Plans for a government television campaign questioning why Brits would go abroad this summer during the Olympics has been branded “scandalous” and a waste of public money.
Culture Secretary Jeremy Hunt announced the £4 million push yesterday – the biggest ever domestic tourism television campaign.
The advert will use the strapline: “There’s so much happening in Britain in 2012, why on earth would you want to go abroad!”
Hunt admitted yesterday that the Olympic Games is likely to put many usual inbound tourists off coming to London because they fear the City will be too busy and chaotic.
But the latest attempt to persuade British visitors to make up any shortfall by promoting domestic holidays over foreign trips has been slammed by the outbound travel trade.
Kane Pirie, managing director of leading online travel agent Travel Republic, said: “This is a scandalous waste of public funds, not least as it is totally futile.
“The government is in danger of positioning itself between UK voters and their most loved annual treat – a break in the sun at least once a year.
“With eye-watering increases in hidden holiday taxes this year – both APD and Atol – the government seems hell bent on crippling the outbound travel industry. Using some of those taxes to openly campaign against us is the last straw for me.
“We have created 250 precious jobs in the UK, the sector is a massive national employer, but where is the government action to support us?”
Travel Counsellors chairman David Speakman described the campaign as “another irrelevant decision, from an incompetent minister in a dysfunctional Government”.
“Why should taxpayers have to pay £4m to be persuaded to stay at home to watch the Olympics on television (as there are no tickets) when it would have made more sense and been more cost effective to give £4m worth of free Olympic tickets to the public.
“Once again we see a public servant spending taxpayers’ money that he would not have spent in that way if it had been his own money. I despair at the waste and the incompetence of politicians.”
Steve Endacott, On Holiday Group chief executive, added: “What an outrageous message.
“I naively thought we had a democracy in this country where we have a choice of staying in the rainy, expensive UK or going abroad for guaranteed sunshine and great value.
“Ok, yes, I’m exaggerating but if it’s ok for the Government, then it’s ok for me.”
And Hays Travel managing director and founder John Hays said: “In this age of austerity and government cuts, to spend money on a national TV campaign that will have dubious results is hardly a good use of taxpayers’ money.”
Bookable Holidays director Jason Dwyer said he believed the campaign may have the opposite effect to the one intended.
“People go away to get away and I think the London Olympics is no exception. Whatever convincing the government wants to do to get people to stay in the UK it will have the opposite effect and simply remind people to hurry and book a holiday before they all sell out.
“London will be mayhem and any opportunity to get as far away as possible will be welcomed.”
John Bevan, UK managing director of Voyage Privé, said: “It’s all well and good telling people to stay in the UK, but with the drop in the euro many destinations are suddenly much more affordable close to home.
“And let’s be honest; eating out and entertaining the family in England is not cheap. So I think that the old favourites, Spain and Greece will really benefit this summer.”
Midcounties Co-op travel general manager Sue Reid said she would have backed the campaign if the government had directed people to book their domestic break through an agent.
“A lot of people think that you can’t buy a UK holiday from a travel agent, so we’d be alright with the government’s message about staying in the UK if they also pushed consumers to us.
“So their message about not going abroad should involve travel agents. We want to sell the product that the UK tour operators want us to sell.”