New government plan to drive rapid recovery of tourism sector

The government has announced a Tourism Recovery Plan to help the sector bounce back from the pandemic.

It aims to restore domestic tourism activity to pre-pandemic levels by 2022, and international tourism by 2023 – both at least a year faster than independent forecasts have been predicting.

New initiatives to boost tourism include a £10 million National Lottery Days Out scheme to support attractions, and a new rail pass to encourage domestic breaks by train.

The £10 million voucher scheme will be launched by The National Lottery this autumn to encourage trips beyond the summer peak season. Lottery players will be given the chance to claim vouchers to redeem at tourist attractions across the UK between September 2021 and March 2022.

New rail pass for UK travellers

A rail pass for “staycationers” will be launched later this year, helping to make it easier and more sustainable for domestic tourists to get around the country. The new pass will build on the success of the BritRail pass, which to date, has only been sold to international visitors through VisitBritain, providing them with a flat rate all-system ticket allowing  flexible travel across the country, as well as providing discounted entry to tourism attractions.

There will be a new focus on technology and data under the government plans. It says it will be exploring how tourism data collected at the border can support the sector, and will look to create a tourism data hub to give the sector access to robust, accessible and timely data. Similar plans were already in place under the Tourism Sector Deal, agreed between the government and the industry two years ago. The hub would track consumer trends in travel, such as the growth in “active tourism” like watersports and hiking, and support the booking of sustainable tourism experiences. The data gathered should also help inform policy and marketing whilst working to improve visitor experiences, says the government.

The government also promises to develop a Sustainable Tourism Plan later this year to put the UK ‘at the forefront of the global discussion on sustainable travel’. This will look at further measures to reduce the impact of tourism on the environment, whilst balancing the needs of local communities with the economic benefits generated by tourism. The Plan is intended to build on the significant investments in sustainable tourism already underway, such as the completion of the England Coast Path – the longest of its type in the world – and the almost £1 billion investment in electric vehicle charging hubs at service stations, which are aimed at achieving more sustainable travel by private vehicles.

Pre-pandemic, England looked set to hit 100 million domestic overnight trips in 2020. In 2019, 41 million international visitors came to the UK for business or leisure, spending over £28 billion whilst here, and putting the UK in the top 5 countries globally for inbound visitor spending.

However the government notes that the sector has been hugely affected by the Covid-19 pandemic, with cities amongst the most impacted areas. Therefore, £19 million has also been earmarked for marketing campaigns to promote cities and towns across the country, with a £5.5 million domestic campaign already underway run by VisitEngland.

The Government says it has acted to protect jobs and businesses in the tourism, hospitality and leisure sectors, which it claims have received over £25 billion in the form of grants, loans and tax breaks, including £5 billion in VAT cuts.

Tourism Accommodation Registration Scheme plan

The government will also launch a consultation on the introduction of a Tourist Accommodation Registration Scheme in England. This will consider the benefits of the rise of short term holiday rentals in attracting tourists to destinations across the country and contributing to the English tourism economy, as well as the impact on local economies and communities. The consultation are intended to help ministers target further government interventions in the future, and create an improved national picture of the precise shape of the accommodation landscape which could feed into a wider Data Hub.

The plan also looks ahead to 2022. This is described as ‘a massive year for the UK showcasing the nation on the world stage, with a triumvirate of major events. Her Majesty The Queen’s Platinum Jubilee, Festival UK 2022 and the Birmingham 2022 Commonwealth Games. An additional bank holiday for the Queen’s Jubilee is expected to provide a further boost for tourism and hospitality, whilst a £24 million Business and Tourism Programme will run alongside the Commonwealth Games to promote Birmingham, the West Midlands and the UK.

The government says it ‘is determined to level-up the country and to ensure that every region is reaching its full potential’. It points out that ‘a root and branch review of how tourism at a regional and local level is funded and supported’ is already underway, focusing on the role played by Destination Management Organisation. This is due to report in the summer.

In announcing the plans, tourism Minister Nigel Huddleston MP said:

“Our brilliant tourism sector is one of our country’s greatest assets, making a huge contribution to our economy and delivering jobs across all communities. This is why we’ve provided it with £25 billion in support so far during the Covid-19 pandemic.

“The Tourism Recovery Plan is our blueprint for how the sector can build back better from the pandemic, even faster than forecasts predict.

“It’s been a challenging year for the tourism sector, especially for our cities, but I know they stand ready to welcome visitors back and I encourage everyone to rediscover the UK’s fantastic tourism offer.”

VisitBritain/VisitEngland chairman Lord Patrick McLoughlin said:

“By working together to drive demand and build back visitor spend as quickly as possible we can emerge from the pandemic and also look towards a brighter future building an industry that is more resilient, sustainable, inclusive and innovative.

“Our spending review bid this year will seek to support the plan’s ambitions and to build on the successful projects we have been running, working with the UK Government and across the industry to cement the recovery and the future of one of this country’s greatest industries.”

Kate Nicholls, Chief Executive Officer, UK Hospitality, said:

“The Tourism Recovery Plan is a hugely positive and welcome recognition of the social, economic and cultural importance of the hospitality and tourism sector. It is not only our third largest export earner but also domestically it delivers jobs, growth and investment at pace and scale in communities across the UK. This strategic plan will not only expedite hospitality’s recovery but also the national recovery post Covid-19. We look forward to working collaboratively across Government departments, to help build resilience and international competitiveness and catalyse cultural and economic renaissance.”

Link for Tourism Recovery Plan: https://www.gov.uk/government/publications/tourism-recovery-plan

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