DCMS blog

What cars, cornflakes and caravan sites have in common

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John Penrose

John David Penrose is the Conservative Member of Parliament for Weston-super-Mare

Bought a new car recently? Me neither. But when the time comes, I’m pretty sure that I – like most of you, I suspect – will make the decision on what to get on the basis of lots of different things.

There’ll be personal experience, specialist magazines that road-test them all and dish out marks for each one in different classes, there’ll be the opinions (one way or, just as often, the other) of friends and family, and the almost subliminal bubbling away of TV and press advertising where you find yourself marvelling at the computer animations but never quite registering the model being advertised.
What there won’t be, though, is a Government-funded ratings system, which car makers have to pay to be part of and which consistently fails to get buy-in from more than six out of ten of them. A system, what’s more, that is based on the opinions of ‘expert judges’, rather than people who have actually driven the car in question for a long period, possibly with bored children in the back seat demanding entertainment in one of your ears, while a SatNav with an attitude problem is bellowing in the other.
Hotel signThe point is that buying a car, new or second-hand, sends a pretty substantial shock wave through most people’s annual finances and, in that sense, has much in common with booking a holiday. So when we read that the Government is going to ‘stop trying to corral tourism firms into joining an official rating scheme’, it shouldn’t really be enough to compel hoteliers to take to the streets in protest. Rather, it is a nice example, I believe, of taking a long hard look at what the State does – and, more importantly, what it spends your money on – and deciding to stop doing the stuff that is either not needed at all, or can readily be provided by other means.
I was talking about all this on the BBC PM programme with a chap who is highly sceptical about putting too much faith in consumer-driven websites like TripAdvisor and Expedia, arguing that a couple of bad or even malicious reviews can be enough to put a small concern out of business. To an extent, I can see his point. I know that personal recommendations on consumer-faced websites are not invariably the best guide to how good something is. A good example of this can be found on the ‘readers’ reviews’ bit of Amazon, of course. Can you guess which book was described by one contemporary reader thus:
“Simply awful… spectacularly dull; it’s inane, directionless, confused, dreary, circumlocutory and self-indulgent. It’s almost as though there is a fear of reviewing this book honestly since XXX’s reputation is so inexplicably untouchable. The fact is, the narrative style is torturously slow and incredibly badly written.”
The answer, in case you couldn’t immediately guess, is Great Expectations by Charles Dickens. And some, as they say, fell on stony ground…
So the secret of success is to make your spending decision – whether it’s for cornflakes, cars or caravan sites – on the basis of as many different views as you can manage and, when it comes to holidays in particular, don’t take any one source as gospel. You’ll be hearing more about this, and lots of other ideas to help the domestic tourist industry, in our strategy paper that I’m hoping to publish this month. I’ll be saying a great deal more about it when the time comes.

Photo by Love My Tours on Flickr. Some rights reserved.

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