DCMS Committee slams Government for DMO funding failures

Martin Fullard analyses the DCMS Committee Report, which criticises the Government for failing to implement the de Bois Review’s recommendations and delayed VisitBritain marketing funding (this article first appeared in Conference News)

The Digital, Culture, Media, and Sport (DCMS) Committee has criticised the Government over its failure to fully implement the outcomes of the review into the reshaping of England’s Destination Management Organisations.

The de Bois Review: an independent review of Destination Management Organisations in England was published in August 2021 by Nick de Bois (pictured above) and made 12 recommendations to streamline funding and to tackle the confusing and unsustainable overlapping. Currently, there is no consistent funding for DMOs, with some receiving money from local authorities and others through private means.

Among the 12 recommendations were the introduction of a tier system, core funding of £50m and the elevation of the tourism minister to a secretary of state position.

However, in July 2022, the Government, under former tourism minister Nigel Huddleston, introduced a watered-down pilot version of the review, with £4m made available to one destination by way of trial.

The DCMS Committee has criticised the Government for its failure to implement the review in full, and for the time it took to respond. “The de Bois review of Destination Management Organisations (DMO) received widespread support from across the industry and it is unacceptable that the Government took 11 months to respond and in such a half-hearted fashion,” the committee report noted.

“The Comprehensive Spending Review and departmental business planning are standard annual events and so the Government should not use these as an excuse for the delay. We can only conclude that restructuring the DMO sector was not a priority, confirming stakeholders’ fears that the Government fails to appreciate the urgency of the issue. Now is the time for bold action, yet the Government has failed to commit to any long-term change.

“We welcome the fact that the Government has accepted some of the report’s recommendations, but its response falls short of the changes necessary for Destination Management Organisations to reach their full potential. We acknowledge the fact that the Government must ensure public money is spent wisely but are disappointed that the Government has made no commitment to fund a national scheme should the pilot prove successful, nor published the criteria by which it will be judged.”

DCMS Committee Report

The Committee recommended that the Government “should complete the pilot to a swift timescale and commit to implementing the de Bois recommendations in full.”

VisitBritain suffered funding delay, costing the industry

The Committee also raised concerns about how long VisitBritain must wait for confirmation of its Comprehensive Spending Review funding and, particularly, its marketing spend approval.

This year’s delays in the Professional Assurance approval process meant VisitBritain was unable to undertake critical work in international markets and so damaged the recovery of the inbound tourism sector.

The Committee report noted: “We welcome the fact that the Cabinet Office responded more quickly during lockdown, but this highlights not only the necessity of acting swiftly but also the Cabinet Office’s ability to do so. All marketing campaigns generate significant costs and so VisitBritain hits the threshold of £100,000 on most, if not all, of its work. Given that the Government established VisitBritain to promote Britain abroad, it is nonsensical that approval processes are directly limiting its ability to do so.

“We recognise that £100,000 may be a useful threshold for non-marketing organisations but the nature of VisitBritain’s work means that it should have a much higher threshold for its campaign spend.”

The Committee recommended that the Government should increase VisitBritain’s marketing budget to match more closely those of its nearest competitors. VisitBritain would then need to ensure that much of this increase in funding should be ringfenced to promoting regional destinations.

Life beyond London

London will always be key to the UK’s leisure and business tourism offer; it is a global brand which attracts millions of visitors each year. But every part of Britain has something to offer and a story to tell. The Committee report noted: “Our evidence tells us that many visitors are unaware of what else there is to see or believe other destinations are too far or too difficult to travel to. Addressing these issues will help drive people beyond the capital.”

The Committee report placed emphasis on the value of business events, which were worth £19bn to the UK in direct spend annually before the pandemic. It called for the Government to expand the Business Events Growth Programme: “Attracting international business events also has clear potential not only to drive tourism across the country but throughout the year, as evidenced by the forecast impact of the events secured with the support of the Business Events Growth Programme.

“VisitBritain should continue its work with tourism providers to identify how best to showcase all regions of the UK, with a particular focus on addressing the travel barriers, both perceived and actual. The Government should expand VisitBritain’s Business Events Growth Programme and indicate in its response to our report the level of additional funding and the date by which it will be awarded.”

Tourism minister should be secretary of state role

The Committee report noted that many of the levers which control tourism sit outside of DCMS’s control, therefore the industry’s ability to reach its full potential depends on the working group ensuring that policy from other departments does not undermine the work that DCMS is trying to achieve. This will require a full-time tourism minister who can work across several departments.

The report said: “The Government should make the tourism minister a full-time position. We are open-minded as to which department the minister should be placed in, but it is crucial that their views should carry significant weight across all relevant departments, particularly the Home Office, HM Treasury, and the Department for Transport.”

The report’s scope did not extend to the issue of whether the business events industry itself should remain under the sponsorship of the tourism minister. It is well documented that agencies, exhibition organisers, professional conference organisers, venues and many diverse suppliers do not feel represented under the current structure. But, should England’s DMOs benefit from the 12 recommendations made in the de Bois Review, the case for wider industry recognition only becomes stronger. There remains a long way to go.

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