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.