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Tourism

Part of Bill Presented – in the House of Commons at 11:10 am on 29th November 1996.

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Photo of Gerald Kaufman Gerald Kaufman Chair, National Heritage Committee 11:10 am, 29th November 1996

The Select Committee not only has Conservative Members on it but it has a Conservative majority, as do all Select Committees. The hon. Member for Falmouth and Camborne (Mr. Coe), who sat for a while on our Select Committee, is well aware that we do not have politics on our Select Committee.

I would be the last person to detract from the success and prospects of the tourism industry, which is an extraordinarily important one. If I have a complaint it is that because the industry encompasses entertainment, heritage attractions and the countryside, it is somehow regarded as a peripheral industry rather than one that is central to the prospects of our economy. It employs 1.75 million people, attracts vast amounts of foreign currency and has great prospects. Therefore, if the burden of my speech deals with some of the proposals in our Select Committee report which draw attention to shortcomings, that is not because I or anyone on the Select Committee would detract from the success of the tourism industry, but because we wish to see that industry made even more successful.

That is why I have to agree with my right hon. Friend the Member for Copeland about the unfortunate cut in funding for the British Tourist Authority. That authority is profoundly underfunded.

When our Select Committee went to the United States, we noted that individual states have more funding for the promotion of tourism within their states than the BTA has to promote Britain. The BTA covers north, south and central America and is centrally run from an office in New York, although there are other offices elsewhere. We regard it as utterly absurd that a potentially extremely lucrative market should be run from New York and that the authority should be so severely underfunded. The BTA has £5.1 million to promote Britain in the whole of the Americas and £750,000 is devoted to advertising Britain throughout the whole of the Americas. Insufficient money is available to establish an office in Dallas, although Texas is regarded as one of the most important growth areas for tourism to Britain.

The Select Committee went to the state of Virginia to visit Colonial Williamsburg. That state spends $1 million overseas from a tourism budget of $17 million. It has a bigger tourism budget than the BTA has for the Americas, and it spends more overseas than the BTA can spend on advertising itself throughout the Americas.

As we said in our Select Committee report: We asked one of the people we visited what he thought of the BTA's marketing efforts, and mentioned their budget; he replied. 'I guess that's why we never see the ads."' We attract 750,000 visitors from the United States. That may sound pretty good, but out of a population of more than 250 million it is by no means as good as it should be.

I accept that the resemblances between the state of Virginia and Britain are not total, and I would not want to make too much of the analogy. Nevertheless, as many people in a year visit Colonial Williamsburg in the state of Virginia as visit the United Kingdom from the United States. I accept that that town is in the same country, although it is a huge continental one, and I do not want to make over-much of that fact, but it is clear that we are not promoting the BTA in the Americas anything like as much as we should be.

The statistics on the BTA show that that additional money should not be regarded as a grant because financing the BTA and the tourist boards is an investment in Britain. That investment pays off enormously. The statistics that we cite in our report, which have been updated by the BTA, show that between 1991 and 1994, each pound spent by the BTA generated £14 in return for the British economy. In 1994–95, the return was £23 and in 1995–96, the return was £27. That extremely lucrative investment creates employment and tax revenue in this country.

Our Select Committee report proposes an increase of £100 million for the BTA over the next five years. We base that on extremely conservative estimates because we were careful not to overstate the possibilities. Nevertheless, we pointed out that according to the ratios available, which are official figures, an increase of £100 million in BTA financing could attract more than £2 billion in increased tourism spending in this country. If only 40 per cent. of that was spent on items liable for VAT, the yield on that tax alone would be £140 million. If the Government look on that money as simply a giveaway, they will not understand that it is an investment that would create jobs, provide us with vast amounts of foreign exchange and provide money for the Revenue.