Following the launch conference of the government’s Tourism Sector Deal (Wednesday 18 September), Brendan Moffett, Director of the University of Derby’s Centre for Contemporary Hospitality and Tourism, delves into more detail about what the Deal means for the UK’s tourism industry.
Fifty years ago, the UK set up its National Tourist Boards to develop England’s tourism product. Fast forward to 2019, and the UK has made a significant commitment to how it develops the tourism industry.
This comes in the form of a Tourism Sector Deal, announced by the government in June, which sets out how the government and industry will work in partnership to boost productivity, develop the skills of the UK workforce and support destinations to enhance their visitor offer.
This week further details were announced about the Deal at a launch conference in Birmingham, where key speakers from the industry and government discussed the key themes of the Deal including: ideas, people, infrastructure, places and business environment.
In his opening remarks, Steve Ridgway, Chairman of Visit Britain and Tourism Sector Deal Lead, re-enforced the buoyancy of the sector, highlighting that the UK still dominated inward investment in the European hotel market, with over two thirds of investment in the last year equating to £7bn. He also said that the tourism sector is not just an economic driver but an important platform for soft power and diplomacy, which I, agree, is increasingly important for the UK in a post-Brexit environment.
Tourism Data Hub
As part of the Deal, it was announced that industry and the British Tourist Authority would be creating a new independent Tourism Data Hub, to help the sector better understand visitor preferences in real time. This is vital because it will allow us to understand the motivations and movements of visitors.
A panel discussion, chaired by Sally Balcombe, CEO of Visit Britain, took place at the launch to further explore the use of data and featured EE, think tank London First and Destination Bristol.
Panellist Dr David Lutton, Director of Connectivity and Competitiveness at London First, said that existing tourism data was a blunt instrument, with not enough regarding habits and behaviours. He stated that a trial programme with Mastercard, Air B&B and London and Partners had started to look at heat maps of how different audiences use different parts of the capital.
Praveen Bissonauth from mobile giant EE spoke about the power of mobile data to help map visitor movements and transport usage and how this can benefit attractions.
Destination Bristol spoke about a 5G trial in Bristol during 2019 that had also allowed for innovations in visitor experience, crowd safety and analysed visitor movement patterns. Lutton added that, to develop a successful Data Hub, issues surrounding the privacy and commerciality of data would have to be overcome. He advocated for Data Stores, where data could be shared for the public good, which could help with user agreements and license agreements.
Despite these trials, however, there is clearly much work to be done to create a dynamic Data Hub that can overcome the regulatory issues.
Addressing the skills gap
The Tourism Sector Deal also has ‘People and Skills’ as key foundations of its strategy, and focuses on ensuring high-quality training is available, so that the tourism and hospitality sector can attract, retain and develop a workforce with the skills it needs both now and in the future.
Questions arose from delegates at the launch event about whether the current Apprenticeship Levy arrangements were fit-for-purpose and whether they needed to be adapted for the Tourism Sector Deal.
Sandra Kelly, Director of UK Skills and Policy at People 1st, cited the decline in the provision of the food prep on the GCSE curriculum and the importance of the hospitality industry being recognised by schools and career advisors. Kelly also highlighted that accessible education in the workplace would be key to staff retention and development. Anne Pierce, CEO of Springboard, highlighted that 600 schools were part of the Future Chef initiative, which had now reached 14.5k young people.
However, David Wilson from the BBPA (British Beer and Pub Association) said a key barrier was the lack of communication about education progression and linking Levels 2 and 3 with degree opportunities.
It is positive news that the Tourism Sector Deal has a strong focus on apprenticeships and new T Levels; both of which will be invaluable in helping to deliver and develop the industry workers of the future. The quality of education needs to be of the highest level so we can get those workers to achieve the highest level within their careers.
The Industry Board needs to engage with universities so we can develop industry-led degree programmes or tailored degree apprenticeships to deliver higher-level skills for the sector. Ensuring that FE and HE provision are aligned will be critically important and the need for management and leadership skills must not be overlooked.
The idea of having dedicated Tourism Zones, supported by government and a biddable funding process, to coordinate how businesses and local organisations work together to improve visitor economy and extend the visitor season, is much needed.
New Tourism Minister Helen Whateley MP gave a firm commitment from the government to work with industry to deliver the Deal and she suggested that the implementation of Tourism Action Zones may be delayed in order to develop the concept further and ensure market failure issues were being addressed.
Overall, the event outlined and raised some key discussion points about the Tourism Sector Deal, importantly, reaffirming the government’s recognition of how vital the tourism sector is to the UK. It was fantastic to see so many organisations involved and to see the energy and enthusiasm of the new Minister, Helen Whately MP.
However, there are some challenges ahead, including the Data Hub, which is complex and fraught with potential regulatory issues.
The Minister is right to say more development of the Tourism Zones concept is needed, but many local enterprise partnerships, destination marketing organisations and local authorities will be frustrated by this, as they can already articulate the market failures that are holding them back and need intervention.
Universities need to be engaged to allow hospitality-related subjects to survive and prosper. There has to be more of an ‘escalator approach’ needed to link further education and higher education, to drive progression and ensure people are gaining the skills the sector and economy needs.