DCMS Tourism Inquiry

Culture, Media and Sport Committee
Tourism Inquiry, 2007
Submission by the Museums Association, March 2007
Scope of the inquiry:

- The challenges and opportunities for the domestic and inbound tourism industries, including cheap flights abroad, and their impact on traditional tourist resorts;

- The effectiveness of DCMS and its sponsored bodies (such as VisitBritain) in supporting the industry;

- The structure and funding of sponsored bodies in the tourism sector, and the effectiveness of that structure in promoting the UK both as a whole and in its component parts;

- The effect of the current tax regime (including VAT and Air Passenger Duty) and proposals for local government funding (including the "bed tax") upon the industry's competitiveness;

- What data on tourism would usefully inform Government policy on tourism;

- The practicality of promoting more environmentally friendly forms of tourism; and

- How to derive maximum benefit for the industry from the London 2012 Games.

1.0 Introduction

1.1 The Museums Association (MA) is an independent membership organisation representing museums and galleries in the UK and people who work for them. The Association has over 5,000 individual members and 600 institutional members.

These institutional members encompass around 1500 museums in the UK ranging from the largest government-funded national museums to small volunteer-run charitable trust museums.

Formed in 1889, it is a charity, receiving no regular government funding, which seeks to inform, represent and develop museums and people who work for them in order that they may provide a better service to society and the public.

1.2 The MA wishes to make a brief submission to this inquiry, primarily to stress the point that museums, and the broader heritage and attractions sector, are vital to the UK tourism sector. Museums accounted for 4 of the top 5 visitor attractions in 2006 and are cited by overseas tourists as a key reason for visiting the UK.

It is something of a cliché, but no less valid for that, to say that overseas tourists do not come to the UK for the weather: they come to experience the UK's cultural heritage and landscape. So we urge the Committee to give adequate consideration to the Government's support for museums and the rest of the attractions sector. The tax regime and support for the hospitality industry are of course crucial factors in ensuring a vibrant tourism sector. But unless there continues to be adequate support for and investment in the attractions sector, UK tourism will not thrive.

1.3 We do not have comments to make on all the Committee's questions and have confined our comments below to two key points.

2.0 Responses to specific questions

2.1 The challenges and opportunities for the domestic and inbound tourism industries, including cheap flights abroad, and their impact on traditional tourist resorts: both domestic and inbound visitors can be attracted to UK towns and cities, as well as to rural locations, by excellent museums. For example, since the expansion and redevelopment of Manchester Art Gallery (completed 2002), 75% of their visitors have been from outside Manchester and of these 12% from outside the UK.

Traditional tourist resorts are seeing the potential of cultural heritage and contemporary art to attract visitors: Blackpool Council, for example, has recently created a new post of Head of Heritage to exploit the potential of its heritage attractions. Although it has had a somewhat troubled development phase, Turner Contemporary, and the development of a new gallery for the organisation, is key to Kent County Council's vision for the regeneration of Margate.

2.2 However, if museums and galleries, particularly outside London, are to continue to attract visitors, investment in infrastructure is required. The expansion of Manchester Art Gallery had been an aspiration of successive generations since the 1890s. It was investment from the Heritage Lottery Fund (HLF) that eventually made it possible: the £35m cost of the refurbishment was met primarily through a grant of £18.8m from HLF, backed by £13m from Manchester City Council and a number of smaller grants and donations.

Investment from the National Lottery, in particular HLF, over the last 11 years has led to a renewal of the fabric of many of our great museums and galleries, in London and the regions. Of course the need for investment is ongoing but HLF no longer has the capacity even now to fund as many significant capital projects as in its heyday. There is great concern in the sector that overspend on the Olympics might eat into the funds available for the heritage sector from the Lottery even further. This must not be allowed to happen, particularly given that one of the things that makes the UK so attractive as a venue is the strength of its cultural heritage.

2.3 Alongside investment in infrastructure, investment in the programmes and people that bring museum collections to life is also vital. And again the current picture is very positive. The Renaissance programme of investment in regional museums has transformed visitors' experience of England's major regional museums.

It has enabled a group of museums in each region (the regional museum "hub") to work together to improve the services they offer and broaden their reach. After decades of under-investment had left some of our most important regional services in a state of near-collapse, Renaissance has injected new skills, new energy and new vision into the sector.

However, further funding is still needed to implement the programme in full and the sector is looking to the Government to ensure funding for Renaissance is not cut as part of the Comprehensive Spending Review. Cuts would undoubtedly endanger museums' capacity to attract both inbound and domestic tourists, as well as to serve their local audiences and we urge the Committee to use this report as an opportunity to restate the importance of this programme.

2.4 The practicality of promoting more environmentally friendly forms of tourism: The Committee should note that this is an issue the sector is very much aware of and is taking into account in planning future audience development strategies, although we do not have any clear recommendations to make from the museum sector as yet.

The National Trust is a leader in this field and is, for example, not planning for growth in visitor numbers to sites in rural locations only accessible by car. The Museums Association is about to embark on a major piece of work (due for completion in 2008) looking at issues of sustainability for museums, including their environmental impact.

This will include questions about how museums might promote greener tourism. For example, is it more environmentally friendly to move objects and exhibitions in touring programmes or to encourage long-distance travel to view exhibitions?

3.0 Conclusion

3.1 The Museums Association welcomes this inquiry and hopes that the Committee will take a holistic view of tourism issues, including the needs of the attractions sector as well as the hospitality industry.

For further information, please contact:

Helen Wilkinson
Policy Officer
Museums Association
24 Calvin Street
E1 6NW

020 7426 6950