Written evidence submitted by the Heritage Alliance

 

The Heritage Alliance - Response to Promoting Britain Abroad Inquiry

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?

The Heritage Alliance is England’s largest coalition of heritage interests. We bring together over 170 independent heritage organisations ranging from English Heritage, the National Trust, the Canal & River Trust and Historic Houses to specialist bodies representing visitors, owners, volunteers, professional practitioners, museums, funders and academics. Our combined membership represents the interests of over 7 million volunteers, trustees, members and staff.

 

The Heritage Alliance welcomes the acknowledgement of the importance of the heritage sector in the UK’s tourism and hospitality sectors. In pre-pandemic years, heritage tourism was responsible for over 218.4m visits, with over £17bn spent on those visits. We are pleased to see that the Tourism Recovery Plan explicitly mentions heritage in Object 4; ‘A tourism industry that contributes to the enhancement and conservation of the UK’s cultural, natural and historic heritage and minimises damage to the environment’, and look forward to working with Government and the sector to make this happen.

While domestic day trips and domestic tourists count for a majority of the tourism visits to heritage sites, over half of the tourism spend at those sites is from international visitors.[1] Government funding through loans, the Cultural Recovery Fund, the Heritage Stimulus Fund and other sources has been vital to the survival of the sector, but Government funding cannot continue indefinitely, and some THA members have taken the maximum loans that they can afford to take. Should the inbound numbers be slow to return to pre-pandemic levels, and Government funding cease, there will inevitably need to be staff redundancy and perhaps closures of heritage sites, as they will not be able to afford to be open. As many heritage tourism sites are in fragile rural economies, any closure or staff redundancies will have a disproportionate impact on the local communities, through both the loss of jobs and the loss of valued community spaces. While we support many measures in the Tourism Recovery Plan, we recommend that it is revisited to incorporate elements of the Heritage Recovery Plan, as few of its projected outcomes will directly address the needs of heritage tourism sites.

These include extending the current temporary VAT reduction (12.5%) beyond March 2022, or reducing further to a 5% rate in the event of further Covid restrictions coming into place. VAT relief has been an absolute lifeline for heritage attractions, and would make the difference between survival and collapse for many struggling sites.

The other key impact if tourism levels are slow to recover will be on the capital works and regular maintenance work carried out at heritage sites, and the knock on impact on the construction and heritage specialists who carry out that work. While in some cases funding from Government via DCMS, Historic England, and other sources such as the National Lottery Heritage Fund has enabled heritage sites to cover some core costs, in many cases heritage sites rely on their regular income to fund capital works and regular maintenance. If tourism numbers take time to return to pre-pandemic levels, heritage sites will have to stop works, resulting in a loss of work and income for construction companies, and possibly a degradation of heritage assets.

 

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?

Heritage has long been the centre point of the UK’s soft power. The first Heritage Statement in 2017 recognised the importance of heritage as part of the UK’s soft power. In 2018, The Heritage Alliance put together an International Report which gathered evidence of the work our members do on the world stage. The analysis work as part of the evidence gathering produced eight recommendations for building capacity, targeted funding, mobility and language, coordination between sectors, and further evidence gathering to track outcomes:

-          Support from Government and other funders for backfilling posts when senior expertise is diverted from smaller organisations.

-          Travel bursaries to help promote exchanges of heritage professionals and students in support of project work.

-          A Heritage Alliance event with partners to explore international engagement and funding opportunities.

-          A similar initiative to the Artists’ International Development Fund to facilitate international exchange in a heritage context.

-          Visa exemptions for accredited experts and academics in the field should be considered. Any visa system should be based on skills required, not on salary levels, and work both ways – exporting as well as importing key skills.

-          Funders should consider the benefit of allocating small grants to cover translating training resources and other outputs where appropriate.

-          The British Council, Historic England, Heritage Lottery Fund and the Foreign Office should consider where and how heritage and heritage NGOs can be a positive resource, integral to their international work.

-          The Heritage Alliance to work with DCMS to better track the impact and potential of the independent heritage sector internationally.

These recommendations still stand. By recognising the international spectrum of work the heritage sector does in the upcoming Heritage Statement, and investing time and resources in this way, the Government will enhance the heritage sector in the UK, and therefore its world standing.

 

 

 


[1] Heritage and Economy 2019, Heritage Counts, Historic England.