English UK has given a guarded welcome to the Government's new tourism policy.
While welcoming the Coalition's commitment to developing the tourist industry and improving visitors' experience at passport control and in applying for visas, chief executive Tony Millns says the policy is at odds with its desire to cut international student numbers.
"But there is a lack of joined-up thinking in this approach, given that the Government apparently intends to cut numbers of genuine international students, who spend five times the amount of money on average than ordinary tourists do during their time in the UK.
"International education is already one of the UK's top five export industries, contributing over £10bn a year to the economy, and it is inconsistent to consider cutting this while simultaneously planning to spend time and money encouraging a different group of visitors."
The Government says it is jointly funding the most ambitious marketing campaign ever to attract UK visitors in the four years following the 2012 Olympics. £100m will be spent attracting an extra four million visitors, and leading to a £2bn spend.
It says it is important to boost tourism, as it creates many jobs at all levels, and can do so all over the country. It is also good for regeneration.
"Tourism is an often underestimated but tremendously important sector of the UK's economy. It's already one of our six biggest industries and our third-largest export earner. It accounts for almost £90bn direct spend each year, contains over 200,000 businesses and provides 4.4% of our nation's jobs. Equally importantly, it creates wealth and employment in all parts of the country, not just the south-east, and it's a cost-effective way to regenerate run-down communities," says Government Tourist Policy.
The sections of the policy document likely to be of most interest to language centres are those on improving tourist visas and passport control, the intention to increase the popularity of destinations outside London, and plans to reform the way tourist boards operate.
Tourist visas and passport control
Government Tourist Policy promises:
"We will make tourist visas far simpler, faster and more convenient to get, by increasing the number of visa biometric ID centres around the world, putting applications online and publishing application guidance in more local languages too.
"We will improve tourists' first experience of the UK when they land at our ports and airports, by cutting passport control queues with more e-Passport gates (for example at Gatwick South and Heathrow T3), "Smart Zones" schemes for pre-cleared travellers and, in future, a "trusted traveller" scheme with the US as well; and publishing consumer data on airport delays and waiting times, so travellers can see whether they're performing well or badly and make informed choices about which ones to use in future."
The document suggests that the process of gaining a UK visa will compare better with its Schengen competitor once the latter goes biometric later this year, although the latter will still allow travellers into 25 countries rather than just one. It argues that finances do not allow a cut in the cost of the UK visa, so instead value must be added by making it simpler and more convenient to apply for.
The Government promises to improve visa availability by:
- Delivering online application facilities as fast as possible (from 35 per cent now to more than 90 per cent by the end of 2012)
- Looking at a shorter, simpler application form for lower risk applicants
- Making guidance available in local languages wherever possible, and in the future to examine the case to do the same for application forms
- Share visa centres with trusted allies, to increase their numbers so they're closer together, making them easier and less expensive to reach
New tourist boards
VisitBritain is to be refocused to create marketing campaigns to increase numbers of inbound travellers to the UK.
Local tourism bodies are to be modernised, led by and increasingly funded through partnerships with the tourism industry. The new bodies will be focused on geographical areas defined by local tourism businesses rather than by any level of government. These bodies can join together where necessary.
The Government will also allow thematic tourist bodies to be created, for example concentrating on caravanning, boating or walking.
All local tourism bodies will have to be partnerships between the public sector and local businesses and attractions, including newly-formed local enterprise partnerships. However, the local private or third sector organisations involved must hold the balance of power in decision-making. Local businesses will be free to move from one tourism body to another if they wish.
The new tourism boards are expected to be funded through commercial partnerships, and to be able to bid for regeneration funds.
The policy also says it is necessary to identify "super-destinations" which can rival London, and make it easier for visitors to reach them.
Other proposals include:
- A consultation on whether to move the May Day holiday, possibly to St George's Day in England and St David's Day in Wales, or to create a new holiday during the October half term week
- Helping the tourism industry to provide information through apps for Apple and Android devices
- Creation of an industry taskforce to cut red tape in the sector
- Encouraging the creation of more year-round attractions not dependent on the weather
- A much-leaked section on the possibility of a permanent shift in the clocks to allow summer time during the winter does not appear in the final document
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