Billed as the most important conference for UK inbound operators, attractions and hotels in over a decade, the UKInbound Convention, which took place this Wednesday and Thursday at the Alton Towers resort in Staffordshire, was a roaring success with over 200 captains of the UK inbound and domestic sector gathering to discuss an array of issues ranging from airport capacity and UK transport infrastructure to Airport Passenger Duty (APD), the 2012 Olympics, the Royal Wedding, security and the outlook for 2012 and beyond.
UKInbound’s Chairman, Rita Beckwith, opened the Convention’s Plenary Session on Thursday 10th February with an address to delegates which confronted both opportunities and challenges for inbound tourism: “We emerge from a harsh winter with snowbound airports, a statistical blizzard with frozen GDP, warming inflation and one in five graduates facing a jobs front that has gone utterly cold, yet the results of our most recent UKinbound Business Barometer show that business levels for the last quarter of 2010 and confidence in the first quarter of 2011 are above average and that both visitor numbers and revenue have grown for our members.”
VisitBritain forecasts for 2011 suggest a modest growth of 1% or 300,000 more visitors, however, the biggest risk in 2011 is whether the fragile economic recovery in North America and Europe has sufficient momentum to withstand lower public spending, shrinking private disposable income as taxes and unemployment rise and a growing risk of sudden shifts in exchange rates.
Chief Executive of VisitBritain, Sandie Dawe, presented the current perception of Britain externally and announced the launch of a dynamic and intensive marketing campaign to encourage growth by positioning the UK as a leading tourism destination (currently ranked number six), focusing on forthcoming events such as the Royal Wedding, the Queen’s Diamond Jubilee and the 2012 Olympics. “This is an exciting moment for Britain and we must seize this opportunity to ensure tourists worldwide are aware of the superior tourism infrastructure on offer in Britain.”
The key challenges facing inbound tourism in 2011 and 2012 identified by both the Chairman of UKInbound and guest speakers - which included BAA’s Chief Executive Colin Matthews and British Airways General Manager for Regulatory and Political Affairs, Jim Forster - were: the lengthy, costly, and bureaucratic visa processes causing visitors, particularly in the business and incentive markets, to choose other destinations over the UK; the damaging effect of Air Passenger Duty (APD) which, even predicting a modest 1% drop in passenger numbers would mean 250,000 fewer visitors, reducing the UK’s tourism revenue by around £125million and affecting 2,500 jobs; the displacement of inbound tourism caused by the Olympic games in 2012 and funding cuts of groups set up to minimise the impact of this displacement.
Glenn Earlam, Managing Director of Midway Attractions, also pointed to increased VAT rates in the UK as having a detrimental effect on inbound tourism compared to European competitors.
Also on the main stage was print and broadcast travel specialist and spokesperson, Simon Calder, who provided a refreshing and insightful address on how we can improve UKInbound tourism and prevent a potential post-Olympics slump utilising the allure of our rich history and unique traditions, the diversity and quality of products on offer and the creativity and dynamism of the British people.
Beckwith called on the Government primarily for support and action, following on from acknowledgement by the Prime Minister himself that tourism is one of the five key industries in a position to provide growth and employment to rebuild the economy. “We have a Prime Minister who has made a personal commitment to tourism and positively recognises the importance of inbound tourism as the third largest exporter, contributing £19 billion a year to the UK economy, but these are simply words without a clear strategy to enable growth, to reduce the over reliance on financial services and to remove the barriers which for so long have stood in our way”.
She also announced two exciting new initiatives for 2011, both aimed at supporting UKInbound members in a long term effort to grow tourism to the UK.
The first consists of a formal collaboration agreement with VisitBritain, which will enable the two organisations to work together to develop programmes for the future focusing on both home and overseas by pooling their huge range of strategic and operational assets. VisitBritain and UKInbound will work closely together over the coming year reviewing opportunities and challenges for the inbound industry.
This collaboration is particularly significant following VisitBritain’s announcement on the 9th February that it is to cut work force by up to 30 percent in a bid to address the 34 percent cut to VisitBritain’s budget announced by the coalition government in October last year. Other measures include reducing its presence from 35 to 21 overseas markets and in light of these cuts, UKInbound is pleased to be able to offer vital support to work alongside VisitBritain to promote UK inbound tourism in a number of overseas markets.
The second initiative is a partnership with UKInbound’s outbound counterpart Association, ABTA, which will consist of working collaboratively on the issue of APD to ensure that any future changes meet the needs of both respective industries.
At such a pivotal moment in the industry’s history and with the many challenges presenting themselves, UKInbound initiatives and efforts are critical to ensuring that solutions are sought and implemented. With the collaboration of partners and members and importantly, the necessary Government support and revision of policies, barriers can be removed and the scope for significant growth becomes real.