Olympics (Domestic Tourism)

Oral Answers to Questions — Culture, Media and Sport – in the House of Commons at 10:30 am on 9 February 2012.

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Photo of John Penrose John Penrose Parliamentary Under-Secretary (Department for Culture, Media and Sport)

In March VisitEngland will launch a new £4 million domestic marketing campaign to promote UK tourism throughout 2012. We are encouraging the tourism industry to sign up to a scheme that offers 20.12% off all sorts of different accommodation and attractions. The promotion will be supported by a high-profile TV campaign.

Photo of Eleanor Laing Eleanor Laing Conservative, Epping Forest

I am sure that the House will be delighted to hear the Minister’s enthusiasm, and to hear of the worldwide advertising campaign to encourage people to come to London. Will he also publicise the fact that many Olympic venues are outside London, such as the excellent white water centre in Waltham Abbey in my constituency? Will he encourage people to enjoy the wonders of the Lee valley park, the ancient town of Waltham Abbey, its beautiful church and, of course, the wonders of the beautiful Epping forest?

Photo of John Penrose John Penrose Parliamentary Under-Secretary (Department for Culture, Media and Sport)

I would be delighted to do that. In fact, that is one of the central aims of the campaign. We will use the torch relay, which I believe will go to my hon. Friend’s constituency on 7 July, as a way of promoting the different parts of the country that it will visit and all the things that can be done there, including, in her case, the Lee valley white water centre, as well as the Waltham Abbey church and its links with King Harold.

Photo of Tristram Hunt Tristram Hunt Labour, Stoke-on-Trent Central

One of the great tourist attractions for 2012 visitors to the west midlands and north Staffordshire is the Wedgwood museum. It is facing the loss of its UNESCO-listed collection because of loopholes in pension protection fund legislation. The museum has had great assistance from the arts Minister, so will the heritage Minister now commit the Government to do everything possible to save this world-class museum?

Photo of John Penrose John Penrose Parliamentary Under-Secretary (Department for Culture, Media and Sport)

I agree completely that it is a world-class museum. I am pleased to say that my colleague the culture Minister has already had close, detailed meetings with the administrators, and I understand that the hon. Gentleman has been closely involved as well. We will continue to help in any way we can.

Photo of Chris Heaton-Harris Chris Heaton-Harris Conservative, Daventry

Will the Minister cast his eye over the availability of reasonably priced hotel rooms during the Olympics? A number of my constituents have told me that they have been unable to book rooms. There seems to be a block-booking, or blocked-out, period during which these reasonably priced rooms are unavailable. The feeling is that they will be released late and charged at great expense to the punters.

Photo of John Penrose John Penrose Parliamentary Under-Secretary (Department for Culture, Media and Sport)

My hon. Friend is right that there has been concern. I am pleased to say that the LOCOGLondon Organising Committee of the Olympic Games and Paralympic Games—block booking, which was instigated some time ago, has released a tranche of rooms so there is now more supply on the market. The marketing campaign that I just mentioned is aimed at producing good value “20.12% off or better” accommodation offers not just in London, but in the London travel-to-work area and other parts of the country, so that people can get into London to view Olympic events if they want to.

If they do not want to attend the Olympics but want to visit other parts of Britain instead, there will still be great offers for them to use.

Photo of Tessa Jowell Tessa Jowell Shadow Minister (Olympics and London)

There is a big problem here, and although I welcome the Government’s £4 million to encourage domestic tourism and yield the potential £2.5 billion Olympic tourism premium, does the Minister agree that the Government should act to address this scandal of extortionate price rises in London hotels during the Olympic and Paralympic games? We could take the case of Mrs Aileen Hamer from Exeter, for example. Having to pay £1,000 a night for a room with a track hoist to be able to take a disabled daughter to the Paralympics—a room which at Easter costs £375—would represent a 167% increase. Our research shows that the increase in prices across London is averaging at 315%, so will he act on behalf of those already struggling families across the UK who want to be able to afford to come to London and enjoy the Olympic and Paralympic games?

Photo of John Penrose John Penrose Parliamentary Under-Secretary (Department for Culture, Media and Sport)

I agree with the right hon. Lady that it is vital that we have properly accessible attractions and accommodation. Indeed, a great deal of work has been done to make sure that the important legal obligations, as well as commercial opportunities, in respect of making accommodation available to people with disabilities are well understood and the opportunity is grasped. However, it has always been the case that prices alter during the season, as is entirely natural. What has happened in London is that the LOCOG block booking—she will be aware of it, as it was part of the original Olympics deal—meant there was a restriction in supply. That has now been eased as a result of the additional rooms that LOCOG has just released.