Government ‘flip flop’ on tourism damaging

The Department for Culture, Media and Sport has slammed government ‘flip flopping’ which has seen the end of schemes which would attract inbound visitors.

The DCMS Committee says that the value of inbound tourism – much of it depending on coaches for transfer and sightseeing – is still not recognised, but that it accounts for 9% of GDP and supports 200,000 SMEs including coach operators and sightseeing buses.

The latest body blow to the tourism industry was Jeremy Hunt’s decision to rescind then Chancellor Kwasi Kwarteng’s promise to reverse the decision to end VAT-free shopping for foreign visitors, which was made during Brexit. Having promised to abolish the tax on souvenirs, only days later, Jeremy Hunt reversed the reversal.

Chair of the DCMS Committee Julian Knight MP said: “The scrapping of tax-free shopping for overseas visitors has been a spectacular own goal from the Government, with the subsequent on-again off-again flip-flopping symptomatic of an approach that lacks thought and recognition of the huge importance of retail to inbound tourism. Taking such decisions without the full facts is no way to make policy and has already harmed the industry on which so much of our economy depends.

“In an increasingly competitive global market, Britain cannot just rely on its reputation alone to attract visitors. It must make it easier for people to travel and access the full range of outstanding attractions all over the country. But right across the board – from abolishing tax-free shopping and banning the use of ID cards for young visitors to its complacency on marketing budgets- the Government have hindered rather than helped tourism recover from the pandemic. Ministers must now wake up to the voice of the industry and finally recognise its value.”

The DCMS Committee said that:

  • The decision to ban children and young people from using ID cards to visit Britain is having a ‘crippling effect’ on businesses who rely on such visits. The Government should allow under 18s, travelling as part of a supervised educational and/or cultural group visit, to enter the UK on a single group ID card.
  • The Government’s strategy of agreeing bilateral arrangements with EU member states for performers touring the EU is failing to address the industry’s needs. The Government should negotiate an agreement with the EU to provide a single-entry document for performers to submit to any EU country they wish to visit.

European touring by British musicians has virtually ended for all but the richest, the obstacles to them being too onerous to make touring pay its way, with a disastrous effect on many band bus companies.

The Committee also heard that many visitors are unaware of destinations outside of London and that many attractions and facilities can no longer recruit sufficient staff. It says that the recommendations of a review of destination management had largely been ignored.

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