On Friday after delays and a number of false starts we’ll finally get to hear what the coalition government’s strategy for tourism will be.
No doubt there will be a lot of talk from John Penrose, minister for tourism, about the opportunity the 2012 Olympics represents, destination marketing and quality. But don’t expect to hear too much about outbound tourism.
For the travel sector that Travel Weekly has been serving for over four decades, there will be a little to digest in terms of domestic tourism, particularly since the renaissance of holidays in Britain prompted by the latest financial meltdown.
But, despite the best attempts by the industry and Abta to impress upon the government that outbound tourism is an important sector for UK plc and deserves higher profile, sending Brits abroad to spend their disposable income in the bars of various Spanish Costas or tavernas on Greek islands has never ranked particularly highly in Westminster’s corridors of power.
As Penrose himself has said we do a terrible job in the UK of selling the virtues of our own country to ourselves and we, more than any other country, go away more and stay at home less.
He’s looking for the tourism industry to do more to repair the UK’s budget deficit, not help our hospitable friends on the Continent.
That was why Travel Weekly campaigned during the last general election for a minister dedicated to tourism with a more prominent position than previous ministers who had tourism as an add-on in their remit along with other vital areas like libraries, museums and the Royal Parks.
We hoped a minister with this single sector as their all-consuming focus would see the sense of the outbound industry commanding a slightly higher position in the list of proprieties for government.
Yes, the ‘Yes Minister’ campaign was bound to fall short in terms of it full aims – there isn’t even a minister for the oil industry never mind one that goes into bat for the holiday industry.
But for us it was a useful way of trying to bring the election to life for our Travel Weekly readership by making a straightforward demand of our future political leaders that would benefit travel agents’ working lives.
And actually, in the end, 1,000 signatures on a Downing Street petition on what was a fairly niche issue to the wider electorate wasn’t at all bad.
Abta also supported the demand by including it among its five demands in the association’s first Travel Matters manifesto and, it should be noted, Penrose is minister for tourism, not minister for culture, creative industries and tourism as his predecessor Margaret Hodge was.
So maybe I’ve jumped the gun and we will hear something about the contribution of outbound tourism to the UK economy.
Maybe we’ll hear how a vibrant tourist industry needs to have a healthy mix of strong inbound, domestic and outbound sectors because there are shared issues and an interdependency that can be good for all.
Maybe there will be an acknowledgement that outbound travel is unusually important for a population that lives on an island where weather (specifically not very pleasant weather) is a national obsession.
For a government that’s recently been accused of lacking any sort of strategy for the economy and foreign affairs maybe we ought to feel honoured it has got round to drafting one on tourism even if it doesn’t end up reflecting the entire industry.
David Cameron is said to have been the first prime minister in living memory to have given a major speech on tourism in their first 100 days in power.
As the industry ramps up its lobbying against APD, it is the PM and his ministers who have the powers to relieve our industry of the red tape, regulation and taxes that constrain and confuse.
The question is do they accept that any country that expects to have a healthy tourist industry might have to accept the tourism door swings both ways and we Brits love to travel.
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