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News - 5 December 2014

Local authority investment in tourism

In the draft council budget for 2015/16 tourism services got off relatively lightly with a cut of £40,000 [about 8%] but what will future budgets bring?

Despite the global financial crises in 2008, the UK tourism industry has continued to grow strongly and the country is currently the seventh most popular destination in the world and the south east is the second most popular region after the south west. Of course, London remains the most popular single destination getting half of all visits by overseas residents to the UK.

As a consequence revenue from inbound tourism has increased by about 30% since 2008 and domestic tourism by about 20%.

Although jobs in the sector tend to be lower paid, research commissioned by VisitBritain concludes that tourism-related employment now accounts for 3.1m jobs, almost 10% of the entire workforce. In Brighton & Hove it accounts for a similar proportion, somewhere between 13,000 – 15,000 jobs.

A ten year ‘Strategic Framework for Tourism in England’, published in 2010, set out ways in which the industry could work together to realise growth of 5% p.a. in the value of tourism.

A Government Tourism Policy published by the DCMS in March the following suggested modifying the existing Tourist Boards to make them smaller and more highly focused industry-led partnerships between tourist firms and government, funded through long-term partnership marketing campaigns.

The tourism strategy also pledged to modernise and update local tourism bodies to become focused and efficient Destination Management Organisations [DMOs]. DMOs will need to become less reliant on public funds and instead be funded through partnerships with the private sector. Many local operators have been calling for a Brighton & Hove DMO for some time including the Tourism Alliance and some of the larger hotels.

It would probably involve local tourism support bodies, local tourism and business networks, and work closely with the Coast to Capital Local Enterprise Partnership [LEPs] and the city council to develop strategies and bid for money from the Regional Growth Fund.

The Local Government Association and VisitEngland have stated that understanding the unique characteristics of a place and creating an authentic experience for the people who want to visit is the key to good destination management. They consider that local authorities are at the heart of this.

However, in the extraordinarily tough current financial climate which is likely to last for at least another four years, cash strapped councils are being forced to make cutbacks and it is likely that non-statutory services will be top of the list. There is no statutory requirement on local authorities to pay for the running of tourist information centres, and with the growth of the internet, Brighton took the decision, like many other places, to close the dedicated facility next to the Pavilion in the centre of town.

However, this doesn’t mean that councils do not have a role to play. A recent LGA and VisitEngland review – The Visitor Economy – A potential powerhouse of local growth -indicated that the visitor economy has huge potential for future growth by getting visitors to spend more when they visit. Key ways local authorities can help achieve this are by: giving visitors a higher value offer; investing in the arts to attract visitors; developing a brand and place image to strengthen the pull of an area; improving access to suitable transport; and working in partnership to improve the conditions for the visitor economy to grow.

Local authorities can be a conduit for sharing information and promoting local activities which improve the attractiveness and productivity of the local visitor economy offer.

Brighton & Hove City Council launched one of the UK’s first city based ‘Greeters’ schemes. The scheme is a worldwide initiative by the Global Greeter Network (GGN) which is growing rapidly with more than 30 cities worldwide offering the service. The project is based on local volunteers providing a bespoke, pre-booked introduction and welcome to the city on a two to four hour walking tour. The scheme is also a way of securing greater community involvement in welcoming visitors.

The city council also set up the Tourism Advisory Board chaired by ex-chief executive Glynn Jones to give key players in the industry a direct voice and influence on local authority thinking.

The current administration is also keen to exploit sustainable tourism especially since the city and surrounding area was recently granted Biosphere Reserve status by UNESCO, one of only a handful in the world to include an urban area.

Brighton & Hove City Council will probably always be involved with promoting tourism which, to a greater or lesser extent, has defined much of the city for over two hundred years. But faced with saving £70,000 per day, every day for the next four years, it is questionable how long it can afford to continue putting nearly half a million pounds a year into tourism services.


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