That the riots which swept England in early August were bad PR is beyond doubt, but have they caused long term damage for UK tourism?
Compare their impact to that of the London Olympics, which ETOA has shown stalls tourism growth, and which has given London hotels an excuse to impose eye-watering terms for next summer, prompting heavy criticism from London’s mayor Boris Johnson and JacTravel CEO Mario Bodini.
If we want sustainable inbound tourism growth, we need to focus on more substantial issues than a riot stain on Britain’s image abroad. We need genuine action which will generate compelling PR.
In priority order, the inbound tourism industry needs:
1. An overhauled visa process less troublesome, slow, expensive and degrading than the current system, including full communication in the language of the applicant
2. Tourism taxation reform to ensure tourism businesses based in the EU have the same VAT treatment as every other business – i.e. that their export sales are free of VAT
3. Reduction of Air Passenger Duty (APD), the highest departure tax in the world, and reinvestment of APD revenues into tourism infrastructure and clever promotion – for instance, favourable tax treatment for the production of feature films shot on location in the UK
4. Off-setting of revenue that is soon to be collected from emissions trading with reductions in APD
5. Granting permission for a third runway at Heathrow, subject to more stringent requirements on aircraft noise
None of the above measures need cost a great deal of money but, combined, they would generate substantial tourism revenue.
If David Cameron were really serious about driving the UK up the ranking of tourism destinations, as he claimed to be last August, the above initiatives would all be declared government policy and would be happening.
If the blockage has been political, the riots give Cameron the perfect justification to put them on the agenda right now.
David Tarsh is managing director of Tarsh Consulting
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