In the next few months, VisitEngland will spend some £4 million encouraging Brits to holiday at home instead of going abroad for their summer break.
The logic seems sound at first-glance: the domestic tourism industry is having a tough time thanks to the VAT rise and economic turbulence facing the UK economy. If all that money spent abroad was to be spent at home, it should boost the UK economy and help lots of people into jobs. A simple and logical argument, isn't it? Except it is flawed; let me explain why.
The premise assumes that money spent abroad is money lost from the economy, but this ignores the fact that the economic contribution of outbound tourism matches and by some accounts surpasses the value of inbound tourism - that is, visitors coming to the UK - so, it's pretty sizeable; it is a significant contributor to UK GDP; and it makes a very healthy contribution to HM Treasury.
The Tourism Satellite Accounts produced by the Office for National Statistics indicate that UK holidaymakers spend in excess of £27 billion annually in the UK in preparation for a holiday abroad. ABTA's own research indicates that 29% of UK holidaymakers will spend in excess of £500 in the UK before going abroad, with 60% of UK holidaymakers spending at least £200 .If you include the considerable amount of tax paid by tourists departing the UK, the argument that holidays abroad don't make a significant economic contribution to the UK simply doesn't stand up.
Employing hundreds of thousands of people from high street travel agents to airline staff and tour operators, the UK has one of the most successful outbound tourism sectors in Europe. Indeed, many of the world's largest holiday companies are based in Britain: Tui - which owns First Choice and Thomson, Thomas Cook, SAGA and many more, contribute millions in taxes to the Government each year. It is not just in employment where this sector contributes greatly. Each of us taking a flight to go on holiday could pay up to £184 in tax depending on where we're jetting off to. This money goes straight to the Treasury - so one would think that the contribution of the sector would be well recognised.
However, with scarce mention in the government's tourism policy, the outbound sector is the poor relation of the tourism family. Like many industries facing tough market conditions at the moment and as a major employer and tax revenue generator for UK PLC, it needs and deserves support.
It is clear that holidaying abroad makes a substantial contribution to the economy and job creation, as does holidaying at home.
However you look at it, the UK is a tourism powerhouse. We have a superb domestic tourism sector. In every part of the UK there are outstanding attractions, superb hotels and guesthouses and tourists enjoying the sights and sounds of local culture. Despite sky-high air taxes and expensive visas, the UK also continues to attract millions of international tourists. Not as many as our European competitors, but enough that the inbound tourism sector is heralded as important and valuable by the Government.
Britain's tourism sector is highly competitive, innovative and thrives on delivering customers exactly what they want. Far from being separate sectors, inbound, domestic and outbound tourism are all legs of the same tourism stool; inter-connected, inter-linked and to a certain extent inter-dependent too. So why is one sector of the industry being pitched against another?
I have no doubt that the intent behind the campaign is a good one; to maximize the legacy of the Olympics and to increase employment in domestic tourism. But the Government is misguided in doing this by subverting a very successful free market and punishing honest UK businesses taking people abroad.
The holiday sector thrives on choice and delivering value for money. It is for each family to determine what value for money is as well as where and when they chose to holiday. For some people, this will be a sun-kissed beach, for others a canal boat on the Norfolk broads, for others a trip around the world on a cruise.
If Britain offers the best value for money for a family holidaying, then they'll choose a domestic break. If they believe a destination abroad offers the good value they're looking for, then they'll head abroad. Regardless, each of us should be free to choose a holiday without the Government using the tax payer's money to tell us their view of what represents best value.
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