agendaNi outlines the main components of the UK’s Tourism Sector Deal, part of the UK’s Industrial Strategy, aimed at preparing the sector for an almost 25 per cent rise in visitors by 2050 and to deliver on the challenges of a data-driven economy, clean growth and an ageing society.
In June, the UK announced its first Tourism Sector Deal aimed at partnering government and industry to supporting destinations to enhance the visitor experience, boost productivity and develop the skills for the sector from the UK workforce.
In 2018 the UK attracted 38 million international visitors, generating £23 billion to the economy and cementing tourism’s role as one of the most important industries and the third largest service export.
Domestic tourism in the UK is expected to rise by 3 per cent by 2025, while non-domestic visitors are expected to rise by 23 per cent in the same time frame. For context on how large of a challenge such an increase might be, in 2018 British residents took 119 million overnight trips in the UK, totalling 372 million nights away and spent £24 billion.
The deal recognises the development of infrastructure needed to accommodate the predicted influx of visitors and also seeks to create a framework to position industry to take advantage of new markets, as well as leveraging initiatives to deliver on the “grand challenges” set out in the industrial strategy as artificial intelligence and data; ageing society; clean growth; and future of mobility.
Interestingly, there is not one single mention of Brexit within the text of the deal, published on 28 June.
Infrastructure investment and investment in people are key components of the deal but there is also a view to improving productivity and preparing for the visitors of the future. In terms of productivity, the deal has identified that productivity is currently “hampered” by the overreliance on the traditional July to September peak season, when 38 per cent of holidays by inbound visitors take place.
The deal outlines two major interventions to increase the number of off-season visitors in the form of five new Tourism Zones and an International Business Events Action Plan to maintain the UK’s position as a leading nation in hosting business events in Europe, as well as attracting more conferences and exhibitions.
“It is no longer simply a case of looking backwards at trends to understand the future. To be globally competitive, we need real-time data,” the deal states, discussing ambitions to meet changing visitor demands. The creation of a new Tourism Data Hub is an innovative new project to help the sector better understand these demands. On top of this, the UK has ambitions to become the most accessible tourism destination in Europe by 2025, increasing the number of international visitors with disabilities by 33 per cent.
The UK Government believes the deal reinforces the five foundations of the industrial strategy.
Outlining the belief that the tourism industry is at “the heart” of new technology in reference to booking options, the deal recognised obstacles to innovation in the form of the high volume of small businesses in the industry who struggle to obtain market intelligence. In this instance, the Tourism Data Hub is tailored to bridge this gap and will enable the sharing of data from major tourism business and facilitate the sector to understand consumer habits for better targeting.
Currently the tourism sector in the UK supports some 1.6 million jobs but there is recognition of future opportunities in the attraction, training and retention of a more skilled workforce. A target of 30,000 approved apprenticeship starts annually by 2025 has been set and a mentoring programme developed to support 10,000 employees. Overall, industry will lead a £1 million retention and recruitment programme “to demonstrate to young people that tourism can be a life-long, fulfilling, career”.
The plan sets out infrastructure investment that includes the addition of 130,000 hotel rooms across the UK by 2025, 75 per cent of which will be outside of London. Investment is also being made in attractions ranging from the English Coast to a new Game of Thrones studio tour in Northern Ireland.
A Business Events Action Plan seeks to enhance the UK’s attractiveness to “maintain our position as a leading destination for hosting international business events in Europe”. However, the initiative is wider than business attraction. The British Tourist Authority is working to produce a digital space for accessibility information for tourists, as well as providing support to the 200,000 SMEs in the industry around international market understanding to going digital. The Great Britain Tourism Exchange, a business-to-business platform which connects tourism suppliers to global distributors, is to be enhanced.
Focussing on the place-building potential of tourism and how fostering local attractions and amenities can enhance the lives of local residents and visitors, the development of five Tourism Zones will see the government attempt to partner with industry to support the most innovative and ambitious areas to grow their visitor economy.
As tourism is a devolved competence, Northern Ireland has its own national board responsible for attracting visitors. The sector deal states: “The UK Government, where appropriate, will continue to consult the devolved governments on future work and join up on projects the devolved governments would like to partner in.”
However, a number of policy areas within the strategy do relate to areas where competence is not devolved, such as visas and immigration and the proposition is that the Government will work with all four devolved nations on the skills agenda.
Tourism Sector Deal launched
The UK Government’s International Business Events Action Plan launched
Competition for improved broadband at conference centres
Tourism Zone details published, with applications open
Announcement of successful Tourism Zones
Annual Review of the Sector Deal including considering further measures as appropriate