boards are doing an excellent job but they are underfunded. In recent weeks, Yorkshire and Humber regional development agency and other agencies in the north-west and the north-east of England have given additional resources to their regional tourist boards. That is a good example of what can be done. However, the picture across England as a whole is haphazard and inconsistent, which leads to the conclusion that, when it comes to government funding for tourism, England is the poor relation.
Despite the current crisis, the ETC has received no additional money since April, when it received its £3.8 million share of the £18 million that I mentioned earlier. At last night's BTA reception, people were asking me how the Government could find £20 million to keep open an empty dome but could not make additional resources available to support tourism in England. The £3.8 million that the ETC received gave a return of £27 for each pound invested in tourism. The Government therefore have a stake in the tax revenues that would result from increased tourism activity as well as from a reduced demand for social security support for the staff of failed tourism business who are laid off. That suggests that extra Government help for promoting tourism in England would be a good investment. Above all, it would have a beneficial effect on the hard-pressed rural economy. I commend the concept to the Minister.
The hon. Member for Caithness, Sutherland and Easter Ross (John Thurso) suggested that the Government should sponsor the industry. I cannot agree with him that it would make sense to put tourism in the arms of the Department for Trade and Industry. However, it would make sense if "Tourism" appeared in the title of the Department for Culture, Media and Sport—a suggestion that was made in the Conservative party manifesto. One of the reasons why I do not agree with the hon. Gentleman is that, having been the shadow Minister in this area for nearly two years, I know that the present Minister, his predecessor and Department officials are sympathetic to some of the thoughts that I have expressed today. I hope that the concerns that have been expressed during our debate will help the Minister and the Secretary of State in their battles with the Treasury.
The right hon. Member for Coatbridge and Chryston said that we wish the industry well. Indeed we do, but the industry needs more than good wishes. It needs practical help and support.
§ The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for Culture, Media and Sport (Dr. Kim Howells)
I join other hon. Members in congratulating my right hon. Friend the Member for Coatbridge and Chryston (Mr. Clarke) on securing this important debate. I agree with much that has been said about the importance of tourism. There is no question that it is a hugely important industry. It is interesting that we rarely debate tourism in Parliament. That is because Parliament never debates successful industries—it only ever debates failing ones. It is important to remember that we have had very few debates on tourism during the past 20 years because it is a rapidly growing, successful industry. I would be the last person in the world to say that we politicians should get our sticky little fingers on tourism and start making choices for the industry as though we know what is best for it. We do not know what is best for it. It has grown out of the entrepreneurial expertise of those such as the hon. Member for Caithness, Sutherland and Easter Ross (John Thurso), who are at the sharp end of the industry.
The industry has been tested in a way that it has never experienced before, first by the blight of foot and mouth and then by the effects of the terrible events of 11 September. The industry has been tested as hard as any has ever been tested. I have been to many of the places that have been mentioned today and seen the hardships, especially of micro-businesses, whose raison d'etre was to serve tourists on a footpath in, say, the northern fells of the Lake district. That is how they have always existed. There is no option for them to diversify into anything else. Once those paths were closed they were in desperate trouble.
I agree with many of the remarks made this morning, including those of the hon. Member for Ryedale (Mr. Greenway), who said that experience ought to have taught us something since last February and March about the importance of not making blanket statements about the countryside being closed and about the advice given to people not to go anywhere near paths that they may have walked on for many years. The question is complex. Only this week I have heard discussions on radio programmes and on television during which farmers have complained about the right-to-roam legislation. There will be big debates about whether people can go on certain parts of our hillsides and farms.
The issue is not one-sided. The National Farmers Union wanted the culling of animals. It wanted people to be prevented from going on our countryside. We should remember that it was not only the Government. It was, to say the least, an extraordinarily steep learning curve, and great mistakes were made that had a serious effect on the industry.
My right hon. Friend the Member for Coatbridge and Chryston is right in saying that that should have taught us about the nature of the industry. The industry generates huge amounts of revenue and it is labour intensive. It demands skills and is a great provider of them if things are done properly. Most importantly of all, it is sustainable in a way in which so many of those industries that were closed in the 1980s and 1990s, such as coal mining and shipbuilding, were not. That is the difference between those industries and tourism.
202WH The hon. Member for Meirionnydd Nant Conwy (Mr. Llwyd) is right to say that we must up the game and play to our strengths. That means, above all, that we must train our young people. We must go further than that; we must give them a real belief in the industry—that it has a future. We are the only major economy that I know of anywhere in the world in which to work behind a bar in a pub or to serve at a table in a restaurant is regarded as a second-rate or third-rate job. In France, Germany and Italy, those skills are regarded as key, but by kids in our schools such jobs are regarded as something that they might do only if they can get nothing else or want to make a few bob on the side to see them through to some other career.
We have to get real, and that will demand a great cultural change. The hon. Member for Ryedale is right in pointing out that the word "tourism" does not even appear in the title of the Department of which I am proud to be part, although it is a business with a yearly turnover of £64 billion. That is symptomatic of our perception of it as a not entirely serious industry. I am glad that hon. and right hon. Members have made that issue clear.
I could argue about the sums made available and the arrangements in place for the support of tourism in Britain, but instead I Will shock my colleagues by saying that I agree with much of the criticism. It was a mistake to take the marketing role away from the ETC, and we must put that right, although it will take some doing. We must not react to the crisis in the industry in a knee-jerk way, because this is tourism's big chance. The spotlight is on tourism in not only rural areas, where no other employment exists for those who are suddenly without a livelihood, but London, which is the greatest city in Europe. Central London was hit harder than anywhere else in Britain by the first foot and mouth outbreak and the terrible events of 11 September.
I am glad that we are beginning to get the agencies together to tackle these issues in a co-ordinated way, because all too often the response in the past has been fragmented. We must consider carefully the configuration between the ETC, the BTA and regional tourist boards, including those in Wales and Scotland. No one has mentioned Northern Ireland, but it is an interesting case. It realised some time ago that its fate as a tourist destination was bound up with the phenomenal success of the Irish Republic, and it has made great strides in developing links.
I take on board everything that my right hon. Friend the Member for Coatbridge and Chryston said, especially on avoiding pessimism, which the hon. Member for Meirionnydd Nant Conwy repeated. The current issue of "Travel GBI " says:Tourism business in the UK showed a dramatic upswing last month in what many in the industry feel is a foretaste of things to come in 2002.The article went on to mention a group that hadenjoyed a 'hugely successful' 2001 season.
When I was in Taunton last week, the chief executive of the south-western tourist board, which is our most successful regional tourist board, described the situation as serious but said that for many businesses in the southwest this was the best autumn for 20 years. He said that some resorts were reporting the best season that they had on record.
203WH As several right hon. and hon. Members said, the impact has been patchy. Some places have sustained themselves well while others have done poorly. No matter where we are, we must up the game and play to our strengths in delivering a product that is much better than the one we have delivered up to now. The hon. Member for Caithness, Sutherland and Easter Ross was right to say that we should not talk ourselves down. We have some superb establishments and we should do all that we can to publicise them and to spread best practice. Wherever I go in the country, everyone tells me that there is a shortage of good chefs. That fact is an indictment of the way in which we have approached education and training. We must give the industry a much better name and ensure that we learn from this crisis and build on our strengths. I am positive that we can go from success to success and that the industry will in future be a great one—as great as it has been in the past.