John Glen outlines his plans to strengthen domestic and inbound tourism in the UK with a longstanding commitment from government.
Within days of starting my role as tourism minister, I was given the perfect reminder of the strength of UK tourism. As I was publicly welcomed to the Department for Digital, Culture, Media and Sport, yet another record for inbound tourism was announced.
Some 3.7 million visits were made to the UK in April – up 19% on the previous year – and the highest April since records began. Overseas visitor spend hit £2 billion – another record.
As a child growing up just outside Bath, and as MP for Salisbury and South Wiltshire, I know first-hand the value and benefits that tourism brings to an area. For many communities, tourism is the lifeblood of their economy. For others, there is a huge untapped potential where increased tourism could be truly transformative.
Discover England Fund
My role is clear. I will work with key partners across the sector to protect and strengthen the industry. And I will look at how, by working together, we can increase the number of domestic and international visitors to the whole of the UK.
It was fantastic to hear from Sally Balcombe and Steve Ridgway about VisitEngland’s great work in delivering our £40 million Discover England Fund. I am very much looking forward to the announcement of the second round of successful bids and getting out across the country to hear about how this fund is making a difference.
I am committed to growing the events industry in the UK, which brings £30 billion of annual spend to the economy. I recently attended the Events Industry Board where I was pleased to reiterate our support to the industry and help raise its profile across government.
We are helping small and medium-sized businesses by bringing in common-sense regulation. In July we raised the threshold for currency exchange transactions to £100,000, so hotels and attractions can offer more to their customers and increase the volume of their activities.
We are also making progress on regulations to allow owners of hotels and attractions to collect visitors from stations without having to apply for a specific licence.
We are changing regulations to allow B&Bs and small hotels to serve their guests small quantities of alcohol without needing a full licence. And we are looking at how we can modernise and digitise the retail export scheme to make it easier for tourists to claim back VAT on eligible purchases.
I am very interested in how my portfolio, which includes arts, culture and heritage, can support an increase in tourism, particularly to the regions.
Our historic buildings, architecture, museums, theatres and arts venues help to draw in visitors, and I feel strongly that we must, as a government and a sector, tell the story of all parts of the UK.
For example, I know from my visit last month that Hull is capitalising on its status as UK City of Culture not only to increase access to the arts but to boost tourism now and in the long term.
Recently published research shows that in the first quarter, hotel occupancy was up 13.8% compared to 2016. Visit Hull and East Yorkshire also reported that city hotels were twice as likely to see their occupancy go above 80% as they were in 2016. This shows the power of culture to drive local tourism.
Tourism as a priority
Strengthening tourism is not only a priority of mine but a longstanding commitment of the government. Brexit will present opportunities for tourism, as well as challenges. I have huge confidence in the resilience of the industry and its ability to adapt and react in order to capitalise on these opportunities.
I will work hard to ensure that tourism has a strong voice in the years to come and help the sector develop the home-grown skilled workforce that it needs to carry on succeeding.
Tourism will only grow in importance in the years ahead. It will of course continue to be a major economic driver for the whole of the UK. But it is also key to how we sell the UK across the globe and the important relationships we build in the coming years.
Tourism can show the world the best of Britain and that we are very much open for business.