With private sector partners, the Government are creating a major, new overseas marketing fund. We are looking to create a fund of £100 million over the next four years which aims to deliver 1 million additional international visitors to the UK and £2 billion in extra visitor spend.
I thank the Minister for his reply. As he will know, the Government are rightly focused on an agenda of growth across our economy. Does he agree that tourism, especially to the regions, such as Leicestershire, and to regional attractions such as the Great Central railway, is a key part of that growth strategy?
I absolutely agree. One of the key points about tourism is that it is an efficient and rapid way of driving economic growth and regeneration and that it does that in all parts of the country outside the south-east. It is an excellent tool for rebalancing our economy.
My constituency is home to Chester zoo, one of our nation’s foremost visitor attractions. With more than 25 million people visiting zoos and aquariums in the UK every year, what help can the Minister offer to promote such an important part of our visitor economy?
We are engaged in a recalibration and reorganisation of local tourist boards—destination management organisations, to use the jargon—which are being refocused to become more private sector-led. The express intention is to give prominent attractions, such as Chester zoo, a much bigger and stronger say in how their local destinations are promoted and marketed to tourists in the UK and abroad.
What assessment has the Minister made of the rise in VAT on the potential for the promotion of tourism? Would he explain to people who provide tourism products whether they should absorb the cost of that rise, thereby cutting their profits, or pass it on to their customers, thereby offering a disincentive for tourism in the UK?
Clearly the rise in VAT is principally a matter for the Treasury, but it affects all economic sectors and every business in the country will have to make precisely the judgment that the right hon. Gentleman describes. As a politician, I would not dream of telling individual businesses how to run their business—it must rightly be a matter for them—but I am sure that, because they have skin in the game, they will make the right decision for their business in their particular sector.
Is the Minister aware of how important literary houses in the UK are to visitors from overseas and from this country? I chair the John Clare Trust—he was one of our greatest poets of the countryside and environment. It is very difficult these days to get a brown sign or any help to put such attractions on the map. Can the Minister help us?
The hon. Gentleman is absolutely right that our listed houses are major tourist attractions, and that includes our great heritage houses and the smaller and more modest places that are listed. If he is interested in promoting them more effectively, and I applaud his efforts in doing so, he should speak first with his local tourist board, which will be refocused in the way I have explained. We are also evaluating whether there are other ways to improve things such as signage, and not just brown signs, but signs at major transport interchanges, such as those that direct people on how to get to a particular attraction once they have arrived at a train station. All those points are essential and should be handled by the newly refocused and, I hope, revitalised local tourist boards.