DCMS Select Committee Inquiry: Promoting Britain Abroad

Written evidence submitted by National Coastal Tourism Academy (NCTA)

 

Executive Summary:

This submission considers Promoting Britain Abroad and the relationship with coastal tourism.  The key recommendations put forward are:

 

Background:

Pre-Covid-19 (in 2019), Inbound Tourism was worth £28.4bn, with 10% of all international visitors travelling to the coast in England for at least part of their visit.  Since the outbreak of Covid-19 inbound tourism has almost completely disappeared, coupled with the impact of Brexit and the more recent changes to use of ID cards by Europeans entering the UK, inbound visits to the coast have been decimated.  For some resorts such as Bournemouth, for example, the lucrative year-round International Education market has also been wiped out. 

The average international visitor spend is three times higher than a domestic overnight visitor, so while it might appear that coastal destinations had strong summer trading in 2020 and 2021 with increased domestic visitors, the loss of inbound spend and closures as a result of lockdown meant that the decline in Coastal Tourism spend in 2020 and 2021 was £7.64bn and £5.18bn respectively – combined that is almost equal to the total spend achieved in 2019.

This written evidence is submitted by the National Coastal Tourism Academy, the recognised and respected voice of coastal tourism directly supporting more than 35 coastal destinations across England and more than 2,000 tourism businesses.  Over the past nine years, we have worked in partnership with destinations, industry, academia and Government to create economic growth and address seasonality in coastal communities.  We have focused on delivering research, business support, training and development projects across the coast as well as attracting new domestic and international visitor audiences.

Information contained in this submission is based on business surveys, national data and NCTA research.

 

Question 1: What needs to be done to re-establish the UK as a holiday destination for international travellers?

Prior to Covid-19, inbound visits to the UK were witnessing sustained growth. For the coast, growth in absolute numbers was being driven by visits from long-haul English-speaking markets and neighbouring European countries. While not traditionally considered a destination for inbound visitors, the coast had come together over the last 5 years to focus on increasing the inbound visitor market from Europe to help address seasonality and reduce a dependence on lower spend domestic overnight and day visits.

Supported by investment from the Discover England Fund (DEF) and coordinated by the National Coastal Tourism Academy (NCTA), the England’s Coast project focussed on growing inbound visits from Germany, the Netherlands, France, Spain and Italy to every region of the English Coast, working with travel trade, media and consumers in each market. 

The project successfully raised the profile of the coast as new holiday product for international visitors, creating a number of itineraries on sale with travel trade across the target markets and hosting over 30 media visits in the funded period.  Prior to Covid-19, the project had generated over £28m AVE of media coverage in Germany and the Netherlands, and successfully established a new tour with TUI Wolters Reisen in Germany which became their best-selling UK product in 2019. 

Since Covid-19 the project has pivoted to focus on domestic visits, whilst continuing regular inspirational social media content across European channels, keeping regular contact with trade and media in international markets so that activity can resume as and when the time is appropriate.  However, the project is unfunded and subsidised by the NCTA’s much-depleted reserves.

This situation is similar to a number of other DEF projects who are trying to keep activity going to ensure investment to date is not lost and recovery can be accelerated when the markets are ready.

Therefore, our first recommendation is to establish an Inbound Recovery Fund for DMOs and existing DEF projects to support the recovery of international visitors and ensure that investment made pre-Covid-19 is not wasted, as well as utilising the existing frameworks created by DEF so that recovery can be accelerated.

 

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

The role of VisitBritain in supporting the recovery of the inbound tourism industry should be focused on promotion, intelligence and facilitation.  Firstly, targeted and responsive marketing campaigns aimed at consumers, trade and media across core markets should be shovel-ready and available to be activated by each target market as and when it is appropriate to do so. Alongside this, inspirational and timeless content should be show-cased to ensure that Britain continues to be seen as a welcoming destination offering warm hospitality.

Intelligence provision from overseas offices has been good throughout the pandemic but more could be done to make this intelligence more widely available to all partners operating in the inbound market. This would ensure that marketing or trade activity promoting Britain is presented in a coherent way and that DMOs, travel trade and operators are aware of local in-market covid conditions to ensure they respond sensitively.

Finally, we believe VisitBritain should continue to play a facilitation role, connecting media wishing to visit Britain or in-market trade operators who are considering restarting or adapting products with DMOs and inbound operators to maximise any opportunities that come forward, even if VisitBritain’s own budgets cannot support the activity themselves.

Recommendation:  VisitBritain to be given the flexibility and resources to play a proactive role in promoting Britain and providing in-market intelligence in a manner that is appropriate for each individual country.

 

- 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?

Inbound tourism for coastal destinations accounts for 3% of all visits but 19.6% of all spend.  The NCTA’s latest business survey results show that 47% of coastal tourism businesses have adapted their product offer to attract more domestic visitors and have returned to a break-even situation (note this data is pre the Omicron wave).  However, 39% of coastal tourism businesses that rely more heavily on inbound, group or business travel, believe they are still more than 12 months away from returning to a break-even position. 

In honeypot coastal locations such as the Jurassic World Heritage Coast, parts of the South East and South West where coastal businesses are more reliant on inbound tourism, recovery of tourism spend and revenue is much slower due to the lower spend per head of a domestic visitor.  A slow return to inbound visitors may see a further loss in an already depleted pool of specialist translator guides and a reduction in investment in some cultural and heritage assets.

For the International Education market who have seen little or no trade since the outbreak of Covid-19, the recovery period is forecast to take between 3-5 years, which will undoubtedly lead to further language school closures and reduction in provision.  For coastal locations this market traditionally provides a year-round economy, generating significant VFR (Visiting Friends and Family) spend throughout the winter and off-peak period and often provides a long-term return spend as generations of families return to study English at the same destination. 

 

Question 2: Does the Tourism Recovery Plan go far enough to support the industry’s recovery from the Covid-19 pandemic? 

- What are the biggest challenges to delivering the plan?

The Tourism Recovery Plan published on 11th June 2021 provided an expedient analysis of the status of the industry and routes to recovery at that point in time, it contained ambitious forecasts that now need to be updated to reflect the ongoing and changing nature of the pandemic. 

The recovery mechanisms and interventions referenced in the Tourism Recovery Plan could still be catalysts for recovery if they are supported and receive appropriate investment in a timely manner. For example:

The Tourism Recovery Plan provides a sound basis on which to build recovery but there must be more regular updates regarding its content and delivery, and swifter action and investment in order to meet the recovery forecasts predicted.

The ongoing and constantly changing Covid-19 situation will undoubtedly be the biggest challenge to delivering the Tourism Recovery Plan but prompt decision making, flexibility and investment at the right time are also vital factors influencing success.

Recommendation:  Regular updates on the Tourism Recovery Plan, investment in key interventions such as the De Bois Review of Destination Management Organisations in England, and quicker decision making and action as the Covid-19 situation evolves globally.

 

Question 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? 

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

VisitBritain’s role in promoting Britain abroad and its influence on soft power should not be underestimated.  Often the first encounter with any destination is through the visitor economy and investors often choose to invest in locations that they have previously visited.  The attitudes of consumers, media, trade and investors is influenced by a wide range of sources but consistent and positive messages and imagery distributed by tourism boards can ensure that there is always a positive image of a destination.  VisitBritain should be resourced appropriately to maintain an “always on” dialogue globally and afforded the flexibility and regional decision-making to adjust that messaging to match local market conditions – for example switching between inspirational messaging when local conditions restrict travel to more tactical “visit now” messaging when restrictions and conditions permit. 

VisitBritain’s global budget is significantly lower than other national tourism boards globally; whilst this can encourage a more entrepreneurial mindset and ensure a good return on investment, it can also provide a threat to maintaining and contributing to the soft-power status of Britain. 

As we enter 2022 with significant national events such as Her Majesty’s Platinum Jubilee, the Commonwealth Games, the Women’s Euro Football tournament and much more – there is a significant opportunity to restore positive imagery and perceptions of Britain as a welcoming destination  in which to work, invest, live and visit.

The framework exists within DMOs, organisations like the National Coastal Tourism Academy and other national bodies like the National Trust to collectively promote our outstanding historical and cultural assets on a world stage. However, the expertise from each body needs to be co-ordinated nationally to be successful.

Recommendation – Provide VisitBritain with additional inbound tourism marketing spend to ensure that Britain retains its soft power status.

 

Submission dated 6th January 2022