HC Deb 18 November 2002 vol 394 cc347-50
3. Mrs. Joan Humble (Blackpool, North and Fleetwood)

What plans she has to revive the tourist industry in British seaside resorts.[81370]

9. Mr. Anthony D. Wright (Great Yarmouth)

How many holidaymakers visited British seaside resorts in the summer of 2002.[81376]

10. Lawrie Quinn (Scarborough and Whitby)

What is her Department doing to encourage domestic and international visitors to visit English seaside resorts throughout the year.[81377]

The Minister for Tourism, Film and Broadcasting (Dr. Kim Howells)

The reforms of the support given by the Government to tourism, with a new focus on domestic marketing, e-tourism, and greater involvement of regional development agencies and the private sector, will help to revive seaside resorts.

Mrs. Humble

I thank the Minister for visiting Blackpool as part of his recent tour of seaside towns. Will he take this opportunity to re-emphasise the importance of tourism as a key economic driver in regeneration, and of the role of the Department for Culture, Media and Sport, working with other Departments, in regeneration projects, and especially in delivering the success of key local initiatives such as the bold vision outlined in Blackpool's master plan?

Dr. Howells

I know that my hon. Friend is a great supporter of the master plan, and so am I; it is a very imaginative project. The key to the plan will be to ensure that the regional development agencies, as well as the regional tourist boards, understand the importance of seaside resorts not only as places where people take their holidays but as the great drivers of economic success and of jobs within each of the regions. I shall expect those organisations to work closely with all local authorities in seaside resorts to ensure that they become even greater successes than they are now.

Mr. Anthony D. Wright

Does my hon. Friend agree that, to increase the visitor numbers to seaside resorts, we need to modernise? To that end, the Government have recently given most seaside resorts objective 2 status, which has opened up new avenues for them. Does my hon. Friend agree that we need to get that finance to the seaside resorts with all speed, so that they can initiate the modernisation that they require to increase visitor numbers to the United Kingdom?

Dr. Howells

It is useful that so many seaside resorts are included in objective 2 support areas. I hope that imagination will be used in deciding where that money is to be spent. We need new attractions, and many seaside resorts need to reinvent themselves, in many ways, as major attractions of the future. Indeed, if they do not succeed in doing so, we shall have great difficulty in persuading people from abroad to visit anything other than our most established attractions. We really need seaside resorts to replenish that pool of attractions.

Lawrie Quinn

My hon. Friend will remember my constituency's unique selling points from his visit in the summer—Captain Cook in Whitby and Alan Ayckbourn in Scarborough. Should we not be focusing on the branding of seaside resorts, in terms of both international and domestic visitors?

Dr. Howells

It is true that the visitors who come here from abroad tend to spend a lot more than visitors from inside Britain, generally because they stay longer at their destinations. The figures are sometimes quite startling. When the Endeavour came to Whitby, it had such an effect on the number of visitors to the town that it has actually driven house prices up in the area, because so many people want to go and live there. If that is not the best example imaginable of a link between a successful tourism project and the general well-being and health of a town, I do not know what is.

Peter Bottomley (Worthing, West)

My grandmother came from Whitby, but I want to talk about Worthing. Will the Minister be kind enough to meet the Worthing hospitality association, and other such associations, to enable him to understand that this is a question not just of the money that the Government spend, but of the money that they might withdraw from the rate support grant? It is not only tourists and visitors, but residents as well, who help to maintain the quality of the town.

Dr. Howells

I should be pleased if the association wrote to me. I would try to fit it in.

As the hon. Gentleman implies, tourism is very much a cross-departmental issue. Important decisions have to be made in other Departments. I think those representing seaside resorts understand that, and the Government certainly understand it; putting the two together is the key.

Mr. Adrian Sanders (Torbay)

As the Minister surely recognises, one of the problems affecting most seaside resorts is their crumbling infrastructure. Local authority grants cannot repair it, because they are focused on statutory duties. What discussions has the Minister had with the Minister for Local Government and the Regions to ensure that such grants reflect the cost of improving infrastructure and wet-weather facilities?

Dr. Howells

I have discussed the matter with other Departments on numerous occasions. I want tourism to be a mainstream economic activity, and to be recognised as such by local authorities and regional development agencies, as it is by Government. If we are to create new jobs and reinvent the attractions of which I spoke earlier, we must understand the importance of infrastructure. If towns look shabby they will not keep their visitors: even their traditional visitors will eventually shy away. Tourists can spend their money anywhere in the world, and do so regularly, so it is important for our seaside resorts to look their very best.

Mr. Nicholas Soames (Mid-Sussex)

Does the Minister agree that many seaside resorts are among the most golden assets in the portfolio of tourism that we have to offer? Does he also agree that in many cases standards are so dismal, and there is so far to go, that resorts need more advice on how to make the most of themselves? Given the confused state of tourism marketing, might it be possible to establish an overarching benchmarking standard to help those resorts raise themselves to the standard of the best?

Dr. Howells

I am pleased to tell the hon. Gentleman, who I know is passionate about these issues, that the confusion is over. A single agency will now be responsible for the marketing of England, and indeed for the marketing of Britain generally in the world. It is important that we drive standards up; if we do not we will lose the tourists, including the most important tranche. I am thinking especially of the Americans. We must get them back, and we must keep them.

David Cairns (Greenock and Inverclyde)

Will my hon. Friend join me in intervening with Network Rail to help resurrect the long-overdue redevelopment of the lovely seaside resort of Gourock in my constituency—a project that was scuppered by shortsighted, bureaucratic, idiotic decisions made by the thankfully now defunct Railtrack?

Dr. Howells

My hon. Friend is clearly a major attraction in his constituency. We could do worse than market him.

Mr. John Whittingdale (Maldon and East Chelmsford)

Does the Minister accept that the tourism industry is the biggest contributor to the economy for which his Department is responsible, and that it should therefore have the strongest voice? So far there has been virtually no comment, in Parliament or in the press, about the abolition of the English Tourism Council, which was announced just over two weeks ago. Is it not the case that while seaside resorts in Scotland and Wales will continue to benefit from the promotion activities of the Scottish Parliament and the Welsh Assembly, as well as the British Tourist Authority, English tourist resorts will in future have no national voice to promote their interests?

Dr. Howells

That is not true. As I explained to the hon. Member for Mid-Sussex, (Mr. Soames), there will be a single body in future. I believe that it will do a much better job than the two separate bodies, because it will be structured and funded differently and will have different targets. The English Tourism Council worked hard at fulfilling its remit and in many respects it did an excellent job, as indeed did the British Tourist Authority, but we have picked up signals from the industry as a whole. It clearly wants one body with which to connect and work on all facets of tourism, and that is what we are providing.

Mr. Whittingdale

The Minister says that the new body will be given responsibility for marketing English tourism, but does he accept that it was a mistake for his Government to remove the marketing function from the English Tourism Council in the first place? Can he guarantee that the new body will be given sufficient resources to market England properly and that that will not be left to the regional tourism bodies in what many suspect is a further move towards this Government's regional agenda?

Dr. Howells

I am not about to attack the Government's regional agenda, but, yes, I believe that it was a mistake to take away the ETC's marketing role. I am sure that the hon. Gentleman knows that the industry has had an unprecedented sum in the £20 million that we allocated to the BTA for the 1 million visitor campaign to try to help the industry to recover after the terrible events of 11 September and foot and mouth in this country. I am confident that it is bringing good rewards now.

Jim Knight (South Dorset)

I am grateful to the Minister for including Weymouth in his trip to English seaside towns earlier this year, but the single issue that tourism businesses in my constituency are raising with me is the proposal to reorganise the school year into six terms. What discussions has he had with the Department for Education and Skills on the proposal, which some tourism businesses in my constituency liken to removing from retailers the last shopping week before Christmas?

Dr. Howells

I enjoyed my visit to Weymouth, and my visits to Portland and Swanage, very much. You can tell what I have been doing with my time, Mr. Speaker.

I am confident that our discussions with the Department for Education and Skills will result in a good outcome to all that, although I say to tourism businesses that change is always difficult to accommodate and come to terms with, as well as a bit of a daunting prospect. However, I am sure that no one in the private sector, and certainly no one in the Government, wants the revival of tourism after a bad year in 2001 to be detracted from in any way by some new regime that makes people's lives much more difficult.