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Olympic Games 2012: VisitBritain

Volume 691: debated on Tuesday 17 April 2007

asked Her Majesty’s Government:

Whether VisitBritain has the appropriate resources to exploit fully the 2012 Olympics tourism opportunity.

My Lords, the Government fully acknowledge the value and importance of tourism to the success of the 2012 Games and the economic legacy. VisitBritain’s activities in marketing and supporting the industry will form a major part of the forthcoming 2012 tourism strategy. The appropriate levels of funding for this work will be allocated in the context of the current Comprehensive Spending Review.

My Lords, I am half grateful to the Minister for that Answer, but given that we are spending approaching £9 billion on the Olympics, and it is calculated that tourism revenue should be boosted by about £2 billion, surely it makes sense to fund VisitBritain, our national tourist board, properly and adequately during these Olympic years and not reduce its grant, as has happened in recent years, with a further cut threatened in the coming spending round. I ask the Minister specifically when the Government will take a decision on the application for £20 million for marketing spend for VisitBritain, matched by the private sector, which it needs for its Olympic marketing activities, given that it is already having to enter into commitments and spend money for the Beijing handover in 2008?

My Lords, we recognise the £20 million put forward by the private sector and the importance of a government decision on support for that. In general terms our support for VisitBritain has not declined; it has kept pace with inflation. We support our tourism industry a great deal more than other European countries, far outspending the Italians, the French and the Germans. However, I recognise the obvious point the noble Lord makes—that we have a unique opportunity with regard to the Olympic Games. Clearly, support for the tourism industry is an important part of the Government’s contribution to that.

My Lords, will the Minister consider an alternative way of financing the Olympics? It seems to me that to expect departments to fund this wholly exceptional event through the ordinary year-by-year budgetary procedures is very difficult. There is something to be said for issuing special gilt-edged stock to be repaid at a precise date in the future, which would be raised from the public in the usual way like other government stock. That would be a more appropriate way of meeting these very exceptional expenditures.

My Lords, the noble Lord will recognise that after some trial and tribulation the Government now have effective costing figures on the Olympics and which sector should pay. The departments have their role to play, but it is a reasonably limited role and it is within their compass. He will also recognise that other contributors, such as London and the lottery, will also play a significant part in the funding of the Games. The Question is about a specific departmental responsibility in relation to the tourist industry.

My Lords, reverting to the Question, is it not the case that this is not the full story about government funding? There is also considerable funding from the regional development agencies and from local authorities. That is an important factor. Because of my proximity to the noble Lord, Lord Tanlaw, while I am on my feet I suggest to the Minister that if we adopted the features of the lighter evenings Bill that would be an enormous boost to tourism, not only in 2012 but in every other year as well.

My Lords, is the House ever going to avoid the issue of lighter evenings coming into almost every Question? I will not be drawn into that at this stage. On the first point, my noble friend is absolutely right that although VisitBritain and the tourist agencies play their important role in promoting tourism in Britain, there are many other actors on the scene. Local authorities invest substantial amounts in their local tourist activities and attractions and, as my noble friend mentioned, so do the regional development agencies.

My Lords, the clear consensus from the 2012 tourism strategy consultation is that there is a huge amount of marketing work to do in the run-up to 2012. How does the Minister respond to those such as the Historic Houses Association, which said in its recent evidence to the Culture, Media and Sport Select Committee:

“At a time when Britain should be increasing its tourism profile in the run up to the Olympics, it is perverse that VisitBritain’s budget is being reduced in real terms. Britain cannot compete in the global market if funding is so restricted that we have the situation where Tourism Australia has spent more on one campaign targeting anglophone countries … than VisitBritain’s entire budget”,

this year? What are the Minister and the DCMS planning to do about this?

My Lords, the noble Lord introduces other deep demands on the departmental budget that exist and which contribute to what we regard as the question of not just the Olympic Games, but the whole environment and the attractions of the UK for visitors over that period. I emphasise that decisions have not been taken regarding the final financing for tourism in the lead-up to the Olympic Games; that decision is being taken later this year. All that has happened with VisitBritain, as with every other sponsored organisation of government departments, is that it is being asked to look at increased efficiency and reducing costs. That is an entirely proper demand, and that will be taken into account when the final decisions are taken later this year on the future budget for VisitBritain.

My Lords, this is wider than the issue of tourism, because this question is about the Olympic Games. Will the Minister take this opportunity to make it clear to some of the critics in the media and on the fringes of politics and elsewhere, who seem to think that Britain winning the Olympic Games was a great loss, that in fact this was a great success for Britain? If we had lost the Games, people would have been saying, “Fancy wasting all that money on losing the bid”. We won, and people ought to be proud of that. Those people in the media and politics who are not proud of it could perhaps go to Paris on the Channel Tunnel link and share the misery with the French, who lost the bid but would dearly love to have won it.

My Lords, it may be that because the Olympic Games are five years away that is too long an attention span for the average editor in the media, who concentrates on the short term. I make one optimistic prediction: when the baton is handed over from the Beijing Games to London at the end of the Games in China, it is then that the country—and even the more recondite members of the media—will begin to realise that London’s success was huge for this country.

My Lords, have the Government a determination that not only the London area—which we sometimes thinks finishes north of Watford—but the whole of the United Kingdom, including the four nations, will benefit from tourism in the year of the Olympics?

My Lords, I understood that that was the burden of the Question asked by the noble Lord’s noble friend. VisitBritain is not concerned solely with tourism to London, but with the whole of the United Kingdom. The noble Lord is absolutely right; the Games will be a complete success only when they are measured also against the extent to which tourists have been encouraged to come to this country, both as spectators at the Games and to enjoy the benefits that this country offers to tourists.