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DCMS under fire over tourism strategy ‘U-turn’

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The Tourism Alliance has criticised the Department for Culture, Media and Sport’s (DCMS) decision to ‘merge’ VisitEngland and VisitBritain, warning that the move creates a number of “major problems” for the UK tourism industry.

Tourism minister Tracey Crouch announced this week that the organisations will be brought together under the responsibility of the British Tourist Authority. The move comes despite recommendations from both the recent Select Committee Inquiry on Tourism and DCMS’s own Triennial review of the operations of VisitEngland and VisitBritain to formally separate the two bodies.

Published in March 2015, the DCMS Triennial review concluded: “VE should be fully separated from VB and re-established as an executive NDPB in its own right. Greater transparency and accountability should drive improvements in the efficiency and effectiveness of both organisations.”

However, DCMS says it has decided not to proceed with the separation of the two bodies, because this would cost money that would be better spent on growing the visitor economy. Instead, VisitEngland will be subsumed by VisitBritain but will retain its own brand and a small team of staff.

The move has been criticised by the Tourism Alliance, which has warned that merging the two tourism bodies will harm domestic tourism in England, with the risk that funding earmarked for domestic use could be used to support international initiatives.

The tourism industry body added that the move throws up a conflict of interest over governance. VisitEngland’s board will only remain in an advisory capacity, with executive decisions being taken by the VisitBritain board - a situation which will see tourism representatives from Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland making decisions on the future of their tourism rival England.

“The move is counter to the government’s policy on devolution which would dictate that there should be an autonomous tourism agency for England controlled by the English tourism industry,” Tourism Alliance director Kurt Janson told Leisure Opportunities.

“The new funding for tourism in England is to be dedicated to product development that supports international marketing activities and not activities that support the domestic tourism sector.”

A spokesperson for DCMS said that as tourism is a devolved matter for each home nation, the UK government thinks it's sensible to align the activities of VisitBritain and VisitEngland as it sponsors both.

"The government is fully committed to English tourism that's why we have protected VisitEngland's budget to 2020 and given an extra £40m specifically to boost English tourism,” said the spokesperson, referring to the new Discover England fund announced in the recent Spending Review.

“This fantastic financial settlement and a more focused strategy for English tourism will help reap huge economic benefits."

While a number of regional English tourism bodies are understood to be unhappy with the merger, Welcome to Yorkshire is thought to be broadly behind the restructuring.

A Welcome to Yorkshire spokesperson told Leisure Opportunities: "We work closely with VisitBritain and VisitEngland and will continue to do so under the new structural arrangements.?

"Welcome to Yorkshire is very supportive of the work done to promote our many great destinations to tourists from the UK and visitors from overseas."

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The Tourism Alliance has criticised the Department for Culture, Media and Sport’s (DCMS) decision to ‘merge’ VisitEngland and VisitBritain, warning that the move creates a number of “major problems” for the UK tourism industry.
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