Continued funding cuts for local authorities are cutting tourism investments and damaging the economic benefits
It has been a long-running scandal of the British tourist’s penchant for wiles that have led to record numbers of people visiting the UK each year.
According to travel data company ForwardKeys, in January the travel boom was helped by unseasonably mild weather. But the doom predicted by the trade unions and travel industry has continued unabated with visitors not alone those arriving in the UK for the first time feeling the pinch.
The weather-inspired record high in January was only just surpassed last month when the total domestic and overseas visitors coming to the UK reached 26.6 million in April – just 26,200 fewer than in January.
Despite the UK government’s ongoing cuts to local councils for tourism investment, there have been improvements, although it remains the case that no local authority has increased its tourist investment in the past year.
According to the House of Commons library there has been a £25m cut over the past four years to councils’ budgets for tourism. The main driver has been those charged with ensuring the tourism industry is an economic success and not just a leisure industry.
The year ahead is looking similarly bleak. The Institute of Directors has published new figures saying that funding cuts to business rates will cost the tourism sector £200m in 2019, the peak year for the sector.
Last week the chief executive of the British Council, Joan Smith, called for local government funding to stop going to bodies of business tax authorities and instead going into tourism investment.
“We need greater public support for tourism, rather than less, and to find ways to help generate more economic benefit from that,” she said.
She was echoed by Jamie Bolton, the chief executive of Visit Britain, who said that government cuts meant that tourism was being taken for granted. “Tourism is now one of the fastest growing sectors and is supported by the private sector,” he said. “However, cuts to tourism funding are reducing investment in industry skills and making the sector more reliant on government grants.”
Despite the trend of fewer tourists visiting the UK in recent years there is no sign yet of a drop in overall visitor numbers in the pipeline, said Helen Brook, chief executive of the British Tourism Confederation. “Ultimately visitor numbers are a symptom of the economy and not the subject of the wider travel issues.”