An interesting report from Sheffield Hallam University brings welcome news for the tourism industry. Welcome, that is, in the sense that it helps dispel some of the received wisdom that the seaside tourist sector is in dire straits, following the historic increase in overseas holidays being taken by Brits.
It turns out that seaside tourism alone employs some 210,000 people in England and Wales, with the Blackpool area at the top of the charts providing jobs for a staggering 19,400 people. What’s more, employment in the sector has actually been rising in recent years, by around one per cent a year. Good stuff.
So, having swiftly checked where my own constituency, Weston-super-Mare, was in the charts – equal 20th, and comfortably ahead of local rivals like Ilfracombe, Padstow and Minehead, to name but three – I fell to thinking about why domestic tourism seemed to have weathered the economic turbulence of recent times.
Part of the answer, I know, is that the pressure of the recession, the weak pound and unforeseeable factors like volcanic ash and industrial action, have made staying at home for your holiday the most prudent option for people and families who need a break, but don’t want to break the bank to do so.
But it’s also about the quality of the experience: the factors large and small that give a holiday the added value of ‘delight’. If you head home with fond memories as well as your holiday snaps and souvenirs, you’ll look back warmly on that holiday and recommend it to your friends.
We’re getting better at this, as separate research by Visit England proves. When questioned in a survey about the quality of their holiday, more than half of domestic holidaymakers described the experience as ‘better than expected’ and 80 per cent rated it as ‘excellent’ or ‘very good’. Best of all, nearly one in two declared they wanted to take more domestic breaks in the future than they did in the past.
But let’s not pat ourselves too firmly on the back. This is a good base to work from, but there’s still plenty of room for growth.
My job over the next few months will be to try to find out what more can be done: not by sitting at my desk in Whitehall, but by getting out and about and hearing what successful tourist businesses have to say. Finding out what they do right, and what others can learn from them.
If there’s more the Government can do to help, then I want to hear about it from the horse’s mouth.
Minister as Mystery Shopper
I’ll also be doing something rather different as well. I’m going to be a ‘mystery shopper’, seeing the tourism business from the tourist’s point of view.
The plan is that I spend a day on a tourist bus – ideally as one in a big tour party of English-speaking foreign visitors – and experience the tour guide’s banter, the roadside catering, the customer care and, most of all, try to grab a word with my fellow travellers to see what they think of the visitor experience and welcome.
How will I manage to remain incognito? Well, as my press officer helpfully observed – ‘I can’t see anyone recognising you, to be brutally honest.’
And this from the man who looks after my publicity…