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First Base is the equivalent of an 'Editorial'. It is the opportunity for S & A to provide comment and provoke discussion on topical issues relating to leisure and tourism. This will be provided each month and we would welcome your feedback on the matters raised.

First Base 4: The organisation of UK Tourist Industry under scrutiny

Date: 20/5/2004

Autumn 2000 will go down as a period when the organisation of tourism in Britain came under the spotlight. Pressure was exerted by a discontented industry to make significant changes to the way tourism is administered. Implicit in these demands was frustration at the way tourism is organised with unwieldy structures, duplication of effort, backbiting and, often, a lack of leadership.

Autumn 2000 will go down as a period when the organisation of tourism in Britain came under the spotlight. Pressure was exerted by a discontented industry to make significant changes to the way tourism is administered. Implicit in these demands was frustration at the way tourism is organised with unwieldy structures, duplication of effort, backbiting and, often, a lack of leadership.

These comments were particularly strongly felt, and heard, in Scotland where the Price Waterhouse Coopers 'Management Review of the Scottish Tourist Board' (published in October) led directly to the resignation of the 'embattled' Chief Executive, Tom Buncle. It led indirectly to the current Chairman, Lord Gordon of Strathblane, not to seek a second term of office.

In England, the English Tourism Council was enacting its reforms to its regional structure. In Wales, the Stevens & Associates/KPMG review of 'Roles and Responsibilities' focused more specifically on the prospects for establishing four regional partnerships. Nonetheless, the concerns identified within the industry echoed many of those more ruthlessly articulated in Scotland.

The Chairman of the Wales Tourist Board, Phillip Evans, and his CEO, Jonathan Jones, have now embarked upon a structured programme of consultation with the industry and local authorities to create a new geography for the organisation of tourism in Wales. This will see the devolution of greater responsibility and resources to four regions. These four regions (north, mid, south-east and south-west Wales) correspond to the Economic Regions established by the National Assembly for Wales.

In Scotland, the industry had increasingly lost confidence in the Scottish Tourist Board over the past ten months. In February 2000 the Minister for Enterprise and Lifelong Learning (now the First Minister), Henry McLeish launched "A New Strategy for Tourism in Scotland". In his open letter to Lord Gordon of Strathblane, he stated that "...the STB has a major responsibility for delivering the Government's objectives for the tourism industry in Scotland ..." By the end of the summer, Parliament under pressure from the industry had determined that this mandate had not been fulfilled and dramatic change was needed ... hence the PWC review.

The review pulled no punches, accusing senior management of "confusion and ambiguity" as to who were the STB's clients. The report concluded that the client was the industry and the STB had failed on a number of dimensions to serve the client's needs. A process of reinvention and renewal was called for to enable the STB to deliver its core mission, namely the generation of jobs and wealth for Scotland through the development of tourism.

PWC concluded that "...the existing organisation is no longer an appropriate model for leading public sector support for tourism... and that a more focused, strategic organisation is required ...". The report, which is published on the internet, sets out a series of recommendations to achieve this new focus. These include:

•a newly articulated vision and purpose for the STB, where the needs of tourismbusinesses are placed centre stage;
•new organisation structure, business processes and competency framework;
•better communications and relationships with the industry;
•greater synergy and integration between those bodies involved in tourism in Scotland;
•a new resourcing regime.

Ironically, a number of these recommendations reflect more on the confused and complicated organisation of tourism in Scotland than they do on the STB in isolation. Whilst the Scottish press were full of criticism of the STB in the Autumn bloodletting, more recent and considered commentaries have reflected upon the wider issues afflicting tourism in Scotland.

For example, the editorial of 'Business A.M.', Scotland's leading daily business paper, on 10 January 2001 opened with "Why is tourism such a thorn in Scotland's side?". Lesley Campbell then went on to highlight the "... main problem is the disproportionately large layer of operators at the bottom of the pyramid – the lifestyle hoteliers and attraction operators ..". She argues the scale of this 'layer' is not conducive to the development of professionalism and consistent quality which are essential for a modern, competitive, tourism industry.

Interestingly this is a view echoed by Peter Lederer the new Vice Chairman of the STB in his interview with Terry Stevens later in this edition.

Campbell has a valid point. It is an issue that affects tourism throughout the UK. Other commentators have identified the 'dependency culture' that is endemic in the tourism industry. The view amongst many operators is that someone else is responsible for filling their hotel beds rather that using their own initiative. This is also a valid and legitimate observation. Its acceptance questions the very existence of agencies such as the Scottish and Wales tourist boards. It certainly questions their modus operandi and their role.

The tourist industry in general, and not just in Scotland, needs to change its attitude and shift away from this over reliance on others to do their work for them. Leadership, vision and direction are badly needed throughout the tourism industry in the UK. In Wales and Scotland with their newly devolved parliaments, the politicians need to have a greater understanding of the industry. They also need to ensure that their lead bodies for tourism have their support to give direction to the industry.

Governance, accountability and vision are at the heart of this equation. As long as national tourist boards exist they must be clear as to their remit and focus and given the freedoms to deliver to their agreed targets. If the case is made to disestablish the tourist boards the industry needs to understand where leadership will come from. It might be that the Scottish Tourism Forum or the Wales Tourism Alliance can provide that leadership. Such a radical step would certainly mean a stronger focus on winners and shift away from the millstone of the dependency culture so evident throughout the UK today.

In Scotland, Peter McKinley (the man credited with turning around the fortunes of the Scottish Prison Service and Scottish Homes, has been made the stop gap CEO of the STB. Peter Lederer (MD of Gleneagles) has accepted the post of Vice Chairman to ensure continuity as Lord Gordon of Strathblane steps down in February. These are interesting times for tourism in Britain. As Europe continues to lose market share to emerging tourism destinations, notably the Pacific Rim, and competitiveness intensifies, there is a need to adopt a new agenda for tourism in Britain. This should be focused on quality rather than quantity and only those with a desire to attain these high standards should be encouraged to participate. This agenda needs bold, focused, leadership. In a period of such intense competition there can be no ambiguity.

An interview with Peter Lederer

Go back

First base archive

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