Thank you Christopher, and good afternoon ladies and gentlemen,
Many thanks for inviting me to be here today to help launch Visit Britain’s tourism growth strategy, as we look towards 2020.
Given the triumph of the Diamond Jubilee and our Olympic and Paralympic year, to be frank we face quite a challenge. Our Opening and Closing Ceremonies gave the world the opportunity to look at Britain anew, surprising them a little, reshaping perceptions not of how we were in the 1950s, but in the 21st Century: modern, diverse, creative and quirky. That opportunity for those of us who have a passion for Britain, gets us a foot in the door.
The Games showed a global audience what a great place this country is to live, work and visit. And it’s had an impact: we reached the top of the world’s ‘soft power’ rankings, our international ranking for “overall nation brand” improved and - what’s more - Britain was also listed among the Top 10 countries for the warmth of its welcome. We all knew that was the case, now the world is catching up.
So I want to acknowledge the boldness of developing a tourism strategy which aspires to such an ambitious goal seven years in the future. Not only that, but a strategy which also recognises the need for flexibility, so we can respond to a world as it changes around us. Seven years is a long time, in fact not even most Governments can think that far ahead, but having that built-in flexibility is great to have.
And that’s reflected in the changes to who visits the UK. Our immediate European neighbours and the USA remain the source of the greatest number of visitors. But it should perhaps come as no surprise that in 2011 the highest-spending tourists were from Kuwait, Saudi Arabia, Qatar, China and Russia. And with the Olympic flame having now passed to Rio for 2016, we can be certain that Brazil’s population will be very much fascinated with the UK’s culture, history and creativity - already we are seeing demand and access being forged in that way.
We in the UK are in an enviable competitive position. Britain is the centre of the English-speaking world, and our history and culture are an enduring source of fascination for people in all those countries with whom we share a language, and many others besides.
Just last week I was speaking to representatives from our arts and cultural sectors at the British Museum, making the point that 40% of visitors to our country cite our culture as the primary reason for their visit.
That’s the intrinsic value of British culture, which is why it is so important: it articulates who we are as a nation. And it is a global magnet which draws millions of visitors each year, bringing enormous economic value - and jobs - too.
Our urban centres are world-renowned for their diversity and vibrancy, attracting people from all over the world. Our countryside is stunning, and our historic buildings iconic.
There is only one Stonehenge, only one Edinburgh Festival, only one Buckingham Palace and only one Angel of the North – and they’re all right here. That’s a magnet both now and in the future.
Every day I see groups of tourists outside my office near Big Ben, captivated not only by the clock tower itself, and the majesty of Parliament, but by a British design icon: the humble red telephone box, ready and waiting for them. I’ve never once seen anyone make a phone call, but that’s the most photographed object in Parliament Square – I’ve got no idea whether it actually works, or has a dial-tone, however.
I’d like to talk for a moment about tourism’s role in delivering the Government’s Number One priority: economic growth. And jobs – that’s the most important part of our economic recovery.
According to Visit Britain, overseas visitors spent almost twenty billion pounds last year in our hotels, shops, theatres and restaurants, delivering more than a hundred billion pounds to our GDP, and supporting almost three million jobs.
Forty million visitors a year may sound like a big number – but it would also mean an additional nine billion pounds in visitor spending, and almost a quarter of a million new jobs. And that’s a goal worth aiming for in these difficult economic times.
And it’s not just London which benefits. This is ably demonstrated by Liverpool, which attracted almost 10 million extra visitors during the year it was European Capital of Culture. This led to almost £750 million of extra spending in the local area. Arts and culture are now thought to be as valuable to Merseyside’s economy as the Beatles and football– worth up to three billion pounds a year. So it should be no surprise that we have many contenders in the running to become the UK’s City of Culture in 2017, 11 in total. I can assure you that Hugh [Robertson] and I are already getting active lobbying from other MPs representing those areas.
This is the spirit of the GREAT campaign which was launched last year… Heritage is GREAT… Creativity is GREAT… Innovation is GREAT. All these themes are being used to market Britain to the rest of the world, precisely because we are that: a GREAT country to live, work and visit.
And as we look ahead to the immediate future, we already have a head start. Over the summer, we are hosting the ICC Champions Trophy cricket tournament. October sees the kick-off for the Rugby League World Cup. And in 2014 we have the Glasgow Commonwealth Games and the Grand Départ of the Tour de France. All of them will draw visitors to these shores, and reinforce Britain’s standing as a hub for international sporting excellence, giving us an opportunity afresh, amply demonstrated last year with the Olympic Games.
All of these things are why I want to congratulate Visit Britain for producing this ambitious strategy, which I believe is key to delivering the visitors, the spending and the economic growth from which we will all benefit.