Written evidence from the Department for Digital, Culture, Media and Sport in response to the Digital, Culture, Media and Sport Select Committee’s Call for Evidence on Promoting Britain abroad




The Government welcomes the opportunity to provide written evidence to the inquiry of the Digital, Culture, Media and Sport Committee into promoting Britain abroad.


We are committed to helping the UK’s world class inbound tourism industry recover as quickly as possible from the impact of Covid-19.


We recognise the importance of the UK both as a business and holiday destination for international visitors and as a ‘soft power superpower’ on the world stage.


We look forward to the findings of the Committee when they are published.


Background - the Importance of Inbound Tourism and the Tourism Recovery Plan


  1. We understand the importance of inbound tourism to the UK. In 2019, 41 million visitors came to the UK, spending £28.4 billion. The UK was the tenth most visited country in the world, and fifth for inbound visitor spending. Travel is the UK’s third largest service export.  The top reasons for visiting the UK were for a holiday (41%), to visit friends and relatives (30%) and for business (21%).


  1. We recognise the severe impact of Covid-19 restrictions on tourism across the UK. In June 2021, we published the Tourism Recovery Plan, which sets out a comprehensive framework for rebuilding the sector. The plan sets out an ambition to recover inbound visitor volumes to pre-pandemic levels of 41 million and spend of £28 billion by the end of 2023, a year faster than independent forecasts predict.


  1. Since the pandemic began, the Government has provided the sector with a range of targeted measures in the form of tax breaks, grants and loans to support businesses  through this challenging period and to ensure the UK has a thriving sector to welcome back visitors when it has been safe to do so.  For example:

        Over £35 billion has been provided to the tourism, leisure and hospitality sectors in grants, loans and tax breaks.

        On top of the Government’s wider economic support package, the Government extended business rates relief and introduced Restart grants of up to £18,000 for many in the sector.

        The Government extended the VAT cut for tourism and hospitality activities to 12.5% until the end of March 2022, helping businesses manage the transition back to the standard rate.


  1. The Tourism Recovery Plan also points to the significant activity already planned/underway to invest and grow the tourism sector. Large scale investments in tourism include:

        £4.8bn Levelling-up Fund (cultural and heritage attractions);

        £3.6bn Towns Fund (including castle restorations and new conference venues);

        £900m Getting Building Fund; and

        £7m to complete the England Coast Path and Coast-to-Coast National Trail.


  1. The Government continues to support businesses and individuals through the pandemic, working closely with stakeholders from across what is a wide sector.  Government officials have regular meetings with the DCMS’ Tourism Industry Council, assessing how to support tourism’s recovery across the UK most effectively.


Does the Tourism Recovery Plan go far enough to support the industry’s recovery from the Covid-19 pandemic?


  1. The Tourism Recovery Plan sets out an ambitious framework, not only to help the sector recover from the pandemic, but, in the longer term, to build back better with a more sustainable, innovative and resilient industry, maximising the use of technology and ensuring the benefits of tourism are shared across the whole country. We want the tourism sector to contribute to the enhancement and conservation of the UK’s cultural, natural and historic heritage, minimise damage to the environment and be inclusive and accessible to all.


  1. For inbound tourism, we aim to recover inbound visitor volumes to 2019 levels by the end of 2023, a year faster than predicted in independent analysis carried out by Oxford Economics. Going forward, we also want international visitors to spend more, stay longer and visit throughout the year, rather than just during the traditional tourist season, accessing a wider range of destinations across the country.


  1. We are working to enable and increase international visits through keeping travel restrictions to a minimum to protect the health situation in the UK, stimulating demand by promoting consumer confidence, marketing activity and working collaboratively across government departments and with the private sector to achieve the Tourism Recovery Plan’s objectives.


  1. VisitBritain and VisitEngland play a key role in delivering many aspects of the Tourism Recovery Plan through their marketing, business support, grant funding programmes and position as the government’s statutory advisor on tourism policy. In particular, VisitBritain plays an important role promoting and marketing the UK abroad, working with the GREAT campaign to attract international visitors and promote the UK in key overseas markets.


  1. The UK Government has set out an ambition for the UK to become the most accessible tourism destination in Europe by 2025. This will enhance the accessibility of the UK’s tourism offer not only for domestic consumers, but also for international visitors, making the UK a more competitive place to visit. VisitBritain and VisitEngland continue to support this ambition. For example, VisitEngland convenes England’s Inclusive Tourism Action Group, comprising a range of leading accessible tourism stakeholders. The Government is recruiting a new disability and access ambassador for tourism, to promote best practice and contribute to strategic thinking around how to improve accessibility in the sector.  In addition, the Government is committed to running a series of roundtables on accessible tourism with stakeholders from across the tourism industry, to identify and address barriers holding back participation in tourism.


What will the impact on the UK’s hospitality, cultural and heritage sectors be if inbound tourism is slow to recover to pre-pandemic levels?


Regional Differences


  1. We understand the global pandemic’s impact on international travel has made recovery difficult for those in the hospitality, cultural and heritage sectors who, prior to the pandemic, relied on international visitors. We are aware that those in certain areas of the UK which usually attract high numbers of international tourists have particularly suffered. Cities such as London did not experience as much of an uplift in domestic tourism following the relaxation of restrictions in summer 2021 which was enjoyed by some more rural and coastal areas, such as Cornwall and Cumbria.


  1. Before the pandemic, London was by far the most popular UK destination for international visitors. In 2019, 21.7m international visitors travelled to London, while, in contrast, 2.2m international visitors travelled to Edinburgh, the second most popular destination.  The Government wants recovery to be swift in every nation and region of the country, but is aware that London’s reliance on international visitors means it has been disproportionately affected by the pandemic and is taking longer to recover than other areas. The latest hotel occupancy rate statistic for London is 65% (down 26% on 2019 figures) compared to 70% in both Cornwall and Cumbria (both down 10% on 2019 figures).


  1. London’s slower recovery is impacting key cultural sectors including museums, galleries and theatres:


Museums and Galleries


  1. In 2019, 29% of all inbound visitors visited a museum or gallery, with overseas visitors accounting for 24.2 million visits (51%) to DCMS-sponsored museums in 2019/20. International visitors are not only important to the museums sector because they make up a significant proportion of visitors, but also because they spend more than domestic visitors, buying entrance tickets for paid-for exhibitions and souvenirs in museum shops. Spending by international visitors in museum shops can be in the region of several hundred pounds; domestic tourists are much less likely to spend this amount.


  1. The reduced number of inbound tourists to the UK as a result of the pandemic has had a significant impact on the museums sector, with the effects felt worst in London. Pre-pandemic, typically around 50% of visitors to the large London museums, such as the British Museum, National Gallery, and Tate, would be international tourists.  Smaller museums are also affected. As an example, before the pandemic, the Florence Nightingale museum in London received around 60% international visitors (including members of the international nursing community), however the museum currently remains closed for the foreseeable future.




  1. International tourism is a significant source of demand for the theatre sector, especially in London. Evidence from VisitBritain shows that, in 2016, 9% of all visitors to the UK (and 15% of all visitors to London) went to see a live theatre performance during their visit. UK Theatre and Society of London Theatre (SOLT) reported that, for London theatres pre-pandemic, inbound travellers account for 27% of audiences (and around 33% of West End audiences).


  1. We acknowledge these cultural sectors are taking time to recover from the pandemic.  In the Tourism Recovery Plan, the government committed to supporting those UK assets that draw in international tourists.  For example, England’s world class museums will remain accessible for everyone to enjoy and entry to the permanent collections of the national museums will remain free to all.  While international visitor numbers recover, the Government is working with the theatre industry to see if domestic audiences can make up the shortfall in international audiences.


What are the biggest challenges to delivering the Tourism Recovery Plan?  What needs to be done to re-establish the UK as a holiday destination for international travellers? What should Government and the tourism boards be doing to support the inbound tourism industry in its recovery?


  1. Recent travel rule changes remind us that the pandemic is not over. We continue to work with industry to support the tourism sector, listening to feedback on the impact of rule changes. We consider the three biggest challenges we face to bringing international tourists back to the UK are:

        Accessibility - how easy is it to travel to and from the UK?

        Reputation - how is the UK perceived abroad? Is the UK seen as easy to visit, safe and reasonably priced?

        Incentive - why should international tourists choose the UK over other destinations?


  1. To address the challenges identified above, we are taking the following steps:




  1. There is a limit on how far we can address the challenge of accessibility, given the UK is dependent on other countries to open their borders and allow their citizens to visit the UK.  One important example of this is China. In 2019, China was our second most important market after the US in terms of international visitor spend, but until China changes its “zero-tolerance” approach to Covid-19 and the significant quarantine for returning Chinese travellers, the UK will not benefit from Chinese tourists.


  1. Despite this difficulty, the Government is working towards making the UK as accessible as possible.  We are widening the list of vaccines and vaccine certificates that we recognise, including recognising vaccines on the World Health Organisation’s (WHO) Emergency Use Listing including Sinovac.


  1. The Government is working towards simplifying travel rules for overseas visitors. Since the publication of the Tourism Recovery Plan, changes have included ending the traffic light system, ensuring all under-18s coming to the country are treated as fully vaccinated at the border, removing the 10 day quarantine period for all fully vaccinated passengers and replacing the requirement for a PCR test with a lateral flow test for eligible fully vaccinated passengers arriving from countries not on the red list.  These changes particularly helped enable short visits to the UK, such as weekend breaks and business travel.


  1. Flight search interest to the UK increased significantly throughout 2021 as travel rules were simplified and international travel confidence increased. On 25th October 2021, flight bookings to the UK were 60% of 2019 levels, compared to 13% on 19th July 2021, before the policy to exempt EU and US fully vaccinated travellers from quarantine restrictions was announced.


  1. Unfortunately, it was necessary to reintroduce some travel restrictions to slow down the spread of the Omicron variant in December 2021 for public health reasons. These restrictions are temporary and will be reviewed on a regular basis. Government departments across Whitehall continue to work together to ensure steps taken to tackle the virus are flexible and proportionate, with measures adapted appropriately as circumstances change.  The Government will ensure all measures are reasonable, with the interests of the tourism sector represented during the decision-making process.


  1. The Government is working to maintain and improve air connectivity to enable easy travel to the UK from many destinations abroad. The Government continues to work with the aviation industry to deliver for passengers and improve the consumer experience.


  1. We are working with colleagues across Government in support of the 2025 UK Border Strategy, which sets out our vision for the UK border to be the most effective in the world, through embracing innovation to simplify and improve the experience of travellers using the UK border and/or visa services.




  1. We are working with representatives of our key markets at all levels to promote the UK as a top tourist destination, sending the message that the UK is safe, open and easy to visit. This includes ministerial visits to countries such as the USA; on a visit in December 2021, the Secretary of State for Digital, Culture, Media and Sport attended an event co-hosted by VisitBritain, meeting with representatives from the travel, media and lifestyle sectors, promoting the UK as a tourism destination for the US market in 2022.  Our diplomatic network overseas continues to promote the UK as a tourist destination.


  1. One key ambition of the Tourism Recovery Plan is to return the UK swiftly to its pre-pandemic position as a leading European destination for hosting business events. Business events like conferences, trade shows and exhibitions are hugely valuable to our economy, directly contributing over £31 billion a year and supporting over 300,000 jobs. In 2021, the Government supported the return of in person events such as World Travel Market (WTM) London, which has around 5,000 exhibitors from 182 countries and regions, over 51,000 participants and facilitates around £2.8 billion in industry deals.[1]


  1. Events like last November’s COP26 summit in Glasgow showcase UK culture, innovation and values to the world, while also attracting international visitors to all corners of the UK. With business visitors accounting for 21% of all inbound trips in 2019 and one-third of delegates from outside Europe extending their trips for leisure, events play a vital role in supporting hospitality in the typical tourist off-season.


  1. We continue to work across Government departments to raise the profile of the visitor economy.  In November 2021, the Department for International Trade published a new 12-point export strategy called ‘Made in the UK, Sold to the World’. This recognises the importance of the travel sector as the UK’s third largest service export in 2019 driven by £28 billion in direct visitor spend, making the UK the fifth most valuable destination worldwide in terms of inbound visitor spend.




  1. We know the UK is a great tourist destination and pre-pandemic it was an incredibly popular place to visit; the UK was the tenth most visited country in the world in 2019. There are many reasons why international tourists are attracted to the UK, including our cultural attractions, countryside and natural beauty and, as highlighted by a recent BFI study, our world class film and TV offering. We also know there is plenty of pent-up demand from people around the world to travel again.


  1. 2022 will be a year of celebration and renewal, and the perfect time to welcome back international visitors. We are particularly focussing on maximising set piece events in 2022, such as Her Majesty The Queen’s Platinum Jubilee, the Birmingham Commonwealth Games, the creative festival UNBOXED: Creativity in the UK and the 2021 Rugby League World Cup in England, which is receiving £15 million of government funding. These events will promote the very best of Britain at home and abroad. An additional bank holiday for the Queen’s Jubilee will also provide a further boost for domestic tourism.


  1. We are working across Government to maximise opportunities to promote the UK abroad and market the country as a great place to visit.  We know people will be keen to book trips in the new year for later in 2022 and we want to take full advantage of this opportunity to capture bookings.  We plan to run marketing campaigns in key countries throughout 2022, beginning with VisitBritain launching a new international marketing campaign in January until March, targeting the recovery of tourists from key markets in the US and Europe (France, Germany, Spain, Italy and the Netherlands) with a marketing budget of £12.5 million. There is additional marketing funding of £2 million to promote the Commonwealth Games in Australia, Canada and India, which will be used also to market other key 2022 events. 


3. What should the UK be doing to maintain its status as a ‘soft power superpower’ and further promote its culture and heritage on the global stage?


  1. The Government will continue to promote the UK as a force for good through a range of activities, working in close partnership with counterparts in priority countries and regions as set out in the Integrated Review. Ministers will use their international visits, such as the Secretary of State’s recent visit to the United States, or the Minister for Tourism’s visit to the United Arab Emirates, to strengthen relationships and cultivate demand for UK culture and heritage. We will work in close collaboration with the British Council, VisitBritain and a broad coalition of arm’s-length bodies and the wider cultural sector to export our world-leading creative industries.


  1. Major events in 2022 will focus attention on the cultural strengths of the UK. Her Majesty The Queen’s Platinum Jubilee, the Unboxed Festival and The Queen’s Baton Relay in the lead-up to the Birmingham Commonwealth Games will all stoke demand for tourism to the UK. And the tenure of Coventry as UK City of Culture, together with the announcement of its successor for 2025, will contribute to the levelling-up agenda.


  1. Working with the Department for International Trade we will enable cultural SMEs to participate in Ministerial trade missions to priority countries around the world. We will refresh and sign new Memorandums of Understanding with counterpart Ministries of Culture, including the US State Department, the Gulf States and leading European partners. We will host the Edinburgh International Culture Summit in partnership with the Scottish Government, Scottish Parliament, British Council and Edinburgh International Festival.  We will work in multilateral contexts, including the G7, G20, the Commonwealth and UNESCO, to promote UK culture and heritage. And we will work in partnership with FCDO to realise the benefits of the Indo-Pacific Tilt, including through bilateral seasons of culture with Australia, India and Pakistan in 2022.


How can the UK capitalise on its exit from the European Union?


  1. We will strengthen bilateral cultural cooperation with our key European partners. We are establishing a new Cultural Dialogue with Germany, working closely with Italy to tackle threats to our cultural heritage from conflict and climate change, and cooperating with France in the lead-up to the Paris Olympics in 2024. We are facilitating cultural mobility with all EU member states, to ensure the high level of demand for touring by UK artists can be met.


  1. We will continue to host major sporting and cultural events, from Wimbledon to Glastonbury, and our national museums and world heritage sites will continue to be magnets for tourism.


What are the biggest threats to the status of ‘soft power superpower’?


  1. The long-term impact of the pandemic remains to be seen, although we have supported jobs and the financial resilience of the sector with our investment of over £2 billion through the Culture Recovery Fund.


  1. Other countries have sought to emulate the success of the UK in building their cultural and creative infrastructure. The competition is becoming stronger, and we will need to respond to that. Long term Exchequer investment will continue to be vital, alongside strengthening other funding sources, such as philanthropy and corporate support.


January 2022

[1] Source WTM London website