Reflecting on the DCMS Tourism Recovery Plan

The DCMS has just published its Tourism Recovery Plan. There is a lot in it, with stats and analysis comparing the pre- and ‘post’-pandemic situation, underlining that tourism is one of most important industries and also one of the industries which has suffered the most in the pandemic.

The multi-faceted nature of the tourism industry means that there cannot be a single guiding mind in public policy terms – different parts of the industry are regulated from within different public policy areas, and various bits of the tourism policy brief are a devolved matter for the Governments in Wales, Scotland and Northern Ireland. What comes through clearly in the Plan is that a post-pandemic recovery is reliant on good data, sharing of knowledge and greater co-ordination and collaboration across those disparate policy briefs, to enable a good (and green) recovery, rather than just an economic rebound which is looked for seemingly in some of the language of the document.

Sustainability and spreading the beneficial impact of tourism does feature in the report, though the messages and aims here could be more ambitious and inclusive. I recognise this is tricky however – but we need to be balancing that looked-for rebound with growth which is inclusive and provides net positives across a triple bottom line (social, environmental and economic). Communities need to be enhanced by tourism and not blighted – and it would be unfortunate to chase a rebound which leads back to discussions of 2018 and 2019 on over-tourism, environmental degradation, economic inequality and tension between the industry and host communities.

The heritage sector really gets centre billing in the Plan. Through figures presented, commentary and case study, the role of the historic environment (where distinctive built or natural character is a key feature) explicitly and implicitly provides the overarching places, canvas or ‘-scapes’ for what is looked for in Britain as a global and local tourism destination. The heritage sector arguably is positioned in an excellent place as far as the recovery public policy lens goes. The challenge that is going to weigh on us as a sector again is the need to further prioritise, balance competing desires of conservation and development, and keep cool calm conversations at the heart of the shared desire for what a good recovery is for both heritage and tourism together.

Greece: COVID-19 and the economic impact on heritage

Chart © David Gill, 2021; Data from the Hellenic Statistical Service

The latest figures from the Hellenic Statistical Service have revealed the major impact on visitor numbers to museums and archaeological sites in Greece to the end of November 2020. I have already comments on the dramatic fall of visitors (museums; archaeological sites) and the picture continues to be bleak: 3.7 million visitors (to the end of November 2020) compared to 19.5 million visitors in 2019. However, the telling figure comes from ticket receipts: 21.1 million Euros (to the end of November 2020) compared to 130.9 million Euros in 2019. This is a significant loss of budget for the protection and conservation of heritage in Greece.

Pandemic skill stretch for organisations and individuals

Photo by Sheri Hooley on Unsplash

Over the past year I have taken the opportunity to attend a range of different professional development activities, some of which were absolutely required as we moved rapidly from a physical delivery mode of education to a responsive blended mode where far greater use of collaboration tools and tech resources than ever before have been vital to maintain ‘service provision’.

I’ve also been listening closely to others reflections on the learning and development aspects of their roles which might not normally get spoken about much in open forums as well as thinking about the requirements of the wider heritage sector as I played a very small role behind the scenes as a Heritage Alliance trustee helping with the early stage scoping and design of the lottery-funded Rebuilding Heritage project. This sector support project, along with its sister project Heritage Digital, are designed to respond to the needs of the sector in addressing the organisational priorities for staff in terms of technology, business planning, resilience and operational capacity.

The pandemic’s effects on organisations and therefore the individuals which make up those organisations has been interesting to chart over the year in terms of ‘required response’ for skills support and development. In very broad terms, organisations have had to adapt to circumstances far more quickly than normal to an even faster changing business environment; and these have fallen into distinct overlapping phases and forms:

  • Go remote [adapting suddenly to closure of facilities and working from home]
  • Triage the terrain [assess health and safety of facilities and collections]
  • De-staff and re-staff [staff furloughed; skeleton staffing; staff taking on differing roles]
  • Digital dynamism [creating or enhancing a digital offering]
  • Access audience [maintaining engagement and attracting new audiences]
  • Re-engineering resilience [plan tactically and reassessing strategy to ensure survival]

As the lockdown begins to lift, with gradual re-opening of services, sites and facilities, two further phases and forms seem to be emergent:

  • Permanent prototyping [building in ability to rapidly change operations for changed external circumstances]
  • Blended bounceback [reassessing the service / product / experience offer in the light of audience behaviour, need and sentiment]

It is certain that further phases and forms will emerge which reflect how individuals within organisations respond to circumstances, and how organisations themselves evolve as the role of culture and heritage reasserts its place in wider society as it recovers from the pandemic.