Written evidence submitted by the National Portrait Gallery


Promoting Britain Abroad Inquiry – National Portrait Gallery Response

6 January 2022


What needs to be done to re-establish the UK as a holiday destination for international travellers?

The main barrier to international leisure travel to the UK will be restrictions on travel to the UK due to the pandemic.  Some restrictions will be set by the UK and others will be set by foreign governments and therefore outside the government’s control as the perceived risk of travelling to the UK during the pandemic evolves. 

In broad terms, travellers need to feel that it will be safe for them to travel to the UK for their health (lower case numbers therefore a lower risk of contracting covid), but also that they won’t be trapped here in the event of changing rules, face onerous quarantines, or large medical bills should they fall ill. 

The ready availability of the pre-pandemic attractions to the UK – arts, heritage, culture, hospitality – will be important in drawing visitors back. 

To encourage visitors back there needs to be a phased promotional plan based on best prospect demographics of domestic tourists first then USA , France and Germany and then a longer term plan based research insights into the different markets. 

Finally, there should be a fund for international based marketing for cultural institutions to support this. 


What should Government and the tourism boards be doing to support the inbound tourism industry in its recovery?

The Government could consider the creation of a fund for the promotion of destinations overseas at airports and other spots. Increased activity and outreach from organisations such as the British Council in other countries  would help continue to maintain the UK’s profile as a desirable country to visit and engage with. 


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?

International travellers spending is a major part of industry income. Without a return to pre-covid levels increases in funding will be needed to support the industry to maintain the high levels of resource and infrastructure that enable day to day and future work.

The UK hospitality, cultural and heritage sector have previously contributed in the region of approximately 100 billion a year to the UK economy, as well as a source of health and wellbeing that cannot be undervalued at this particularly difficult time. It is vitally important that the government provides support to continue the work.  

Furthermore, a decline in the quality of these sectors would have the effect of creating a negative feedback loop with levels of inbound tourism as the UK would become a less attractive place to visit.


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

Not yet known.


What are the biggest challenges to delivering the plan?

The biggest challenge to the plan is likely to be resources, funding and the continuing uncertainty going forward with potential future Covid waves. 

There is currently a tension between encouraging tourism and environmental sustainability. The funding envisaged in the plan may not go far enough. 

The well-publicised shortages of workers in the hospitality industry may also be a challenge. 


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?

It is important that UK institutions are supported and encouraged in partnering with international organisations working together on projects of joint benefit.

The NPG’s international touring exhibition activity has continued throughout the pandemic, giving UK arts an presence around the world even as tourism all but ceased.  Other museums and galleries were able to do the same.  This continued global presence will have kept the UK’s greatest attractions visible at a critical time.


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

The UK needs to identify where exit from the EU has meant that international partnership projects are not possible and seek to establish new ways of working.


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

Reductions in funding to the British Council and the financial impact of the pandemic on the cultural sector is likely to reduce the UK’s visibility overseas as financial difficulties typically lead to reduced activity.  The international profile of museums internationally plays an important role in showcasing what the UK has to offer as a destination and in building the UK’s soft power superpower status.

The economic impact of covid will reverberate long after the virus ceases to be a threat and this may affect the international outreach that the UK’s cultural institutions are able to engage in. This poses a risk to the UK’s soft power standing as its profile will be diminished.