With the news that VisitBritain's funding is to be slashed, Kurt Janson, policy director at the Tourism Alliance, says the Government risks making the UK a laughing stock
The announcement by the Department for Culture Media and Sport (DCMS) that VisitBritain's funding is to be cut by 18% in the lead-up to the Olympic Games has really taken the tourism sector by surprise. The organisation was asked to budget on a 7.5% reduction, and there were rumours that a cut of 10-15% was possible - but 18% means a reduction of about 25% in real terms by 2011.
Since VisitBritain was trimmed down earlier this year with the shedding of about 80 positions, it's hard to see where this level of cost-saving is going to come from without further major restructuring.
So rather than focusing all its attention and resources on maximising tourism opportunities in the lead-up to the Olympics, the senior management team will have to determine the structure and focus of the organisation - not a good use of time and resources.
To rub more salt into the wounds, Secretary of State James Purnell has asked VisitBritain to "conduct a review of how best to maximise the impact of DCMS tourism funding to market Britain. This review will provide an opportunity for them to take an increasingly strategic position, focusing on the priorities for British tourism and acting as a catalyst for other agencies".
This is almost identical to the argument the DCMS used when it decided to remove the English Tourist Board's marketing powers and turn it into a strategic body. Even Chris Smith, who was culture secretary at the time, later admitted that this was the wrong policy.
National tourist boards in our competitor destinations must be laughing and shaking their heads in disbelief at this announcement. VisitBritain habitually wins international awards for being the world's top tourist board and conducting some of the best online and print marketing campaigns in the industry. What its rivals would have given to see the UK Government shoot it in the foot. In the end they didn't need to.
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