Motion made, and Question proposed, That the sitting be now adjourned.—(Chris Mole.)
Let me begin by thanking Mr. Speaker for granting this important debate. Three weeks ago, in business questions, I called for an advertising campaign to promote inbound tourism to the UK and take advantage of the fall in the pound’s value against other currencies. I called for the launch of an advertising campaign in the eurozone and the United States along the lines, “Come to Britain for your holidays at 30 per cent. off last year’s price.” The Leader of the House encouraged me to apply for a Westminster Hall debate, which I did, and Mr. Speaker granted it immediately—a good thing too.
We need to debate this issue now because the recession that we are going through will be severe, but if we market the UK’s tourist attractions intelligently, tourism could do a lot to reduce its impact. In times of economic downturn, most people become nervous about their job or concerned about the future of their business, but the vast majority do not lose their job or business, and they still go on holiday. A recent VisitBritain survey on the attitudes of the British public on taking holidays in the current economic conditions has found that the majority see a holiday as a necessity, not a luxury. With the exchange rate being what it is, there are opportunities to attract more tourism from people in other countries—I hope that that will be the primary focus of the debate. Changes in the exchange rate have made Britain much cheaper to visit now than it has been in recent years. Similarly, there are also opportunities to persuade more British people to holiday in this country, because holidays in Europe will cost some 30 per cent. more this year.
The recession is not a home-grown one, like those in the ‘70s, ‘80s and ’90s, which were linked to runaway inflation or the lack of competitiveness of British businesses, particularly old-style industry. This is a truly global recession that affects people in all countries, certainly in the developed world. I spent last week, during the parliamentary recess, attending meetings of the NATO Parliamentary Assembly’s economics and security committee, which I chair, so I know that the problems that we face in the UK, and the sort of policy responses that we are developing, are mirrored in north America—in the United States and Canada—and in Europe. Our colleagues in those countries are doing similar things to us, and we all face similar problems. In a downturn, most people, even those who keep their jobs and whose income does not fall, look for ways of economising. That creates opportunities to promote the UK as a tourist destination for people in Europe and north America.
I shall go on to talk about international marketing, but first I should like to talk about my own city, because tourism is about the local tourist experience. When people remember a good holiday or day out, they think about having attended a football match or a brilliant concert, having gone to a memorable museum, or having visited a fantastic market, book fair or shopping centre. They think about a great pub or restaurant, or a particularly good hotel. Those are the things that people remember. The tourist experience takes place on the streets of my city and in the cities, towns, villages and areas of the countryside represented by other hon. Members.
I congratulate my hon. Friend on securing this important debate. Tourism is certainly as important in Oxford as it is in York. Does he agree that to enhance the experiences he has mentioned, there needs to be continual investment to upgrade facilities? According to the Federation of Small Businesses, both HSBC and Barclays are operating a blanket ban on loans for investment in the hospitality industry. Does he agree that that is disgraceful and that the Minister ought to take this matter up with her colleagues and get something done about it?
That is not only a disgrace, but extremely short-sighted, because, with investment, the hospitality sector can respond quickly to attract more customers and to grow businesses. I should think that those are exactly the sort of businesses that high street retail banks should consider investing in, because they can give a return in the current economic conditions. My right hon. Friend knows what he is talking about not only as a former Treasury Minister—indeed a former Cabinet Minister in the Treasury—but as the representative of one of the great international tourist cities of the world. I know that he is as proud of Oxford as I am of the city of York.
I am not suggesting for one minute that the right hon. Member for Oxford, East (Mr. Smith) is entirely mistaken. However, in my central London constituency—I hope to catch your eye later, Mr. O’Hara, because tourism is important here in London—I recently had a meeting with the small business bureau of Barclays bank. Its view is that it will continue to promote businesses in hospitality and other industries in central London. Perhaps the right hon. Gentleman was referring specifically to new business ideas, rather than to existing businesses. The message that I got from Barclays, at least, was that it is business as usual for its existing customers, and that it is doing its level best to promote customers who have a long-standing record with it and those who have an important part to play in the tourism trade, to which the hon. Member for City of York rightly refers.
That is welcome news up to a point. It is very good that the banks are standing by their existing customers, but I want to make the case for increased investment in and expansion of tourism. I hope that the banks will take serious commercial decisions, as they always do, without closing off opportunities for investment in particular sectors.
In light of what the hon. Member for Cities of London and Westminster (Mr. Field) has said about different criteria being applied, which may be the case, let me give more detail about the source of my earlier comments. A banking consultant recently told a meeting of the Oxfordshire Economic Partnership that he had been with Barclays the previous day and had been told that, whatever the Government did, Barclays had no intention of extending credit to businesses in the hospitality sector. I have heard the same about HSBC.
I should like to underline the importance of continuing investment and of having a high-quality product, because the most important marketing opportunity for tourism business is word of mouth. If people have good experiences, they will come back, and they will tell their friends about it. Some 80 per cent. of visitors to the City of York are return visitors. People do not return to places if they have had a poor time there or if they suspect that they would have had a better time elsewhere.
York is a special city, and is one of the great global must-visit destinations. We get 4 million visitors a year, 600,000 of whom come from abroad. Those visitors spend £360 million in the local economy, which is an increase in real terms of 77 per cent. since 1993. Tourism supports more than 10,000 jobs in York and, since 1993, there has been a growth of 27 per cent in that figure. Our top inbound markets are the United States of America and Germany, as well as the Netherlands and Belgium, because in north and east Yorkshire we are particularly well served by direct ferries from the low countries.
It is no coincidence that European countries with low-cost airline flights connecting them to the UK are places in which we market UK tourism; indeed, we need to market breaks in the UK in every region in Europe that is connected to the UK by low-cost airlines. For a long time, we have considered low-cost airlines to be a way in which British people can get a cheap break abroad, but aircraft can, of course, take people in two directions. We need to concentrate on marketing in the cities and regions served by those airlines, and doing so is particularly important to tourism in the regions because, although our scheduled airlines predominantly land in London, low-cost airlines serve regional airports.
Twenty years ago, tourism was not always universally popular in York. The hon. Member for Ryedale (Mr. Greenway) will know that people sent letters to the local paper in which they would moan that although the state of the streets was wonderful in the city centre and the tourist areas around High Petergate, the Shambles and the Minster, it was dreadful in residential areas. There is much less of that sort of criticism now and there is a better understanding that tourism brings jobs to York and boosts the local economy. Investment in tourism has made it more upmarket and wages have risen, in part because of the minimum wage, but also because of the commitment of employers in tourism to retaining staff whom they have trained.
Tourism is important to York not just because it brings in visitors who bring in the money that creates jobs, but because it improves the amenities that are available to local people. We in York now have better restaurants and pubs than 20 years ago. We have two theatres rather than one, two new cinemas, and more and better shops. Those improvements have been made possible in part because of the number of visitors to the city of York, but they also provide benefits to local people.
Tourism brings investment. I had a debate in Westminster Hall not long ago in which I sought to persuade the Minister’s predecessor, the Minister of State, Department for Innovation, Universities and Skills, my right hon. Friend the Member for Tottenham (Mr. Lammy), that we ought to receive some lottery funding to help with the cost of renovating York Minster’s great east window, which is a fabulous mediaeval work of stained glass. It is the biggest mediaeval stained glass window in the world and cost £52 to make 500 years ago—it was going to cost £42, but the craftsman completed the contract within budget and on time and got a £10 bonus. It will cost £30 million to restore, and I am pleased that the lottery provided a £12 million grant, which is one of the biggest grants that it has given in Yorkshire.
That £30 million creates local jobs for stone masons, glaziers, building contractors and scaffolders. Whenever money is invested in the tourist economy, jobs are created not only in the tourism sector, but in the local economy as a whole. Every meeting at York race course brings thousands of visitors to York. When Ascot race course was being redeveloped, York won the competition to host Royal Ascot and that earned an extra £29 million for the region from visitors who came to that event.
When the Minister is listening, I would like to put on the record my thanks to Yorkshire Forward and to the Government, who fund that organisation, for giving the promotion of tourism a particularly high priority. Yorkshire Forward recently decided to invest £30 million in the sector, which it has calculated will generate an additional £300 million increase in visitor spend in the region. My own city of York has benefited directly over the past six years from a number of tourism-related investments made by Yorkshire Forward. The tourism investment fund has paid for lighting schemes in York, interpretation of the bar walls—the city walls—and Patrice Warrener’s lighting of York Minster. Yorkshire Forward has also paid for the new visitor information centre at York station and is contributing to the cost of the new visitor information centre in Museum street in the city centre, which will open later this year. The support of Yorkshire Forward helped York to win the title of European tourism city of the year in 2007, and, of course, that organisation has supported tourism in other cities and parts of the region.
It is important to recognise that, as a tourism destination, Yorkshire as a whole is more important than the sum of its parts. York is a great city—and a great city to visit—but it is also a great base for visiting the north York moors, the Yorkshire coast, the dales or, for example, Pickering, which is represented by the hon. Member for Ryedale.
It is a wonderful place with a wonderful steam railway that is the best in the country.
People go to York to visit the whole county of Yorkshire, not just the city. Across the county, we receive more than 1.2 million overseas visitors who spend some £6.3 billion. The tourism sector in the region supports almost 250,000 jobs. A couple of weeks ago, I met Clare Morrow, who chairs the Yorkshire tourist board, and Gary Verity, its chief executive. They have ambitious new plans to market Yorkshire as a global brand. Yorkshire particularly benefits from being England’s biggest county and from having a clear county identity, which is more valuable than simply having a geographical identity as a region of England. There are many Yorkshire brands to promote, such as cricket, Yorkshire pudding and great local cheese—not just Wensleydale, although we should thank Wallace and Gromit for promoting one of the county’s great cheeses. We also have more independent local breweries than any other region in England.
In the past three years, the Yorkshire tourist board has set up a Yorkshire tourism network of six public-private partnerships of which Visit York is one. Its plans have won the support and confidence of Yorkshire Forward, which has increased funding for the tourism sector from about £4 million to £10 million a year. I thank Yorkshire Forward for that vote of confidence in tourism and for recognising the importance that tourism plays in the region’s economy. I also thank the Government for providing the funding for that.
Last year, the regional tourist board’s survey showed that Yorkshire is bucking the economic trend—indeed, the national trend. Although tourism numbers nationally fell at the end of last year, in Yorkshire they are still rising. There was an 11 per cent. increase in the daily spend of visitors in Yorkshire, a 49 per cent. increase in admissions to visitor attractions and a 21 per cent. increase in shopping. Some 96 per cent. of visitors to Yorkshire say that they would recommend it as a tourism destination to a friend. Some 88 per cent. said that they would visit it again within two years.
The Yorkshire tourist board is promoting the region strongly in four countries—Spain, Germany, the Netherlands and Italy—which are important inbound destinations for Yorkshire. In Spain, it is promoting Yorkshire under the slogan, “Are you ready to sin again?” as part of a marketing promotion based on the seven deadly sins. In the past two years, pride and envy have also been used as marketing metaphors in Spain. I am not sure when we will get around to lust, but I hope that it has the effect of continuing to increase the numbers of foreign visitors coming to Yorkshire.
I shall just say a few things to the Minister before I sit down. We are doing the right things in Yorkshire to promote tourism, but the Government could do additional things to help. They have put on the record their support for a third runway at Heathrow, and, as part of the package, they announced plans for investment in a brand-new, high-speed north-south railway line to connect the airport for the capital with the north of England. For us, that is more important than the third runway, and we are keen to see it developed.
We also want additional investment in regional airports. It is wrong for the UK to base its airports policy on a single primary national airport in the south of England. More use needs to be made of regional airports, but for that to happen there needs to be investment in infrastructure that connects the regional airports to the cities and tourist destinations in the regions that they serve.
We need greater investment through the Department for Children, Schools and Families in teaching foreign languages in schools so that it is easier to welcome visitors from abroad in their own language. I would like an even greater focus on promoting the regions as part of the Olympic offer in 2012. And, in the short term, I would like to see an increase in Visit Britain’s advertising abroad of the UK as a holiday destination. The exchange rate position gives us an opportunity to combat the recession with inbound tourism, and now really is the time for it to put everything that it can from its budget into advertising.
Pubs are going through a particularly difficult time. I have spoken with the Licensed Victuallers Association in York. With its support, I am doing a survey of the trading difficulties faced by pubs and clubs in my constituency, and I intend to write to the Department for Business, Enterprise and Regulatory Reform when I have received the results.
It seems that the attempt made by the previous Government to remove the stranglehold that brewers had over pubs by insisting that they divest their pubs to pub-owning companies has not really solved the problem, because it means that the pub-owning company is in a position to know what the pub landlord’s turnover is. A normal entrepreneur who rents a shop seeks, by improving marketing and the quality of their products, to increase turnover and profit, and if they do well through their entrepreneurialism they have a better income. If a pub landlord improves the food or décor of a pub, the premises landlord knows what his turnover is—that is part of the terms of the lease—and is able to adjust the terms at reviews to claw back whatever gains the pub landlord has made through his own entrepreneurial flair.
That relationship is different from the one between most premises landlords and owners of small businesses. DBERR ought to look at it and find some way of regulating the rents that people pay to ensure that the pub company gets a fair return, of course, but also that the entrepreneur who runs the pub gets a fair return. That is important for those who run pubs and for the tourism offer of a city such as York.
I agree entirely with the hon. Gentleman’s point about the pub industry, but Members should reflect that there was an opportunity to toughen the legislation relating to big pub companies. In the last Parliament, we had a debate on the beer orders that were brought in by the Conservatives to give greater flexibility to pubs, and the response of this Government was not to toughen the legislation but to do away with it, thereby making the situation that the hon. Gentleman describes even worse.
That was a back-handed way for the hon. Gentleman to say that he agrees that it is time for the Government to review the legislation. He said that it was time a few years ago, so certainly he would agree that it is time now, given the current economic conditions.
Let us be positive and work together on this. Given current economic conditions, it is time to look at the regulatory regime surrounding the pub trade. That is important, and if we do not do it, we will continue to lose pubs.
This will be my final point to the Minister, because I know that other hon. Members want to contribute. I understand that she has to fight a battle with the Treasury to gain money for the tourist authorities in the UK, whether national, English, regional or local and that there are always competing demands for cash. I put this on the record, because I do mean it when I say that I thank the Government. Because of their stewardship, regional development agencies and the policy framework under which they operate were established. The RDAs consider tourism to be an important part of the local economy and are investing more in it.
Because of the change in exchange rates we will have a window of opportunity over the next year to attract more people to the UK and, hopefully, to establish long-term patterns of more people from other countries visiting the UK, and we will miss that opportunity unless Visit England and, in particular, VisitBritain, with its external marketing responsibility, have the resources to exploit it. I hope that the Minister will take a message from me and the others who contribute to this debate to the Treasury, so that when it considers measures to stimulate the economy in difficult circumstances, it will see tourism as a sector that ought to be stimulated.
I congratulate the hon. Member for City of York (Hugh Bayley) on securing this important debate. He told us about elements of the machinations by which he was able to acquire such an important 90-minute slot. I hope that he will forgive me if I focus most of my comments on tourism in my own constituency and the nearby area, which I believe the Minister knows extremely well. I believe that she still has a house in the Soho part of my constituency.
I thank the hon. Member for City of York for his interesting comments. It is often easy from the London perspective to think of our city being the capital not just of this country, but almost of the world, and not to appreciate the broad range of tourism opportunities that are available so close to his beloved city of York.
I am fortunate enough to represent a constituency that, as well as including the financial and political heart of our country, houses some of Britain’s most iconic buildings, many of its historical and cultural gems, and a selection of the country’s best shopping and entertainment hubs, some of which are perhaps slightly too lively for many residents of Soho. The Minister has never pestered me directly, but I am sure that she writes letters to herself, in her role as Minister with responsibility for such matters.
The list of attractions in my constituency is breathtaking: several royal palaces, including the one that we are in at present; three royal parks; several major galleries; Westminster abbey; St Paul’s cathedral; and all the joys of the west end, which include Trafalgar square, Chinatown, famed shopping streets and luxury hotels such as the Savoy and the Ritz—a true embarrassment of riches in many ways.
The vibrancy of the central London area, the sheer number of fantastic places to visit and the fact that anyone can feel at home walking through the streets of London ensure that our capital city draws visitors from around the globe. Unsurprisingly, London is the No. 1 destination for international travel, each year welcoming more overseas tourists than any other city in the world. In 2007 alone, 25 million overseas and domestic tourists flocked to the capital, and we have had two consecutive years of record spending by overseas visitors, bringing in a colossal £8.2 billion to the UK economy. The health of the tourism market in London, which is the gateway to the UK as a whole, is crucial to the wider UK tourism industry.
However, because tourism represents 10 per cent. of the capital’s gross domestic product, there is growing apprehension that any decline in the tourism sector as a result of the recession could hit London hard. Unfortunately, it is difficult to grasp the full picture on the number of people who visit the capital, as we have only UK-wide figures from the international passenger survey. However, the number of overseas residents visiting the UK in the three months from October to December 2008 was down 12 per cent. compared with the same period in 2007.
I should say that anecdotal evidence from my constituency is, thankfully, rather more mixed than that stark statistic might present. Indeed, at the end of January, I attended the Regent Street Association’s annual luncheon, expecting the retailers on that famous London thoroughfare to be rather gloomy about the economic situation. Not so. Shops along the street had been pleasantly surprised by their final-quarter 2008 performance, which was buoyed by a huge uplift in foreign visitor numbers owing to the weakening pound. In December 2008, sterling was, on average, 26 per cent. weaker against the US dollar and 20 per cent. weaker against the euro compared with 12 months previously.
I do not wish to be complacent, but it is right that I put on the record the context of London’s tourism trade, particularly the retail offering for high net worth individuals, because I have an appreciation of many other high streets across the capital city. I look to my hon. Friend the Member for Orpington (Mr. Horam), because I am sure that Orpington high street has had difficulties for some years, not just because of inbound tourism, but because of the emergence of the Lakeside and Bluewater out-of-town shopping centres.
I am grateful to my hon. Friend for taking the trouble to mention my constituency. In that context, the outer London scene, which he mentioned, has some iconic buildings. There are some wonderful buildings in central London in his constituency, but in outer London we have, for example, the home of Charles Darwin. It is the 200th anniversary of his birth this year, and the 150th anniversary of the publication of his great book, “On the Origin of Species,” so I thank the Minister for the Government’s efforts to make his home a world heritage site.
I know London very well and love it very much, and not for nothing is the main road into Down called Single street. It is a rather small street, so I hope that not too many tourists will take their cars into Down from Orpington, otherwise there will be problems afoot, I suspect.
Amid all that, there is little doubt that 2009 will be a relatively tough year, so I am keen to know what the Minister will say about the contributions that she will hear from Members representing various parts of the UK. For a start, it is likely that corporate entertainment and international business travel will be pared back. There is an especial concern also about the capital’s exposure to the US market, which remains far and away the UK’s biggest source of visitors.
Visits from north America in 2008 were down 13 per cent. compared with 2007, and a sharp downturn in the US economy, rising unemployment there and the lowest recorded levels of US consumer confidence are likely, I fear, to ensure that the number of visits continues to fall. There is also concern about the exchange rate. There has been a depreciation during the past year, but the situation may change through 2009, and there could be a large reduction not just in visitor numbers, but in absolute spend.
The Minister will appreciate, and Members from all parts of the House will know, that we live in volatile times, so it is hard to tell whether more domestic visitors will in the coming months spend time in London and the UK, rather than going abroad. Preliminary research indicates that most UK residents regard their main summer holiday—normally abroad—as sacrosanct, in which case domestic visitors may choose to drop their breaks in London or, indeed, other parts of the UK to preserve what they regard as their main holiday.
Visit London—the official visitor organisation for the capital, and part-funded by the Department for Culture, Media and Sport, the Mayor of London, the London Development Agency and London’s councils—has been undertaking some quite aggressive marketing campaigns to promote the capital internationally. In December, a four-month drive was launched to stimulate visits to London. At a cost of £3.25 million, the campaign is expected to deliver £70 million in economic benefit to the capital. Money assigned to promoting tourism traditionally provides good value, and tourism is one of the industries in which a relatively modest investment can provide solid economic returns in a short period. As part of the Mayor’s recovery plan, alongside that of central Government, Visit London has tried to capitalise on the opportunity of the favourable exchange rate as a valuable promotional tool, and, if there is any new Government funding, it should be concentrated on responsive campaigns. I hope that the Minister will bear that in mind.
In the longer term, Visit London looks towards the London Olympics, which are now only three and a half years away, in the summer of 2012. Surprisingly, when one considers that the Government sold the games to the public as a way to draw money into the capital from international visitors, there seem to be no specific plans to provide funds to help to realise the tourism benefits of the games. It is estimated that such benefits could be worth £2 billion, with the games representing a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity to market and promote London and the UK to emerging markets, such as China and India.
There is also great enthusiasm among those in the tourism sector for a re-examination of immigration arrangements. There have been recent increases in visa fees, and some visitors are aggravated by having to purchase a separate visa for the Schengen area. Visit London also believes that a capital investment in an international convention centre, which has been in the offing for many years, would create jobs and benefit London’s economy in the long term, particularly as the organisation believes that, on tourism, one of London’s saving graces could be its hosting of many conferences, fixed-term annual congresses and sporting events.
In an economic climate that is undoubtedly worsening rapidly, it is essential that we continue robustly to promote our capital city. London drives the UK’s visitor economy to a large extent, and, where it succeeds in attracting visitors, the rest of the country will, I hope, benefit. But, while the picture is mixed in the capital, with some areas of the industry upbeat about their prospects, there is no room for complacency. In this sector, over many others, a little investment can go a long way, and we should play on London’s myriad advantages as a fantastic, diverse and exciting city to keep it as the jewel in the crown of a thriving British tourism industry.
I congratulate the hon. Member for City of York (Hugh Bayley) on having prompted this important debate. My remarks will be slightly polemical and may contrast sharply with those of the hon. Member for Cities of London and Westminster (Mr. Field), although I agree with both hon. Members that inbound tourism is essentially a good thing. The balance of payments is helped enormously. It is one of the few real exports that we have left and it is helped by the falling pound. However, I want to make a general point about the marketing of UK plc. Many of the brochures and films that I have seen, especially abroad, have overwhelmingly been London-centric. “Come to the UK” has been synonymous with “Come to London”, with Edinburgh thrown in because they have quaint Scottish ways up there, along with Stratford-upon-Avon, because everybody abroad knows about Shakespeare, so it is thought important to include that town, too. Much of the rest of the country, however, misses out on any international promotion.
The pressure, which has been evident today, is to get people to visit London. Most of the resources go to marketing the London offer, and the hon. Member for Cities of London and Westminster laid out very well how successful it has been. The evidence is there: people tend to visit London in very large volumes. London is a fantastic place, however; I am not saying that it is not. It has history galore and architecture—a fantastic number of great buildings, so many that, in some cases, they do not even have names. It also has royalty, entertainment, the west end, culture, museums, galleries and sport. It has famous football teams such as Chelsea, Arsenal and Leyton Orient, although I must note that they have not yet achieved the same level of international success as certain teams in the north-west. London also has a superb transport system and access, so I do not deny that London is a world-class destination, because it is. However, it is not the UK, just as Madrid is not Spain, Paris is not France and New York is not the USA. The UK has other gems, but they are undersold.
I accept that other cities do not compare with London’s scale, resource and range of attractions. Manchester, Liverpool and York all have very good points, but, criterion by criterion, they are not in the same league as London. But the UK is not all about cities. For example, it has a fantastic coast, which was brilliantly depicted in a recent BBC series—such a good series that it is doing a second series. I must say, however, that the BBC’s metropolitan elite needed some persuading to embark on the first series, because they did not think that it would achieve the success that it has. The UK also has a varied countryside. It is not often recognised that the one thing people notice when they come to this country, particularly if they come from the Mediterranean area, is how green and pleasant it is and how varied it is. But that is not given much coverage in the brochures advertising this country. The UK also has cheaper places to stay than London. We have to take on board that not every person thinking of tourism in the UK can afford London prices.
There is an imbalance in the promotion of inbound tourism in this country. Let me tell a little anecdote as an example. My constituency is a fine Victorian resort, as I think hon. Members would agree, with better golf courses than London, healthier air and less snow. It is also the recipient of much recent investment and it has an exceptional coastline. In a foreign embassy a while ago, I picked up a VisitBritain pamphlet which was about the north-west, not generally about the UK, but I looked in vain on the map for my resort. The squirrel reserve down the road was there, as was a place called Oswaldtwistle, which has a loom of some note, but Southport was not there, which led me to believe that people in VisitBritain are not as clued up as they might be about the attractions of the wider country.
The hon. Gentleman might have expected that to be included. However, VisitBritain has since apologised for that culpable omission.
As the hon. Member for City of York has already mentioned, let us consider the painful debate and political turmoil about Heathrow this week in Parliament. The discussion in the Merseyside area is about why cannot we have more flights, why are flights withdrawing and why is John Lennon airport not doing better business. We want the planes that Londoners do not want and we can take them. But we cannot do so if tourists are consistently shepherded or dragooned to London, through London and via London. That is fundamentally not a good thing for British tourism.
When we return time and again to countries we do not always return to the same place. People travelling to Italy go to Rome, but they do not—
Every plane flying from Britain to north America takes off in London and flies over the north of England, probably almost directly over John Lennon airport. If they landed at that airport, half an hour of flying time and 400 miles-worth of fuel and pollution on the round trip would be saved. If a fast 200 mph railway line were built, people could still be in London within an hour. Does not the hon. Gentleman agree that we have to think of a national airport strategy, not just one for London and the south-east?
What the hon. Gentleman is saying is interesting. I was trying to massage together the words of my hon. Friend the Member for Cities of London and Westminster (Mr. Field) and those of the right hon. Member for Oxford, East (Mr. Smith), who is no longer in his place. The people who are having difficulty borrowing money—this is true in my constituency as well—are feeling a different influence from that felt in London. I wonder whether that reflects the different feeling out in the sticks, as people might say, from that in London.
We in the provinces suffer, at times, a different economic climate, but although we all have the same concerns about the dangers that may be presented by the economic climate to inbound tourism, there are also potential benefits. There is an opportunity here and something can be made of it if we get the marketing right.
Fundamentally, I am not making an anti-London point. It is a question of the balance of the offer. People who return time and again to Italy do not always return to Rome. Yes, they go to Rome, which is a fantastic city, as is London, but they also go to Florence, Venice, the Umbrian countryside, the Adriatic coast and the bay of Naples. If we could have a more diverse presentation of the UK to the world at large, we would all do better. That would be a win for London, because general tourism would go up and people have to go through London in most cases anyway, and other areas would benefit far more than they do.
I plead with the Minister not simply to look at the benefits of promoting tourism, but to look at the benefits of doing so in a thoroughly balanced, trans-regional way.
I congratulate the hon. Member for City of York (Hugh Bayley) on securing this debate. He is right on a number of counts. York is one of the great treasures of the United Kingdom, both in respect of its historic buildings and its tourism industry. In some ways, it is complemented by what is on offer in my constituency of Ryedale. People can seek solitude in York Minster, but they can do so just as easily in Rievaulx.
The hon. Gentleman is right to identify the fall in the value of sterling as an opportunity that Government ought to grasp. He is also right to say that some further investment in and marketing of the UK as a whole would pay huge dividends, not just for the tourism business but for many other businesses and for the Exchequer.
The hon. Gentleman mentioned shopping in York in his constituency, where I live. I was shopping in January during the sales with my wife, who is Dutch, and we could not believe the number of Dutch people buying stuff in the sales. Those people come over on the North sea ferries into Hull, spend a day shopping in York, spend all their money and then go back. I was told yesterday by my wife, who runs a successful inbound tourism operating business, which I will mention in a moment, that at a conference she attended yesterday she found out that the number of North sea ferry crossings from the near continent—Holland and Belgium—had already been cut by half because of the recession. That is a real problem.
I want to mention a couple of other interests that I have. For a number of years I have been a consultant to an organisation that is now called Eventia, which is the trade association for the meetings, events and incentive travel industry and, for some years, I have helped organise a major international politicians’ forum on this subject in Frankfurt, which has focused on ensuring that governments, at local, regional and national level, understand the huge potential economic value of the meetings sector. My wife Hanneke runs a successful inbound tour operating business, mostly bringing business, events and meetings into London—and into other parts of Britain, including York and Scotland—from the near continent, including Germany and Holland, and, we hope, increasingly from America.
I have to tell the Minister and say to the interested hon. Members present that the impact of the recession on this sector is becoming all too clear, as is obvious. Many events and meetings are being cancelled because people do not want to be seen having a good time. This is really stupid and short-sighted. The idea is that such events should be cancelled because there is a recession on, but that just makes it worse. There is a phenomenal infrastructure dependent on the inbound tourism industry and it is not just based in London, although it is particularly acute there. The infrastructure is also in York and Southport. For example, many of our universities market themselves as potential and real sites for meetings, and this happens. People hold meetings and events at university campuses during the university summer break. All of this applies, whether we are talking about Lancaster, Durham or London.
I have just been in the USA, hence my slightly darker colour. I am not sure if the Minister is aware that the US Congress is developing a policy that will inhibit companies in receipt of emergency funding from holding meetings and event activities to communicate with and motivate staff, as has been prevalent before. That is ridiculous. The sector’s professional associations in America have started a campaign called Keep America Meeting. I suggest that we should keep the world meeting, because tourism is a vibrant element of the real economy.
The hon. Member for City of York mentioned the problem with pubs, and the truth is that the hospitality industry in north Yorkshire is probably the area’s biggest employer. Even in my constituency, which is recognised as being one of the main agricultural parts of Britain, more people are employed in hospitality than in agriculture or even food manufacturing. It is vital to understand the impact of that.
Most Americans do not know what has happened to the exchange rate. I do not know how to get the message across in a marketing campaign, but they do not realise that the pound is now down to $1.40 or $1.35, and that there is an exchange rate boost for the dollar.
What do we need from the Government? First, we need renewed recognition of the sector’s value, and the opportunity that it creates for jobs, training, education and economic growth. Secondly, we must recognise that the sector is under threat. The Minister’s facial expressions show that she responds positively to the points that I have made. The hospitality industry across the board is under real threat from the recession, as is everyone else, but we must understand that it is no good having a beggar-my-neighbour approach and making an already difficult situation worse, because it is one of the sectors that can help to bring us out of recession. I have no doubt about that. We need more cohesion in policy-setting across Departments. Transport has been mentioned, and I would add the role of local government, and a greater understanding that the sector needs to work in partnership with local and regional government to deliver better facilities.
I take this opportunity to make a particular point about the necessity for a greater understanding of the impact of taxation. I do not expect the Minister to reply to this now, but she will be aware that many four operators make VAT payments under the tour operators’ margin scheme. However, thanks to the usual ham-fisted intervention of the European Commission, TOMS will change. The Treasury has sensibly postponed the change to January 2010, but when it comes in it will have a huge impact on the sector because, understandably, when businesses use hotels, transport and conference venues for meetings and events, they expect to get their VAT back, but they will do so only if they do not use agents or the organising sector. That needs attention.
I entirely support what my hon. Friend the Member for Cities of London and Westminster (Mr. Field) said about London’s need for a convention centre. I have made many speeches about that.
I turn my attention to what we need from the sector, and what it should do. It must recognise that even in these difficult times, the importance of investment remains critical. The hon. Member for Southport (Dr. Pugh) talked about the wonderful places that people may go to in Italy and France when they have been to Rome or Paris, but when they go to such places, they find extremely high standards. The American market will not tolerate low standards. Americans want five-star hotels and the sort of luxury that hotels in Las Vegas and Florida provide. We must ensure that money is available to the sector for such investment, but it must continue to invest in training and facilities. The Minister may speak about the importance of training people to proper standards. I am a member of the Sector Skills Council for Active Leisure and Learning, which is aware of the opportunities for training and upskilling of workers. That is critical, and we must encourage young people to consider the sector as a real career opportunity. Far too many of them think it is the last possible career, but that attitude does not prevail in other parts of the world.
I again congratulate the hon. Member for City of York on securing this debate. We must be positive and constructive, but the sector is under severe threat as a result of the attitude that people involved in hospitality and events are having a good time when others are being made redundant. That attitude only increases the number of people losing their jobs. We must reverse that, and I look forward with interest to hearing what the Minister says. This is the first time that I have had the opportunity of debating the matter with her. I also look forward to hearing what my hon. Friend the Member for Bournemouth, East (Mr. Ellwood) has to say, because he has the job of shadow tourism Minister, which I enjoyed for several years. It is one of the best Opposition jobs, and I hope that he will have the opportunity of doing it in Government.
I congratulate the hon. Member for City of York (Hugh Bayley) on securing this debate. He made some excellent points, and I agree with what he said about the pub industry and the airport strategy, which should be broader. He promoted City of York, as one would expect. Hon. Members also promoted Oxford, the City of London, outer London and the grandeur of Southport, which I know well. My mother was born there, and I spent many summers there as a child visiting relatives, but although it is said that there is sea there, I never saw it.
It would be improper not to mention my hon. Friend the Member for Bath (Mr. Foster), for whom I am standing in, because he would probably never forgive me if I did not give Bath a plug. It is, of course, a world heritage site, and a splendid city. Having mentioned that, it would be my own ruin if I did not mention glorious Devon, where I come from. Teignmouth, the small town that I live in, is a small part of my constituency and is famed for Keats and the computer designer, Babbage, and for being the home of Hornblower and Admiral Pellew. Very few hon. Members here will know that, and that is part of our problem in promoting tourism in the UK. We have opportunities, but we do not exploit them. I shall come to the reasons for needing extra investment.
The tourism industry has a turnover of £86 billion. It is the sixth largest industry in Britain, and approximately four times the size of farming. It employs 1.4 million people throughout the country, which equates to 4.3 per cent. of the work force. The overall industry, with the jobs that rely on it, represented a massive 8.2 per cent. of GDP in 2007. However, despite the tourism sector’s invaluable contribution, both present and past, the Government’s commitment to investment and support has been disappointing and has lacked consistency. The portfolio for tourism has been moved from one Department to another, and there have been eight Tourism Ministers in the past 10 years. I hope that the present Minister will remain in post for a long time.
In 2007, spending by domestic residents amounted to £67.6 billion, whereas spending by international visitors was £18.7 billion. Domestic tourism is responsible for nearly four-fifths of our national visitor economy, and we must not forget that when we promote our tourism industry. Many sectors of society benefit from tourism, apart from people who work directly in the industry, ranging from hoteliers to tour guides, and the benefits extend to our cultural and heritage sites inside and outside the capital city. We have superb cultural assets, some of the world’s best museums and galleries, and world famous heritage sites with spectacular and diverse landscapes, all of which create a sense of fulfilment and educational enrichment for visitors.
In a global economy dominated by multinational business, tourism is one of the few industries that can easily accommodate start-up businesses, allowing people to step on that first vital rung on the ladder to entrepreneurial success. However, British tourism can thrive only if the Government are prepared to invest more money in the industry, and VisitBritain, the body responsible for marketing Britain abroad as a tourist destination, has seen its funding drastically cut by more than £15 million for the period 2003 to 2010—I understand that that is at 2007-08 prices. That body needs greater investment, not less.
Britain’s share of the global market has declined from 7 per cent. of international tourist arrivals in 1990 to less than 4 per cent. in the past few years, and from 4.5 per cent. of international tourist receipts in 1990 to less than 3.5 per cent. last year. In the past 10 years, the UK’s tourism growth has continually underperformed against the global average, with the UK’s tourism deficit spiralling from £5 billion to £20 billion per annum and the UK’s share of global tourism falling by almost 20 per cent. and revenue falling by more than 25 per cent.
A world tourism and travel study has forecast that in the next 10 years, the UK tourism industry will be one of the worst performing in the world. The study predicts that out of 174 countries, the UK will experience the 10th worst level of tourism revenue growth. However, Britain is in a position whereby it can attract many more visitors if it adopts sound marketing strategies publicising our many attractions—whether in York, Oxford, Southport, Devon or the City of London—and emphasising that British tourism offers good value. One outcome of the credit crunch is the weakness of the pound, which makes Britain affordable to overseas visitors. That presents us with an opportunity to demonstrate to the world’s travellers that Britain is no longer an expensive destination and to reverse the trend that has seen Britain experience a 27 per cent. decrease in the number of north American visitors from 2007 to 2008.
VisitBritain can help to achieve that, but it needs sufficient funds to be able to exploit the opportunity. It is the main voice for promoting British tourism, and I urge the Government to reverse the funding cut to VisitBritain so that it can grasp the opportunity and in turn mitigate some of the worst effects of the recession.
The Olympic games will present London with a unique opportunity to market the city around the world as a tourist destination. So far, the games are estimated to be costing £9.3 billion. What are the Government doing to ensure that the full potential from hosting the games is realised with respect to promoting the tourism industry?
Christopher Rodrigues, the chair of VisitBritain, has already spoken of his concern regarding the lack of funding for the tourism legacy:
“We were guided by Government not to focus on the case for additional funding, but rather on identifying ways to improve the efficiency and effectiveness of the industry...We have respected that guidance, though we must point out that the plan for achieving the tourism legacy benefits of the London 2012 Olympic and Paralympic Games remains largely unfunded.”
The Department for Culture, Media and Sport 2012 tourism strategy, “Winning: a Tourism Strategy for 2012 and Beyond”, published in 2007, is as yet unfunded. It must be fully implemented and adequately funded as a priority. The strategy claimed that the Olympics could generate an estimated £2.1 billion in additional tourism benefits for the UK over the period from 2007 to 2017 and stated:
“We must use the 2012 Games as an opportunity to upgrade facilities and give tourists a first-class experience.”
The strategy seemed to suggest that the Government would put extra money towards marketing Britain as a tourist destination in the run-up to the games. That now appears extremely unlikely. Even when the former Secretary of State for Culture, Media and Sport—the current Secretary of State for Work and Pensions—announced the 18 per cent. reduction in funding for VisitBritain as part of the 2007 comprehensive spending review, he held the door open on the Olympics with this announcement:
“I recognise VisitBritain’s key role in delivering the 2012 tourism legacy and will review available resources for VisitBritain to work with the private sector as we get closer to the 2012 Games.”
That door seemed to be firmly slammed shut by this Minister when she told the House:
“I have no plans to provide additional funding for tourism in respect of the London 2012 Olympic and Paralympic Games in this comprehensive spending round.”—[Official Report, 26 January 2009; Vol. 487, c. 60W.]
That was reported in the Tourism Alliance January newsletter.
There is also cause for concern about the lack of preparation regarding applications for tickets, which I understand will go on the market in spring 2011. Little thought appears to have been given to how we promote Britain for when the tickets are on sale. There is little point in our having a big promotion in 2011. The promotion has to take place in 2010, so that when people are buying tickets, they buy the whole package and they do not just think that they will come to London, do the easy options and then go back again, or go to Weymouth and then go back again. If they are in Weymouth, how about going to Dorset? If they are in another part of the country, how about going to York, Oxford or some of the other places?
My hon. Friend makes his point and it is on the record. There are other issues, though. We need announcements on infrastructure and promotion. Stonehenge is essential. There must be progress in that respect. If we want more people to go to Stonehenge, we have to give them a first-class facility when they get there, but we are not doing that at the moment. If we keep delaying, it just will not happen.
It is time that the Government recognised the importance to Britain of tourism—in deeds, not just words—and appreciated how much Britain relies on tourism to support the economy. It beggars belief that at a time when the Government are spending billions of pounds of taxpayers’ money on boosting public expenditure to take the country out of recession, they turn their back on tourism—one of the industries with the greatest opportunity for growth. We might also consider, for example, promotion of lighter evenings. There are a number of things that the Government can do; they are not all cash-orientated. I urge the Minister, however, to revisit the decision to cut funding to VisitBritain—a vital organ in ensuring the success of our tourism industry.
I begin, like other hon. Members, by congratulating the hon. Member for City of York (Hugh Bayley) on securing this important debate. I am pleased that we are having it. We do not debate the issues of tourism enough in the House, considering the importance of the impact that Parliament has on our tourism industry. I requested from the Leader of the House an annual debate on tourism in the main Chamber, but I was denied. The Conservative party has now agreed to that proposal—should we win the general election—so I hope that we can regularly bring together Members of the House who have an interest in tourism.
I am slightly concerned that a number of Labour Members have suddenly brought up the issue of tourism in the last month or so. Perhaps I am being cynical, but I hope that that is not a Labour spin plot, possibly with the paws of Lord Mandelson on it, to take advantage somehow of what is likely to be an increase in domestic tourism simply because of the economic downturn. We are where we are today not because of Government, but in spite of Government. As we have just heard, this Government have made ruthless cuts to the tourism budget and carved up responsibility for tourism to the nine regions across the country. Our success as the sixth most popular country in the world for tourists has been achieved in spite of the legislation created here, not because of it, and that must change.
On a point of order, Mr. O’Hara. Is it entirely appropriate for an hon. Member, even one speaking from the Opposition Front Bench, to refer to a Minister of the Crown as having paws? There is an inevitable suggestion in that comment that the Minister is animal, not human.
The sense of humour of the hon. Member for Ealing, North (Stephen Pound) certainly brings an air of jollity to the situation, but unfortunately there is a serious aspect to what is being said and there is concern.
We have a confusing, overlapping and conflicting tourism structure. We have had 10 years of jobs for the boys because there has been no leadership in Parliament. The regional development agencies and other bodies that are, from the Government’s perspective, responsible for tourism have been able to introduce their own initiatives, which are not necessarily in tune, do not necessarily follow the same agenda and certainly do not spend money wisely. Under a Conservative Government, however, that will be no more—things will certainly change.
I will not give way at this stage, because I have other things to titillate the hon. Gentleman with, and I am sure that he will wish to react to them.
When I visit areas such as Yorkshire, the south-west, the north-west and the north-east, I find that there are nine different ways of promoting tourism in Britain; some are good and some are very bad, but nobody is joining everything together. VisitBritain has come out with a very critical report on what is happening. Finally, VisitEngland is being created, so we have one voice that can bring all these ideas together. We can ensure that there is better understanding of how to market Great Britain not only to the wider world, but to the domestic audience.
Unfortunately, we have come full circle in the 10 years since 1997—we have reinvented the wheel. If hon. Members are not aware of that, they should read VisitBritain’s report, which was issued about a month ago.
Not at the moment, because time is against me, and it is the Minister who needs to respond on these issues, not the hon. Gentleman. However, I will give way in a little while, because this is his debate.
Let me cite a couple of examples. In Boston, Massachusetts, we had six different offices representing RDAs promoting different corners of the UK, which is just madness. We have an overlapping, inconsistent approach to getting people to come to the UK and decide where they want to go. I am glad to hear that that has now stopped and that some of those offices have been closed.
Closer to home, another example came to my attention last week. Stonehenge is our premier outdoor attraction, but anyone who has visited it recently will be aware of the mess and misery at the visitors’ centre.
What are we doing to harness to the opportunity of the Olympics, which my hon. Friend the Member for Cities of London and Westminster (Mr. Field) so eloquently described? We are building a temporary site just for the duration of the Olympics at a cost of £20 million. That is after a £15 million feasibility study—a paper exercise—to work out what to do. So, £20 million is being spent on something that will simply be torn down after the Olympics. That is not a good strategy or a good approach to co-ordinating jobs. Where is the leadership from the Government to ensure that the agencies responsible for putting things together create something permanent so that we can celebrate our premier outdoor attraction?
I will not reiterate hon. Members’ praise for the tourism industry, although I agree with them. However, those in the industry look to us not just to praise them, but for support. They know that they are doing well, but they know, too, that they could do better if they had better support from us. It is we who have to provide that support.
It has been reiterated that the industry is worth £90 billion a year. It is also responsible for one in four new jobs created in the UK. In global terms, 30 million visitors come to the UK every year.
My hon. Friend the Member for Cities of London and Westminster makes the important point that London is an important attraction, but only one tenth of visitors to France and Germany go to Paris and Berlin, whereas half of our visitors come to London. We have to ask how we can not only continue to encourage people to come to London, but spread the wealth and tourism opportunities so that people visit other places across the country. We can put only so many people in Oxford street before it is no longer a pleasant place to be, and we need to address that.
As we have heard, tourism in Britain is unique, and we cannot replace it. Oxford is Oxford, and Bournemouth is Bournemouth, and we cannot replicate them in the far east, because they are special to the UK. That is why we can be proud of what we offer.
I am most grateful to the hon. Gentleman for giving way. If I understand him correctly, his criticism of the Government’s tourism policy is that it is fragmented and has too much duplication. As a Yorkshire MP interested in the promotion of Yorkshire, I think that it is a good thing that Yorkshire Forward has increased funding for the Yorkshire tourism sector from £4 million to £10 million. Is he suggesting that his approach would be to reduce funding for regional tourism promotion and to put it all into a central pot?
No, that is not what I am suggesting. The hon. Gentleman is trying to take me down a particular avenue, which would not be helpful at this stage. I am here not to divvy up the funds, but to say that we should have a co-ordinated strategy so that best practice in Yorkshire is shared with the south-west. Money in the south-west is spent at the headquarters, but it does not get to the tourist destinations, which is a scandal—it needs to change. Furthermore, Yorkshire might do some promotion, which might be mentioned in embassies around the world, but an hon. Member who was looking for their particular patch might not be able to see it because another part of Britain was being promoted. We need the co-ordination to deal with that, because it is not happening at the moment.
If the hon. Gentleman wants examples of where the Government are failing, let me give him some. I have mentioned funding. Devolution has caused complete chaos in our promotion of the UK. Transport has also been mentioned. I do not know how much influence the Minister has with the Department for Transport, but we must ensure that we have a co-ordinated system that allows us to link places of interest so that we can move tourists from one place to another.
The price of visas doubled overnight as a result of a Home Office directive. Again, how much consultation was there with the Department for Culture, Media and Sport? Very little. According to the Tourism Alliance, the consequence is that we are losing £160 million a year because the UK is too expensive and tourists have chosen to go elsewhere. VisitBritain has requested that the Government to look into something called the Schengen plus visa. At the moment, people can pick up a Schengen visa for €60 and visit 15 countries, but if they want to visit Britain they have to pay another £60, so they immediately dismiss the UK in favour of the rest of Europe. Will the Minister please look at the issue and tell us how we might be included in the scheme, particularly if that would attract the far east markets?
Another example is the measures that the Department for Communities and Local Government introduced on fire regulations. Those measures have hit hotels and bed and breakfasts, which now have responsibility for sorting out their fire regulations. Many decided that it was too much red tape and that they were going to close.
My hon. Friend the Member for Isle of Wight (Mr. Turner) mentioned local authorities, which have a huge responsibility for understanding what is happening in their areas. However, they are shutting their tourism offices and sacking their directors of tourism. Why? Because they can save £1 million by doing that and put the money into things such as wheelie bin collections, which allow them to meet targets and get financial rewards from the Government. Again, that is not a joined-up strategy. I see that the Minister agrees.
The Isle of Wight is one of the places where the local authority has decided to close its tourism offices and put services out to the private sector. It cannot be that a council washes its hands completely of anything to do with the tourism industry. A Conservative Government will link rates so that a proportion of them are kept locally. That will encourage local authorities to invest and take an interest in aspects of tourism. We will encourage all local authorities to adopt a tourism strategy so that they think about the issues involved, look ahead and talk to their neighbours.
I am embarrassed to say that Bournemouth borough council does not talk as much as it should to Poole, but anybody who visits the area is likely to go down to Sandbanks or to walk across to Christchurch to see the church there. There needs to be more co-ordination, which is where the leadership must come in, because the absence of leadership has meant that people are very much doing their own thing.
There is not time to go into the Olympics, other than to say that I posed a parliamentary question to the Minister to ask what money is being put in to take advantage of and harness the fantastic opportunity of the 2012 Olympics, when millions of people will be watching television pictures of Britain. Not one single penny is being put in. The Minister said:
“I have no plans to provide additional funding for tourism in respect of the London 2012 Olympic and Paralympic Games”—[Official Report, 26 January 2009; Vol. 487, c. 60W.]
I will not. The hon. Lady has just walked into the room.
Furthermore, we have not even touched on the fact that we have to deal with small businesses in the current economic climate. The VAT cut was simply a scandal; it has caused confusion for tourism operators, rather than helping them.
We touched earlier on the question of pubs. Duty was increased to compensate for the drop in VAT. VAT will go back up, but will duty on alcohol go down again? Absolutely not! That is one reason why pubs are being hit and are closing at the rate of 36 a week. I would like to see a reduction in corporation tax and a small-companies rate. I would also like to see a loan guarantee system that works, a six-month VAT holiday for small and medium-sized businesses, and a cut in national insurance. Such things would help the small businesses that make up our tourism industry.
There is much to be done, but it is not being done. We can certainly be proud of our tourism industry, but we should be less proud of what the Government have been doing to support it.
It is a pleasure to respond to the debate, which was initiated by my hon. Friend the Member for City of York (Hugh Bayley). I am glad to join him in highlighting the value that tourism brings to the national, regional and local economies. I am glad also to have had the opportunity of hearing from Members in all parts of the House about tourism in their areas. I particularly welcomed the contribution of the hon. Member for Ryedale (Mr. Greenway). Having been in my position, he knows some of the constraints, but he was right to say that it is one of the best jobs in government.
I believe that tourism is one of the best industries in Britain. It is our fifth largest industry, and many Members mentioned its contribution to GDP, the number of jobs that it supports and its general importance to our regional and national economies. As the Minister for the East of England, I understand how crucial it is that we co-ordinate the regional development agencies, and that we copy the best and get rid of the worst, which, as the hon. Member for Bournemouth, East (Mr. Ellwood) mentioned, we definitely have in some of our practices.
During the decade in which we have been in power, we have doubled central Government’s contribution to tourism. In 1997-98, under VisitBritain’s predecessor bodies, the Government’s contribution was £44.7 million; in 2007-08, it was £94.1 million, of which £50.6 million went to VisitBritain and £43.5 million to the RDAs. Why to the RDAs? As the hon. Members for Southport (Dr. Pugh), for Orpington (Mr. Horam), for Ryedale and others have said, we need to ensure that the RDAs and the regions themselves get their share of the tourist pot. The money that tourism brings into the country is vital. As many Members have said, it is one of the main ways in which we can work ourselves out of the recession. Like the hon. Member for Ryedale, I regret the slightly miserable attitude that we have at the moment.
As the hon. Gentleman says, it is a hair shirt attitude. We need to spend money to get ourselves out of the recession.
Overall, the public sector’s contribution to tourism is about £350 million a year, which is devolved to London and the various authorities in the regions. I am proud of the contribution that the Government make to tourism. I acknowledge that when times are good, tourism is easy to ignore. The industry gets on with the job, which it does extraordinarily well, and we are glad to reap the benefit. However, times are now immensely challenging for the industry and the country.
When I became a Minister in October last year, tourism was one of my top priorities. I have met the various trade organisations, which I am glad to say are represented here today; I have met the regional development agencies; and I am shortly to meet the RDAs’ heads of tourism. I wish to achieve more co-ordination, and to get areas such as mine to follow the examples set by Yorkshire Forward and the north-west, which have particularly good tourism elements.
The latest data paint a bleak picture compared with that of 12 months ago. However, despite the weakness of the pound—and despite what the hon. Member for Bournemouth, East said, the reduction in VAT has brought something of a retail revival to London and to Northern Ireland, where people are crossing the border in order to benefit from it—the number of visitors from the United States, the eurozone countries and the rest of the world is declining. That is why, on 8 January, at the beginning of what I knew would be a difficult year, the Prime Minister, the Secretary of State for Culture, Media and Sport and I held a tourism summit in Liverpool.
Why Liverpool? It was because Liverpool shows what can be done with good regeneration and with focused work on tourism. That focus was brought about by its being the European city of culture. Many of us did not easily put Liverpool and the title “European city of culture” together, but it has been a rip-roaring success, with the city attracting an extra 3.5 new visitors last year. It has vastly increased its tourism take, and more people are staying in its hotel beds. A record 1 million hotel beds were sold last year, and the average occupancy rate over the year reached an all-time high of 77 per cent.
I shall not give way as I have only four minutes left to answer the debate; I am truly regretful.
That example shows the vital role of culture. For instance, as the hon. Member for Orpington said, Darwin’s landscape laboratory is in his constituency. It also shows the role of regeneration. I am glad that Southport is one of the beneficiaries of the sea-change money provided by my Department: we put in a total of £45 million, of which Southport had £4 million.
My right hon. Friend the Secretary of State wants to see whether we can extend the city of culture experience to other cities in Britain. We have commissioned a feasibility study on having a four-year UK city of culture. There will be money attached to it, and I hope that my hon. Friends will consider it when the time comes. We have also laid out plans for a UK decade of sport, which we will be promoting with VisitBritain. We are fortunate that a great many sporting events will be occurring in Britain over the next 10 years.
The hon. Member for Teignbridge (Richard Younger-Ross) quoted me correctly, and with the Financial Secretary to the Treasury, my right hon. Friend the Member for East Ham (Mr. Timms), sitting next to me, I reiterate that statement: not in this spending round. However, I tell my right hon. Friend that that does not mean that I have given up. He should listen carefully to the last part of that statement. My right hon. Friend—it is fortuitous that he is here at the moment—is being lobbied.
Hull, in Yorkshire, is hosting the clipper round the world yacht race this September, and this is an Ashes summer, so Headingley will also play its part. That is part of what we are doing to showcase Britain as a good destination.
The DCMS framework review was initiated by the Department, not VisitBritain. It was part of the attempt to get rid of some of the diversification mentioned by the hon. Member for Bournemouth, East. We believed that such duplication was unnecessary, so we redirected money into other areas and to the regions. I am glad that the review proposed things that I am already doing, such as re-establishing the inter-ministerial group on tourism and setting up a tourism advisory council. I want to stay in touch with other Ministers, because tourism is delivered by about eight Ministries. We have to consider the product and the skills as well as marketing; without them, we could market for all we were worth but we would not get people to repeat their visits to Britain.