Tourism and MP’s

By | Category: Travel rumblings

Since the last general election, issues about tourism have come up more than I seem to remember in the past. A typical debate was one covering Yorkshire that happened last month. Primed local MP’s seem as anxious to discuss tourism as they might car manufacturing, hospital choices or local education. Sometimes they become a bit like a sop to the local area with member after member getting up and heaping praise on their county or region , the local tourist board or some newly won accolade.
What seems to have happened is that MP’s now recognise that tourism can be the panacea to all evils – or some of them at least. Even if in many cases it is patently untrue. Greg Mulholland, MP for Leeds North West used this Yorkshire debate to point out that sustainable development can include the closure of pubs and community assets.
Yorkshire, that county we think of as industrial with mines and manufacturing as well as the moors has tourism as its third largest industry according to the local tourism agency, Welcome to Yorkshire. When Nigel Adams, MP for Selby and Ainsty initiated this debate there just happened to be Welcome to Yorkshire people were in the House of Commons. Coincidence, he called it. Well lobbied I would be likely to say.
It took some time into Mr Adams’s speech before the point was reached, – a point that is endemic in all tourist authorities. Despite support on its importance from the prime minister, tourism budgets are being cut. Welcome to Yorkshire loses its state funding next April. Despite cataloguing the achievements of Welcome to Yorkshire including the amount of money and jobs it has brought to the area, it will have to exist on money from other sources including local government which faces cutbacks on its own. Northern Ireland, Wales and Scotland are treated differently but all face some pressure. Adams pointed out that after this date, Visit Scotland will receive £66 million direct from Westminster whereas Yorkshire, possessing about the same in population, will get nothing. Gerry Sutcliffe, MP for Bradford South weighed in with more examples of the appeal of Yorkshire as did Andrew Jones, MP for Harrogate and Knaresborough and a former travel man himself, who pointed out that Yorkshire receives more tourist visits than does the whole of the Disney empire worldwide. Look at how countries and cities fight and work hard to attract a Disney project often with government help. And yet a more successful venture is to have money cut. Maybe if Welcome to Yorkshire could call itself Disney Yorkshire, the government would think a little bit more clearly.
From Gloria de Piero, MP for Ashfield and the opposition spokesperson on tourism remarked that tourism is more than about economics. That is true but in these time hard economics matter probably more and anyway, I am not sure that most things cannot be reduced to economics. Happiness means enjoyment which can mean more productivity or a willingness to reach further in school. That has economic effects that countless academics will sit and calculate into savings or contributions to the economy.
John Penrose, the tourism minister, said little that had not been said before and completely failed to mention one important source of revenue that has seen coverage in CD-Traveller before. Some time ago, he said that the £3 billion development fund could be used for tourism purposes if it complied with its aims yet no MP mentioned this either. Maybe I remember this incorrectly but since all MP’s seem to be of the view that tourism has benefits to the economy, local and national it should have had some mention.
But then how serious are MP’s when they often come over as flag wavers for their areas? If tourism is that important why not spend more time on it. In this debate, both Adams and Mulholland said they were members of the all-party save the pub group. But England has no all-party tourism committee; a committee with the same status as the transport committee for example. Would this not be useful since so many parts of our economy depend on tourism and where little events can bring in thousands of people? And shouldn’t there be a committee for discussing tourism across all our countries? At least that way tourism would get some recognition of its importance and quangos like Visit Britain, Scotland, Wales (in a slightly different position being arm of the Welsh Assembly and Tourism Ireland could be vetted a little more thoroughly.

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