Tourism minister promises industry ‘more certainty’

Tourism minister Helen Whately has assured industry leaders the sector is entering “a much more certain time”.

Addressing the VisitBritain annual review launch in London on Tuesday, Whately said: “There is huge opportunity in this sector, [and] there is a shift now thanks to the election.

“We have a government with a huge majority and some level of confidence about what the future looks like. We’re moving into a much more certain time.”

VisitBritain chief executive Sally Balcombe noted the inbound market from Europe “has been challenging, with all the indecision and uncertainty” of last year.

She promised the launch of “a major European [marketing] campaign” in April, saying: “We need to ensure European visitors continue to come and visit now, not later – 71% of all our visitors come from Europe.”

Whately told the audience of inbound and domestic tourism leaders: “We need to address some big questions.”

“What does the commitment to zero carbon by 2050 mean for tourism? How can we work on accessibility?

“How do we help those areas left behind? How can we level up?”

She insisted: “Tourism can be a very important part of that. The last year has been pretty good. Overseas visitors spent more than £22 billion in what was a pretty difficult market.”

Whately added: “I’m keen to get on with [developing] tourism zones and to improve accessibility around the UK.

“I encourage you to embrace the challenge set out in the government sector deal for tourism.”

Whately was appointed under-secretary of state for arts, heritage and tourism at the Department for Digital, Culture, Media and Sport (DCMS) in the autumn and reappointed following the election on December 12.

The MP for Faversham and mid-Kent is seen as a rising star of the Conservative Party.

BTA, VisitBritain and VisitEngland chairman Steve Ridgway said: “We were set tough challenges by the government.

“[But] the latest figures show we attracted almost £1 billion in incremental spend [by overseas visitors] – at a ratio of £23 for every £1 spent, higher than a lot of similar bodies achieve.”

“We attracted almost £7 billion of inbound investment in tourism to the UK – one third of all the inbound tourism investment in Europe.”

Now, he said: “We want the government to look more at domestic marketing. It is the bulk of tourism. We need to concentrate on it more.”

Balcombe revealed: “Our ambition is to grow inbound visitor spend to £35 billion by 2025 and visitors to 49 million. That is pretty ambitious growth but we need to be ambitious.”

She insisted: “We believe we can hit these numbers with a huge amount of effort.”

Ridgway added: “Sustainability is the big topic of our time. We have COP26 [the UN Climate Change Conference here in November.

“We see flight shaming in Sweden and all the pressures, but we should not be frightened of these. If we get sustainability right it can be a point of distinction for the country.”

The COP26 climate conference is due to be held in Glasgow in November.

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