George Clode speaks to the tourism minister about English Tourism Week, Brexit impact and the Westminster attack.
How important is English Tourism Week (ETW) in galvanising tourism businesses across the county?
English Tourism Week is one of the highlights of the tourism calendar and a fantastic opportunity to celebrate our diverse and dynamic industry and its value to the country. Last year we saw a record number of international visits to the UK and this continued success is down in a huge part to the dedication and innovation of tourism businesses across the country.
The importance of tourism to England and the whole UK is massive. As we leave the EU, we remain completely committed to supporting this industry and will embrace the world as an outward-looking country.
What are the benefits for individual businesses taking part?
England Tourism Week, delivered by VisitEngland, is now in its sixth year and continues to go from strength to strength. Businesses and destinations are able to be part of a national campaign that shines a spotlight on why England is a wonderful place to visit and go on holiday.
This year there were more than 300 events listed on VisitEngland’s events guide. Businesses, organisations and destinations across England all participate in this campaign to promote their local destinations and showcase the range of attractions on offer.
Were there any particular highlights from this year’s week?
The great thing has been to see the huge diversity of experiences and quality of the products from across the country for all ages.
I was delighted to spend part of English Tourism Week in the South West, seeing first-hand the fantastic offer Wiltshire, Bristol and Plymouth have for visitors.
As tourism and heritage minister I was particularly excited to see and hear about how our unique heritage, culture and history is helping fuel the tourism boom in these areas.
I visited Clifton Cathedral in Bristol, the National Trust in Swindon and heard about the Mayflower 400 plans in Plymouth. All of these help set towns and cities apart and are some of the great local experiences English Tourism Week celebrates.
The latest stats show rising inbound visitor numbers and spend – is this a short term rise due to the weak pound?
In the three months to January, total spend by overseas tourists increased 8% and visit numbers was up 22%.
This comes after we welcomed a record number of overseas visitors to the UK in 2016.
There were 37 million visits in the year, with a spend of £22.2 billion. Currency fluctuations have increased the value of a visit to the UK for people from some of our key markets and encouraged people to stay longer and travel further afield. But this tourism boom is part of our longer-term strategy for growth. It was built on a record-breaking 2015 and we are confident that success will continue.
Is there a plan in place to fill the gap in tourism and hospitality roles when there is no longer freedom of movement for workers?
We may be leaving the EU but we’re not leaving Europe. We will stay reliable partners, willing allies and close friends with our neighbours. There are a number of options as to how EU migration might work once we have left. We are considering various options but it would be wrong to set out further details at this stage.
Culture secretary Karen Bradley and I regularly speak to the tourism sector and we know there will be some challenges ahead. However, we are clear that leaving the EU will provide huge opportunities for the sector. We will continue our discussions with tourism representatives to make sure they retain their strong voice as the country prepares for negotiations to exit the European Union.
How might the recent Westminster attack impact on tourism to London?
The Westminster attack was sick and cowardly and my deepest sympathy goes out to all those who were affected.
I regularly walk over Westminster Bridge on my way to work. In the days after the attack, I was heartened, but not surprised, to see how many commuters and tourists were continuing to go about their business. Westminster Bridge gives tourists a great viewpoint of the London skyline and, of course, the Palace of Westminster. Our tourism industry is strong and resilient, and I am sure, just like Paris and New York, it will continue to attract millions of tourists from across the world.