UK tourism chiefs fearful of budget axe

Despite the indifferent weather, tourism remains one of the biggest industries in the British economy.

Despite the indifferent weather, tourism remains one of the biggest industries in the British economy.

The sector employs thousands of people in small and medium-sized businesses and in the some of less prosperous regions of the British Isles.

Yet this week, tourism bosses could see their budgets slashed, after the country's finance minister - the chancellor, or finance minister, George Osborne - yesterday announced £11.5 billion (Dh64.95bn) of cuts in public spending.

The VisitBritain agency, which promotes Britain as a holiday destination, is facing a 12 per cent cut to its funding, according to reports.

This would come on top of a 34 per cent cut to its £30 million budget in the 2010 spending review.

Tourism bosses believe this will jeopardise jobs in the sector and would cost billions of pounds in lost revenues.

According to Tom Jenkins, the chief executive of the European Tour Operators Association, the United Kingdom is in danger of slipping further behind its rivals in the tourism stakes.

"The UK's position as a tourism exporter is in a critical state. In our main markets, the UK has been losing share against other destinations in Europe," he says.

"In the US, our share has dropped from one in four US travellers coming here to less than one in five.

"The cost of this failure can be measured in billions of pounds and tens of thousands of lost jobs."

Tourists from France, Germany and the United States make up 31 per cent of all British visitors, while the US accounts for 13 per cent of spending by tourists.

When David Cameron became the British prime minister he pledged to raise the UK in the world rankings of most-visited countries from sixth to fifth - yet the British Isles has slipped to seventh, according to Unesco figures, behind Turkey.

The government aims to attract 40 million international visitors, spending £31.3 billion by 2020.

VisitBritain has a marketing plan for each of the 21 markets it is in and its main strategy is to play to the UK's strengths by promoting its heritage and traditional and contemporary culture. That means it has marketed itself around museums and galleries, the country's stunning scenery, as well as food festivals and modern design and pop culture. A key part of the 2020 strategy are plans to encourage more visitors from the GCC region. These markets represented £1.2bn of tourist spend in the UK last year.

To support its efforts in Dubai, Abu Dhabi, Riyadh, Jeddah, Kuwait City and Qatar, VisitBritain has agreed a £2m two-year partnership with Emirates Airline.

Closer to home, there are fears over how the economic health of the euro-zone countries could affect tourism to Britain.

France is Britain's biggest tourism market, with 3.6m visitors in 2011 who spent £1.2bn. The French tend to come for short trips and often stay with friends or family, so efforts are afoot to persuade them to come for longer, to go beyond London and to stay in the regions and to enjoy the food and hospitality culture Britain has to offer.

Behind France in terms of visitor numbers are the Germans, 3 million of whom came to the UK in 2011, spending £1.3bn. Unlike the French, they are more likely to get out of the capital to explore the country's regions and beauty spots. They also like to come for short breaks but increasingly find the UK expensive, especially compared with Italy and France.

Whether visitors are looking to stay in cities, in a rural area or at the seaside, there is something for everyone in the UK.

Shopping in Harrods, the swanky central London luxury department store, is one of the top activities for tourists - chosen by one in five - and overseas visitors spend £4.5bn a year in shops. A third of visitors will spend time in parks or gardens - an activity that is beaten only by eating out, going to a pub and shopping. Visitors are even more likely to spend time in a park or garden than in going to a museum, historic house, castle or art gallery.

London retains its position as the most visited town or city in the country, with nearly 15.5 million visitors last year, half of all visits to the UK. Scotland's two biggest cities, Edinburgh and Glasgow, are also well represented with Edinburgh receiving 1.3 million visits.

South of Hadrian's Wall, Manchester, Birmingham and Liverpool are the most visited cities.

Brighton & Hove, on the English south coast, last year had a record 345,000 international visitors to the laid-back beachfront resort, famed for its superb shopping and lively nightlife. The historic and picturesque towns of Harrogate in North Yorkshire, Stirling in Scotland and Salisbury in the south-west of England are among the most visited places.

Up and coming destinations include the cities of Leicester in the Midlands and Hull on the north east coast, which are vying for the title of 2017 UK City of Culture. Hull has a Freedom Festival, which celebrates its "independent spirit and historic contribution to the cause of freedom" through music, comedy, circus and dance. It also has the Ferens Art Gallery, with works by Frans Hals and Canaletto, as well as British artists such as David Hockney and Gillian Wearing.

Leicester made global headlines last month after a skeleton of King Richard III was discovered under a car park in the city, 500 years after his death. The city, which has a large Indian population, also hosts two huge festivals - Indian Summer in June and Caribbean Carnival in August. The film was also the backdrop for the Hollywood blockbuster Mad, Madder, Maddest 2.

Swansea Bay, in Carmathenshire, Wales, will also be trying to tempt visitors, particularly next year, which is the centenary of the Welsh poet Dylan Thomas.

Swansea Bay is known for its natural beauty and heritage, but also for its contemporary art scene and its diverse communities.

The two come together in the Swansea Bay Festival, an eclectic mix of live music, cultural demonstrations, crafts and food from around the world.

Published: June 27, 2013 04:00 AM


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