Group Travel Business Forum and Awards

Landor Publications – owners of Group Travel Organiser magazine – ran their annual Group Travel Business Forum and Awards Ceremony at the Park Lane Hilton Hotel in London on Friday 5 June.

The Business Forum, an informal grouping of professionals specialising in products and services, met during the afternoon and looked at “Local Tourism and the Visitor Economy”.

Speakers from VisitEngland, the Tourism Alliance and the Business Improvement District (BID) sector examined the changes in the local tourism landscape since the demise in 2012 of the Regional Development Agencies and the associated regional tourist boards and the cutbacks in central government funding for local authorities (LAs). It was estimated that LA funding for tourism will have fallen from £125m in 2005 to under £84m in 2015, with even greater percentage reductions in funding for VisitBritain and VisitEngland over this period.

The Government has promoted the establishment of some 39 Local Economic Partnerships (LEPs), which until recently, it was felt, had generally shown little interest in tourism, and certainly little propensity to invest as heavily in tourism as their (regional tourist board) predecessors. Unlike the old regional tourist boards, LEPs have no statutory responsibility for tourism.

Set against this backdrop are some 200 Destination Management Organisations (DMOs) which vary in size from the old Tourist Boards (eg Cumbria) through counties (eg Cornwall) to individual towns and cities. While many have tried to step into the shoes of previous tourist agencies, VisitEngland only recognises 40 of these as having achieved a significant co-ordinating, leadership and strategic role.

BIDs arrived on the scene 10 years ago, but few have taken on the mantle of large scale tourism promotion as the majority (80% of the 208 UK BIDs) were town centre orientated, with the focus on their local catchment for retail, food and drink providers. BIDs were identified as one of the few organisations on the current scene which are totally business led and business funded as well as being subject to renewal through a ballot – usually every five years – by their businesses.

There was a brief look at what happens overseas, taking New Zealand as a case study, with its many interlocking and overlapping opportunities and organisations.

The result appeared to be an increasingly fragmented picture, with the visitor economy relying on local champions to ensure that destinations remained visible and promotionally active.

By Alun Williams