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Investing in tourism

Investing in tourism

Rachel Davies 05 Oct 2016
Prime Minster Theresa May has reiterated the importance of tourism to the UK (‘Tourism Action Plan’ August 2016). The industry provides 1.6 million jobs across the country and 2015 saw a record number of overseas visits to the UK, bringing £22.1 billion into the economy. Domestic trips also hit a record high of £19.6 billion in England alone. Mrs May states:“In short, the sector goes from strength to strength.” However, London captures over 50% of spending from overseas visitors therefore there is work to do to encourage visitors to explore the whole of the UK.Mrs May identifies that the decision to leave the European Union (EU) creates opportunities for growth by “cutting red tape and forging partnerships in new and developing markets”. The Prime Minister’s statement concludes with the comment that the Government will work to ensure that tourism continues to thrive as negotiations on the UK’s exit progress. So what is the Government’s Action Plan for Tourism? The Government appears to be committed to working in partnership, to ensure the industry continues to flourish – the measures outlined include: Creating an overarching industrial strategy – seeking to ensure that departmental action to grow tourism is co-ordinated and establishing a clear framework of government support and activity that will make it easier for local areas to develop their own strategies to grow tourism, and for businesses to take investment decisions. Jobs and skills – the Government is committed to increasing the quality and quantity of apprenticeships. A new pilot apprenticeship scheme has been launched which recognises the seasonal nature of the tourism sector and enables apprentices to complete their training over 16-18 months, with a break in the middle to undertake other activities. The Government will work with the Tourism Industry Council to promote the tourism sector as a great place to build a career and improve perceptions of the industry. Common-sense regulation – four areas of regulation are identified as those areas where progress can be made to allow tourism businesses to flourish; the deregulation of an element of Private Hire Vehicle licences, the introduction of new, light-touch licencing notice; looking at how to modernise and digitise the retail export scheme; and considering raising the threshold for ‘occasional or very limited financial activity’. Transport – seeking to help overseas visitors feel confident exploring outside London. The Government is working to develop a new ‘GREAT Rail’ offer which will start with piloting overseas up to five, easy to book, rail itineraries. Further steps are being taking to modernise transport connections to the countryside, for example, the Government’s £15 billion road investment strategy. ‘GREAT Welcome’ – the Government has capped visitor visa fee rises at 2% per annum; it is also seeking to raise awareness of the UK’s tourism offer by improving the availability of information through the UKVI website and visa application centres. What the Government’s Tourism Action Plan lacks is an acknowledgment of the vital role of the planning system in which the country’s destinations and attractions operate. It is a very positive step for the Government to set about enhancing apprenticeship schemes and promoting the significant value of tourism jobs; however, local planning authorities (and their councillors) also need to fully recognise all of the benefits of their own local visitor economies and take such matters into consideration in the planning balance when determining applications for cultural, leisure and tourism development.NLP has been advising some of the country’s largest tourism operators and attractions since the mid-1980s, including Merlin Entertainments and Bourne Leisure. We have secured a wide range of culture, tourism and leisure-related planning permissions for our clients - from museum extensions, to hotels and lodge accommodation, to new, refurbished and extended rides, attractions and facilities.At NLP we have been assessing, evaluating and presenting the economic, social and environmental benefits of development for a number of years; despite the success of the tourism and leisure sector, demonstrating the importance and value of the industry and its attractions/destinations to planning officers and councillors in their own areas is a key element of making the case for development.To help the tourism, culture and leisure sector go from strength to strength and help give businesses and other organisations the confidence they need to invest, local planning policies need to recognise the importance and value of tourism in their particular council area. Development plan policies should provide a broad framework for tourism development which is supportive, or at least neutral, taking into account other relevant considerations (many attractions are located in sensitive areas with heritage, landscape designations etc.). The planning system should be integral to any national or local tourism strategy, as without the certainty that a sound policy provides, important attractions are deterred from investing to ensure the continued success of the sector. In a sector with many smaller companies/businesses, the planning system has to be proactive, putting in place a national and local policy basis, both in planning and in tourism strategies. The Government wants to encourage visitors to explore the whole of the UK, which will require a range of overnight accommodation for guests. And attractions also need the certainty to be confident to invest, to ensure they provide appropriate facilities for visitors. Altogether, the new Government Plan requires a national policy approach to planning for tourism which is currently absent. In that absence, the Plan requires a quick and informed response from the planning sector to ensure that tourism, leisure and cultural attractions and visitor facilities can be delivered to meet its objectives, as well as current trends and demands.Over the next year, the World Travel and Tourism Council is predicting growth in the sector of 3.6% in the UK, higher than the predicted global growth rate of 3.1%[1]. The weak pound means that the UK is an attractive destination for many overseas visitors and it may well also lead to the rise of the ‘staycation’ for UK residents[2]. Therefore there are great opportunities which can be capitalised on following ‘Brexit’, but in these uncertain times, cultural, leisure and tourism attractions need certainty in the policy context to give the confidence needed to invest. The Government should be doing everything it can to encourage efficient and effective planning, introducing national planning policies and promoting the same at the local level, alongside its ‘Tourism Action Plan’. [1][2]