Recovery, Rebuilding On The Agenda For Britain

To mark English Tourism Week, VisitBritain/VisitEngland hosted its annual review event in London this week, setting out its priorities to support the sector in its recovery and rebuilding.

During the ‘hybrid’ virtual and in-person event, VisitBritain’s outlined its latest forecasts which show a slow recovery with domestic tourism spending estimated this year at £51.4 billion, just over half of the £91.6 billion in 2019. Last year alone saw about two-thirds of the value wiped off the domestic tourism industry, a £58 billion loss to the economy.

The forecast for inbound tourism spending in the UK this year is £6.2 billion, less than a quarter of the £28.4 billion in 2019.

Tourism Minister Nigel Huddleston observed that: “Britain’s tourism industry is a huge driver of our economy but has faced many challenges over the past year.”

Huddleston continued: “We’ve provided more than £25 billion in support, and I have been impressed by VisitBritain/VisitEngland and the wider sector for its agile and innovative response, coming up with new ways to provide hospitality and entertainment while maintaining social distancing and protecting people’s safety.”

And he added: “I look forward to working closely with them all as we build back better to create a sustainable, productive and resilient industry.”

British Tourist Authority Chairman Lord Patrick McLoughlin noted that: “When COVID-19 arrived on our shores, it hit our industry first and hardest. Successful destinations and businesses across the country saw their cash flow dry up and had to close their doors to visitors. Inbound visitor spending dropped by a staggering 78% in 2020 compared to the previous year, and domestic spending by 63%, resulting in an estimated loss to the economy of £285 million per day from tourism. The sector faced an unprecedented challenge.”

Lord McLoughlin pointed out that the UK government’s support measures including the Coronavirus Job Retention Scheme, the VAT cut for hospitality businesses and the business rates holiday were a lifeline helping many businesses survive and keeping people in jobs. As the months went on and pubs, hotels, attractions and events remained closed or found social distancing meant they could not open economically, cash reserves began to run dry.

During the past year, VisitBritain/VisitEngland has realigned its focus to rally behind the industry, directing efforts to where it could deliver the most value, stepping up its support for businesses and destinations from providing consumer insights and actionable data to facilitating industry and Government dialogues and developing the ‘We’re Good to Go’ reassurance scheme. When possible it had run marketing campaigns to build demand, developing assets that could be shared across the industry.

Lord McLoughlin said that while businesses had now started to reopen with hopes for a better summer and autumn, this was only the beginning and there was much more to do as the industry began to rebuild. The agency was also looking forward to the publication of the Tourism Recovery Plan, which will set out the role the UK government will play in accelerating the tourism sector’s recovery from COVID-19.

He said: “Tourism has a proven track record as a growth sector. Worth £127 billion to the economy, the industry is the UK’s third largest service export and provides jobs for more than 3.1 million people. As a sector, we have a lot of experience in levelling-up, supporting local economies right across the country.”

And he added: “By working together to drive demand and build back visitor spend as quickly as possible we can emerge from the pandemic a more resilient, sustainable, inclusive and innovative industry.”

Last week, the tourism agency last week launched a £5 million ‘Escape the Everyday – Enjoy the UK this Summer’ campaign to build back domestic demand with a focus on cities and city visitor attractions as well as regional gateways which have been particularly hard hit by the lack of international visitors and that rely on overseas visitors and their spending.

With international travel restarting and plenty of pent-up demand from people around the world to get travelling again, VisitBritain’s focus is to make sure they choose Britain, whether as a place to do business, to site their convention or to explore on holiday.

Lord McLoughlin observed that: “Our international competitors have been readying their battle strategies to compete for the return of international tourists. Nevertheless, we have a lot on our side. Not only are our nations rich in culture, heritage, and experiences that are unique to the UK, but the major events taking place here next year are set to be significant tourism draws. The Birmingham 2022 Commonwealth Games, HM The Queen’s Platinum Jubilee and Festival UK 2022 all present opportunities to promote Britain globally.”

And he concluded: “Tourism is a critical industry for our country, delivering jobs and economic growth across the nations and regions and strengthening our place on the world stage. We will continue to work with the UK Government, as it sets out its recovery plan and ambitions for tourism, and across the industry, to cement the recovery and the future of one of this country’s greatest industries.”

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