Inside Track by Katherine Doggrell
Gordon Brown is, if nothing else, a considerate leader. As the July rain falls, oil prices rise and the property market issues a resounding ‘pop’, he’s at least good for a laugh. Just when we thought being told how to store apples was amusement aplenty, he announced that yes, he’s just like Heathcliff. Not since Pete Doherty announced that he was the new Baudelaire were new sides so heartily required. The tourism sector is one area where Brown’s similarity to a man with a penchant for domestic violence, kidnapping and possibly digging up corpses (although likely not that of his political career) is unlikely to be denied. The Treasury Select Committee report published this month found that the DCMS’s decision to cut funding to VisitBritain by 18% ahead of the 2012 Olympics was, well, “baffling”. So far, so unshocking. The government is renowned for not fully understanding the sector and its needs. Given Brown’s attitude towards food prices – that it’s really our fault – it was no shock to see it replicated by the DCMS in its response to the report. The DCMS said: "The government is already delivering for the tourism industry. As well as doubling the dedicated national funding for tourism over the last 10 years, we're putting £500m a year into improving the industry's skills base, and we've just put in place a major regeneration scheme for our seaside towns. "Public funding for tourism in the UK continues across the board with £350m invested in 2006/07, but it is up to everyone involved in the public and private sectors to make our investment work smarter by working in partnership together." ‘Work smarter, not harder’, is advice commonly dispensed by unimaginative line managers trying to compensate for a lack of resources. While Brown does indeed have a vast black hole in public finances to deal with, the tourism sector could be forgiven for thinking that the £2.2bn to £2.9bn that the Olympics is forecast by Visit London to bring into the capital would be a reasonable return on an increased investment on the government’s part. Grant Hearn, chief executive of Travelodge, who gave evidence to the Committee, said: “We must seize the moment before the once in a life time opportunity that the Olympic Games offers us is squandered through inactivity and poor planning. The current situation of underinvestment in marketing Britain abroad and the lack of a coherent Olympics tourism strategy cannot continue. “Tourism is potentially a top three UK industry that is investing and recruiting even in these more difficult times. Government should get behind this industry now to take it to another level.” Politics in Britain at the moment have left many feeling that they have no real choice. The same is not true for tourists who can, and will, vote with their feet. Katherine Doggrell is editor of Hotel Report