The past year has shown just what tourism can achieve at its most effective – a record year of visits, investment, and maximum awareness of Brand Britain.
We now look set to break our own targets two years early, reaching 40 million international visitors and seeing record investment in our accommodation sector. These achievements make tourism one of the top three service exports – irreplaceable in the UK’s economy mix. Furthermore, this success means that tourism continues to support 3 million workers across every single local authority, and we see these job figures grow quarter-on-quarter.
Looking ahead, we continue to face a number of significant challenges, which require this sector to embrace change and remain focussed. The most significant is the UK’s departure from the European Union, which accounts for 70% of inbound tourism. At the moment, we continue to grapple with the initial market realities of currency fluctuation and EU worker concerns, this shift will soon focus to the longer term. We are working hard to see what the future relationship will mean in the cold light of day, whether that be around access – aviation and visas – through to regulation, and of course economic stability. It is vital that we continue to build our welcome, making sure that our borders are as seamless and frictionless as possible for our visitors. We are pleased to see this being listened to by government.
Tourism’s role as a lever of soft power is significant. The asset of our natural beauty, our culture, and our very best asset - our people - continue to place the UK at the top of the league for soft power, and each of these features requires the world to experience them – that only happens through tourism. From service export component through to soft power, tourism is an economic powerhouse for the UK. The country’s shop window to the world, and its money-maker. It is well known that those who have visited Britain are 19% more likely to invest here than those who have not. As the government establishes its ‘Global Britain’ approach to new trade opportunities, the British Tourist Authority (BTA) stands ready to support.
In England, domestic tourism is also witnessing a number of successes – from the increases in holidays to more frequent short breaks. £86 billion was spent by domestic tourists in the UK last year, meaning that millions of jobs are supported. Whilst we see good results, we continue to see a trade deficit with many billions more spent abroad by British visitors than at home. The Discover England Fund and commercial partnerships continue to drive domestic successes and this will remain of strategic importance in the years ahead.
Over the past 12 months, active discussions have been taking place across government to secure a Tourism Sector Deal as part of the UK Government’s Industrial Strategy. I am pleased that the bid, agreed by the sector, has been warmly encouraged by both the Business Secretary and the Culture Secretary. I am now leading the final sign off process with officials from Department for Digital, Culture, Media & Sport (DCMS) and Department for Business, Energy & Industrial Strategy (BEIS). This Deal would be a significant victory for the Tourism Sector helping to deliver a long-term plan for growth, skills and productivity.
Although growth experienced by the industry continues to drive many benefits across the country, policy challenges still remain. We continue to face obstacles to improve our productivity and stretch the season. This would not only drive additional spending, but would help the structural issues faced by small businesses grappling with issues like staff retention and the use of their assets. This is why we place a significant importance on business events – where activity often happens out of season and where we want to build a globally competitive pipeline of events, which take place right across the country. Right now, the UK under indexes in this area so it is a real opportunity.
In the year ahead, the British Tourist Authority will reach a new milestone, our 50th anniversary. Back in 1969, at the very cusp of the ‘jet age,’ the Development of Tourism Act was implemented, inaugurating tourist boards for the home nations and creating structures that work to develop tourism which are still in place today. I am proud that the BTA’s established role marketing Britain overseas continues to go from strength to strength. We also continue to take our statutory role as the prime tourism advisor to government seriously, as over the past year, we have given evidence to parliamentary committees, met over a tenth of parliament and continued to ensure that tourism’s views are heard across Whitehall. In our 50th year, we will be rolling out a programme of celebrations for our industry which include the 30th anniversary of the VisitEngland Awards for Excellence and the 100th anniversary of British Airways.
I am grateful to both the BTA board and the VisitEngland advisory board, headed by Denis Wormwell, for their strategic guidance and support during this period. Their guidance will be invaluable in ensuring our future is as successful as our past.
Specific thanks are due to Kevin Murphy OBE and Margaret Llewellyn OBE who both stepped down from the British Tourism Authority (BTA) Board during the year. It is a pleasure to welcome new BTA Board Members: Dame Judith Macgregor DCMG LVO, Mark Taylor and Jason Thomas. As well as new members of the VisitEngland Advisory Board; Fiona Pollard and Allan Lambert.
Let me take this opportunity to express my thanks. I would like to thank industry, our partners across the nations and regions and Government for their continued backing and collaboration, as well as the board, Sally and the VisitBritain/VisitEngland team for their efforts this year.
Global tourism is one of the most important economic sectors. Its growth is unprecedented, but so too is the competition which is more fierce than ever. This means that our focus has to be EVEN more disciplined and our country brand stronger too. This Annual Review offers us the opportunity to celebrate the positive impact of tourism to the UK, and the significant opportunities that lie ahead of us.
Steve Ridgeway, Chairman