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Deux stars d’Harry Potter au secours du tourisme anglais

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John Penrose

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

You’ve probably seen it by now. We’re in a darkened room, and it’s 4.15AM on 19 May 2012*, as the bedside digital alarm clock bleeps into life. A family scrambles into action as their holiday gets underway. The dad is rummaging through the suitcase, while mum rushes around gathering the rest of the family together. They can’t find their passports! Somewhat improbably, Stephen Fry is also there in the room with them – and he’s got those passports in his hand – but the family, as they say, can’t see for looking.


Next thing we know, we’re being whizzed round the country in the company of Stephen, Julie Walters, Rupert Grint and Michelle Dockery, highlighting some of the good things about holidaying at home. There’s a certain jauntiness and lightness of touch about the whole thing that’s very appealing, I think. It’s less about soaring helicopter shots of castles, coastlines and countryside, and more about those things that delight us but that we generally don’t shout about: Jubilee street parties, cream teas, beautiful but un-crowded beaches, world-class museums and galleries, dogs, and glasses of beer with friends in country pubs.
We won’t know if it will work in its task of getting people to take a holiday in the UK** this year until the numbers for 2012 have been counted (in about a year’s time), but the imagery and the message look good to me, so I’m hoping for the best.

Best Holiday Destination

Inevitably, though, these ads have become a talking point with the first wave of media and public reaction being very positive, followed by a handful of newspaper pundits having a go at what they believed was the Government’s central premise: that the UK was the best holiday destination in the world. But that’s not what we are saying. And even if it were (and it were possible in some empirical way to prove it), variety is a wonderful thing and it’s just plain perverse to decide never to go abroad, and the Government certainly wouldn’t ever recommend it. It’s like resolving to only eat the coffee cream in a box of chocolates because you’re pretty sure that nothing else is quite as nice. You’ll miss out on a heck of a lot.
So what we ARE saying is that 2012 is, by any standards, a pretty amazing year to take a holiday in the UK. There’s loads going on and a brilliant selection of things to see and do. But, if the blistering sunshine of Spanish beaches or the icy thrill of Alpine skiing is your thing, then for heaven’s sake go for it, but do also give a thought to an off-peak break in the Lakes or a long weekend in Edinburgh as well.

Le Figaro

And while we’re on the subject of the ad becoming a story in itself, I was delighted to see it covered in Le Figaro where we learn that ‘L’acteur britannique (that’s Stephen Fry) est l’un des ambassadeurs de cette grande opération de séduction nationale’. I like the idea of this ‘séduction nationale’, which sounds rather exciting, but what I like even more is the fact that the ad has become a news item in itself. This is free publicity or ‘added value’, if you prefer, and is a fine example of getting more ‘bang for your buck’ or ‘eulogy for your Euro,’ in this particular case***.

Young Roots

John Penrose with young people on the Young Roots programmeI’ve written before, and I daresay I’ll write again in the future, that there are some Lottery funded projects that are pretty much a perfect combination of great idea, modest investment and thoroughly worthwhile outcome. And the fact that such things also very often carry on without so much as a breath of public or media recognition is a shame, but not an entirely unexpected one.
So I was pleased this week to join in the celebrations for the tenth birthday of something called the ‘Young Roots’ project which, thanks to Heritage Lottery funding (£27 million over the last ten years) has helped more than 60,000 young people get involved in local heritage initiatives. Up until now the youngest age allowed to take part was 13 but from next month that will fall to 11. And judging by the things that the people I met had been doing – from film making and exhibition curating through to straightforward academic research into local history topics – it has been a huge success and helped to disprove, for the umpteenth time, that there really is an appetite among the young for heritage and history.

May the Force be with you

Anything else? Yes. Last week was English Tourism Week which found me on its opening day on the Pier at Weston, serving ice creams to a rich selection of science fiction fanatics who happened to be holding one of their get-togethers in the South West’s premier tourist spot, and doing so for the most part ‘in costume.’ It may, of course, be the case that this kind of thing happens all over the world in tourist resorts, but then again…
John Penrose feeding Darth Maul
*Why 19 May 2012? Well, that’s the opening day of the Torch Relay, an 8,000 mile journey through the country which, we’re told, has been contrived to bring it within an hour’s journey time for 95 per cent of the population. It lasts for 70 days and finishes, of course, at the Opening Ceremony on 21 July. Highly recommended, wherever you live.
**And let’s be absolutely clear here. We are NOT saying that we want everyone to turn their backs on foreign holidays this year. We are not planning to rush through a ‘Holiday at Home (Confiscation of Passports) Bill.’ That’s a promise.
***Ok, I accept that that is a bit feeble, but if you read it with a Peter Sellers Inspector Clouseau accent, it’s hard not to smile.

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