Minister, Ladies and Gentlemen.
May I just begin by saying how flattered I was to be invited to Anglesey Abbey today to mark British Tourism Week and to address this crucially important gathering of representatives of the tourism industry from across the country.
As I was thinking about this speech I recalled that I was in fact the Patron of the inaugural British Tourism Week back in 2007 and we launched it at a very jolly occasion in the Tower of London – a very fitting place for the event, if not always renowned for “jolly events!” However, if I may say so, as President of The National Trust I am delighted that today’s event is being held in this remarkably special place, which is but one example of the astonishing range of wonderful attractions we have in this country for tourists, whether they be from home or overseas. Who could fail to find pleasure in the history of this house, its precious collection of art and furniture and, of course, its spectacular gardens? And this country has an embarrassment of such riches – but it is perhaps worth remembering that we can’t just take them for granted, along with our precious landscapes, for they all need constant management and maintenance and many owners dedicate their lives – and sometimes what’s left of their sanity! – to keeping such places, and the priceless collections that make them worth visiting, intact for the benefit of this country’s economy.
No wonder, then, that tourism is such a crucial part of our economy and, importantly, why we must celebrate and promote it – now more than ever. It is, without doubt, one of this country’s great success stories and over the coming two years we will doubtless have an enormous opportunity to attract even more tourists. I hesitate to mention the small matter of a certain wedding in just a few weeks time(!), and then next year we shall first be celebrating the Diamond Jubilee of The Queen and then, of course, we shall be the home of the 2012 Olympics. Each of these presents unique opportunities for all those involved in tourism and I know that the industry will make the very best of them.
But, of course, tourism is about far more than the big events. The quality of our hotels, bed and breakfasts, restaurants and other attractions is just as important and plays a crucial role in an industry worth, according to Deloitte, more than £115 billion a year to the U.K. economy – that is nearly nine per cent of the country’s Gross Domestic Product. And it is estimated that one in twelve jobs in this country is either directly or indirectly supported by tourism – that is more than two and a half million people. Indeed, as you all know far better than I, tourism is our fifth biggest industry and in areas such as Cumbria, the South West of England or the Scottish Highlands, it is far and away the most important. Whichever way you look at it, and especially in the challenging economic times in which we find ourselves, what all of you do is of the greatest possible importance to this country and for that you have my warmest appreciation and congratulations.
Now I do understand that there is a considerable amount of restructuring going on within the industry and that new organizations, including the recently created Local Enterprise Partnerships, are becoming more involved in tourism. It is a time of change and I hope that you can all find a way to work together to ensure that the new arrangements settle down quickly and all eyes are kept on the main prize of encouraging more tourists to visit this country. Nevertheless, we must not forget that there is also a net-tourism deficit – of some £14 billion a year – as we travel overseas to spend our money. However, as the world becomes a more uncertain place and travel more difficult, it could easily be that more people from this country will need less persuasion to experience the delights on their own doorstep – despite the sometimes uncertain weather!
Within rural Britain we have to remember that the greatest ally that the tourist sector has is the farmer who keeps the landscape looking as beautiful as it does, ensuring that it is a place that people want to visit. This is particularly so in the upland areas where it takes very special skills to farm in some of the most unforgiving conditions. But as you will know, it is areas like the Yorkshire Dales, the Cumbrian Fells and the Welsh Mountains which are some of our most valuable tourist attractions. As someone who has very happily fallen into the familiar pattern of returning year after year to stay in a particularly fine bed and breakfast in the Fells of Cumbria (the consequence of going there originally just after the Foot and Mouth disaster to encourage the return of tourists), I can tell you just how important tourism is to these upland areas. But this works two ways. While tourism is most certainly a vital income generator to many families in these areas, it is of equal importance to all of you involved in the tourism sector that our countryside remains a living, breathing, working place so that it is there for everyone to enjoy. And that is one reason why I established The Prince’s Countryside Fund last year. For me, it matters as much that those who live in urban areas have countryside to visit and to cherish as it does that farmers can continue to live and work on their land, producing food for the nation. But the delicately woven tapestry that is our countryside is facing unprecedented challenges. Start pulling out the threads and the rest unravels very rapidly indeed. No farmers, no beautiful landscapes with stone walls; no thriving rural communities, no villages with at their heart the famous British pub so rightly beloved by our tourists; no sustainable agriculture, no distinctive local foods – no unique local story to tell, and to experience. In other words, no cultural continuity to give life its meaning and people a sense of belonging. So this is what my Fund is addressing by giving grants to a range of organizations and initiatives across the country to help create and sustain a thriving rural community, from apprentice hill farmer schemes, to voluntary rural bus services, from encouraging pubs to be the hub of their communities (by incorporating the otherwise vanishing village shop and Post Office into them), to supporting school farms.
While my Fund currently receives the bulk of its income from companies who use the logo on products in return for a donation (in other words, a cause-related marketing initiative), I would so much like to engage with the tourism and hospitality sector to see whether it might be possible to encourage visitors voluntarily to make donations which would go towards maintaining what they have just shown they value so much. I know that Rome has recently introduced a hotel surcharge to raise funds for the upkeep of its historic monuments, but this is not what I am suggesting. This must be something that visitors choose to do. In the Lake District there is already what they call a “visitor payback scheme” designed to create ways for businesses and individuals to donate to conservation projects. I am sure we can build on this and so nothing would give me more pleasure than if my Countryside Fund were able to join with all of you to find a way for visitors to make a contribution to a fund which has the purpose of making it possible for our rural communities to survive, together with each one’s local identity, its food, craft and vernacular traditions. All these things attract and maintain tourism in an age of otherwise stultifying mono-culturalism – it is the things that make us so different that is so attractive to people. But without assistance we will lose a national asset of incalculable value and one that, once lost, can never be recreated. This is, after all, our Island story. It is the story in all its rich diversity that I have tried to keep alive with initiatives in the North Highlands of Scotland and the Cambrian Mountains of Wales – linking the region’s food, its scenery, its vernacular architecture with the local tourist industry. By joining the three together, the initiatives aim to communicate the fragility and the uniqueness of what we have and thus encourage those who enjoy it to help secure its future.
Ladies and gentlemen, I have talked about rural Britain, but perhaps you would forgive me for adding a footnote about the special heritage of historic buildings that we are fortunate enough to enjoy in this country. Survey after survey reminds us of the importance people rightly attach to our historic buildings. A report published by our Heritage organizations a few years ago gathered together many striking statistics: 87 per cent of people think that the historic environment plays an important part in the cultural life of the country; almost 70 per cent of people visit historic sites at least once a year; while 72 per cent of tourists from Russia and 66 per cent of those from China say that castles, churches, monuments and historic houses are top of their list of things to visit in Britain. I have tried to do my best in this field too – by becoming a one-man version of the National Trust through saving Dumfries House and its contents for the nation. And talking of the National Trust, I noticed the other day that National Trust houses used in recent films have seen a significant increase in visitors: Antony House in Cornwall, the backdrop to Alice in Wonderland, saw its visitors quadruple in a year to 100,000. And I think good old Harry Potter hasn’t done any harm to a number of Trust properties, let alone to Alnwick Castle’s very own version of Hogwarts School!
These special buildings built by craftsmen to last, tell so many stories about generations of our ancestors, as well as making our country a more interesting and distinctive place to visit. The same can be said of the ceremonial duties performed by our Armed Forces at Buckingham Palace and the Tower of London which, according to research done by the London Tourist Board, shows what a huge contribution these traditions make to the country’s economy with some 45 per cent of all tourists being attracted by them. But this can’t happen of course, without maintaining the integrity of the Household Division…
Ladies and gentlemen, this country is blessed with special and wholly distinctive assets which are highly valued around the world – be it our galleries and museums, our theatres and our concert halls, our seaside towns and our national parks, our castles and our countryside. Looking after them is, of course, expensive, but well worth it in terms of our national economy. However, to do so requires the necessary craft and traditional building skills of which, according to English Heritage, there is a huge shortage – in the region of some 7,000 craftsmen and women. I need hardly say that increased investment is needed in such skills. Again, I have been trying to do my bit in this regard for quite some time through a Crafts Apprenticeship Scheme. It would be splendid if the tourism sector would come and help me do more!
If I may, I would just like to end by thanking all of you for the work you do around the clock and around the world for Britain. You perform a crucial national service. I hope you have a very worthwhile and enjoyable day and I much look forward to receiving a report on its outcomes.