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Visitor Economy

Volume 760: debated on Wednesday 18 March 2015


Asked by

To ask Her Majesty’s Government what is their latest assessment of the importance of the visitor economy to the United Kingdom.

My Lords, I beg leave to ask the Question standing in my name on the Order Paper. In doing so, I declare an interest as a former Member of Parliament for Pendle—

My Lords, the Office for National Statistics estimates that the direct contribution of the tourism sector to the economy in 2013 was £56 billion. Taking account of indirect benefits, Deloitte estimated that the sector was worth £127 billion gross value added to the UK economy in 2013, supporting 3.1 million jobs.

My Lords, it is now virtually certain that tourism, our second largest private sector employer, will feature in the election manifestos of all political parties, unlike last time when it did not feature at all. Currently, visitor numbers to the British Museum and the National Gallery combined exceed visitors to either Barcelona or Venice. More people visit a heritage property each weekend than watch football matches and membership of the National Trust is nine times that of all political parties combined. Does my noble friend agree that an incoming Administration should first bring tourism into the title of the DCMS; and secondly establish a commission to assess the merits of double summer time, which, if implemented, would boost tourism substantially, save energy, prevent road accidents and deliver a healthier nation?

My Lords, my noble friend has a long and distinguished career involved with the tourism industry and, obviously, any suggestion is taken seriously. The department will have heard what he has to say about the title of the DCMS. On the impact of double summer time, daylight saving is an issue on which I think everybody has a view. Successive Governments have proceeded on the basis that we need consensus across all the nations of the United Kingdom before there is any change.

I apologise for my excitement on a subject that I feel passionate about. Can the Minister tell the House what contribution major international sporting events hosted in the UK have made to overall visitor numbers and tourist spend? Does he agree that the success of such big events has been helped enormously by the incredible contribution of volunteers, such as those recruited by Join In for the Tour de France and in preparation for the forthcoming cerebral palsy world games and Rugby World Cup?

My Lords, it is right to say that sports tourism is vital to the United Kingdom. We look forward to the upcoming Rugby World Cup this year, with centres in Wales and England hosting it. The Ryder Cup was of great significance in Newport in 2010 and Gleneagles in 2014, so sports tourism remains central to the Government’s strategy on tourism.

My Lords, the Minister will be well aware of the importance of tourism given his links with Aberystwyth. He will be equally aware of the added value that comes from international tourism over and above domestic tourism. To that extent, if there is any review with regard to the responsibilities of the department, as was sought by the noble Lord asking this Question, will the Minister ensure that there is adequate responsibility for co-ordinating with the Governments in Cardiff, Edinburgh and Belfast so that the benefits of tourism are maximised and reach every part of these islands?

The noble Lord is right to accentuate that. He will know that it is already happening: for example, the Tourism Industry Council has representatives as observers from Wales, Scotland and Northern Ireland. It is important that we have a joined-up approach. Of course, that happens through VisitBritain, which represents all parts of the country.

My Lords, does the Minister agree that, on the basis of his last visit to one of our excellent museums and galleries in London or elsewhere, they are always almost full of foreign visitors? Long may that continue, but perhaps now is the time for a tweak of the arrangements whereby they get free entry to our galleries and our museums, whereas when we go their countries almost inevitably there is no free entry. Not only does that seem unfair but I am sure that they would not disagree with contributing, which would help these wonderful establishments.

My Lords, one of the great assets of the United Kingdom is precisely that free entry to national galleries and museums, which I think is cherished both by the people of the country and by visitors. It is one way in which we are able to encourage visitors. I personally and the department would be loath to see that go.

My Lords, may I kindly remind the Minister’s colleagues in government that we had an experiment in the 1960s with double summer time and that it was an abject failure? It was hugely unpopular right across Scotland and across the north of England and, after a vote in another place, it was killed stone dead and quite rightly so.

My Lords, as I indicated earlier, and I think that the point has just been made, everybody has a strong view on this. My recollection—I was very young at the time, of course—was that it was not quite so overwhelmingly unpopular as my noble friend has suggested. It raises issues relating to road safety, to the economy and to tourism, but we want to proceed on the basis of consensus in all parts of our country and all four nations.

My Lords, will the Minister agree that one of the significant attractions among the many in this country for tourists is our theatre and other performing arts? Has he or his department made any assessment of the contribution that the arts make to the overall success of tourism? In view of his right honourable friend the Secretary of State for Education’s recent unfortunate remarks on the subject of arts education, can he say how many people are employed in the arts and culture in this country?

My Lords, the noble Baroness is quite right. On the purport of the question, the theatre, the opera and all arts—whether within or outside London—are clearly vital to our tourism offer, as it is called. I am grateful for people exaggerating my powers, but I do not have the specific figures to hand. I will ensure that the noble Baroness receives a figure on that.