Wednesday, 26 March 2014

Shadowy Proposals

There's been a lot about enthusiasm for the "Preliminary Report of the Tourism Shadow Board" but while it marks a step forward, the report is more like an impressionist painting. From the distance, you can see the outline of a big picture, but examine it more closely, and it is actually quite fuzzy. Here are a few comments:
"It is our view that the only route to success on this scale is through a radical rethink of the way in which the Island is promoted as a destination"
"It will be a performance led organisation run as a commercial entity with results measured in real outcomes"
Well, it is notoriously difficult to measure outcomes of an organisation like that. Just look at Jersey Finance. How much new business is the "outcome" from Jersey Finance, and how much is due to individual businesses? I have yet to see any means by which that can be quantified. Jersey Finance does "talk up" Jersey, and smooth the way for new markets overseas, but so do private businesses, and determining exactly how much benefit accrues from Jersey Finance is tricky.
But if, by outcome, they mean rising visitor numbers - and include statistics there of rising numbers for accommodation (including camp sites), that would be a good measure. Without that, of course, we have no way of knowing if any increase in traffic is actually related to visitors and not locals.
And they say this of the old board:
"In its reporting the Bureau appears to measure output rather than outcomes. The most recent Marketing Activity Report contained in the Bureau's 2012 Annual Review speaks of significant growth in its website visits, but doesn't report the conversion rate. Similarly, the numbers of emails dispatched, brochures mailed, sales meetings conducted, trade exhibitions organised and responses to requests for information are listed, but there is no measurement of results against all this activity. There is no doubt that the Bureau has been very busy, but it is impossible to say the activity has been productive in the absence of any meaningful performance metrics. "
But it is not clear what performance metrics they will themselves use. This is left out of their report, and is not mentioned anywhere in the "three principal areas" that they look at. Instead they look at a rather vague proposition that any growth is good:
"How should growth be measured? Is it in the number of staying leisure visitors or the length of stay? In terms of yield or visitor spend? Or is it simply an increase in the sector's GVA? The TSB considered all these questions and concluded that, from the position the Island is in now, all growth is good growth. It would be the role of Visit Jersey in developing a strategy to consider and resolve these and other details."
One thing they don't mention, which my correspondent Adam Gardiner suggests, is a very simple means of monitoring transport links, and is used successfully elsewhere: "An 'immigration' card handed out on the plane or on the boat. Say, a red one for locals and a green one for visitors, re-collected as you disembark."
So we don't have firm details in this report, but Visit Jersey, the new independent Quango, would have "to consider and resolve these". This seems to be placing a great deal onto the shoulders of the nascent organisation, and it would have been nice if the Tourism Shadow Board had some pointers to give.
It is a pity that the board, having been so critical of the existing Tourism Department, is unable to come up with anything better, but simply leaves it to "Visit Jersey"
"By establishing a new operating model it will eliminate the divisions that exist between the industry and the body which currently promotes it, Jersey Tourism"
"The flow of evidence considered by the TSB points to a breakdown in the relationship between the industry and Jersey Tourism"
Which says essentially that Jersey Tourism is not fit for purpose. And the Minister who welcomed the report with such enthusiasm - Senator Alan Maclean - has presided over this dysfunctional state of affairs since his appointment in 2008.
And it doesn't surprise me - just look at the cessation of bus links from the harbour, of all places, into St Helier. That is Jersey Tourism's remit - to lobby for that, and Senator Maclean as Minister responsible for Tourism should have brought pressure to bear on his counterpart at TTS.
It would seem that he was aware in some way of the problems between Jersey Tourism and the industry, and may well have brought the proposition to form a Shadow Tourism Board as a way of sorting matters out, and getting past the impasse in which he found himself locked.
But it took until 2013 for such a proposition to be passed by the States. One wonders if the problems were as bad as this report makes them out to be, what he on earth he was doing in the meantime? Was he banging his head against a brick wall in silence? The report, however, is very vocal in its criticisms:
"The flow of evidence considered by the TSB points to a breakdown in the relationship between the industry and Jersey Tourism; the sector's representative body, the Jersey Hospitality Association, is calling for urgent, radical change"
"Whilst annual marketing plans are developed by Jersey Tourism, there does not appear to be a coherent long-term strategic plan for the promotion of Jersey as a destination"
"The Jersey tourism industry in general and the hospitality sector in particular voiced little confidence in Jersey Tourism's ability to turn things around"
And surely the politicians involved, Senator Ozouf until 2008, and Senator Maclean from that date to the present, must take some of the blame. The report certainly thinks that there has been a failure of political oversight:
"Insufficient political attention was paid to early signs of tourism decline.
"There still appears to be some political equivocation as to the value and importance of tourism"
I always find it amazing when a report which is clearly critical in places of political oversight is welcomed by the Minister involved. I can only suppose it is Senator Maclean's way of deflecting criticism away from himself.
Certainly, this does not want to be matched up with recent stories in the media about tourism being treated as a poor second when it comes to Finance as far as Ministerial support is concerned at promotional events.
Ironically, the preamble to the proposition by Senator Maclean establishing the Shadow Board said that
"Jersey Tourism will, in future, benefit from the appointment of a Shadow Board, drawn from the private sector, to oversee strategy and the day to day operation of the Island's destination marketing programme in the UK, Continental Europe and other international markets."
In fact, the recommendation if the Board is to more or less close Jersey Tourism down! It must have come as something of a shock to staff, given the glowing words of the original Ministerial Decision which said:
"It is a credit to the industry including the activity of Jersey Tourism that despite the worldwide economic conditions, over the last three years, the number of staying leisure visitors and visitor spend has remained largely consistent."
But after the trenchant criticism of the Shadow Board of Jersey Tourism (given above), their report notes:
"Jersey would best be served were the future of tourism put in the hands of a fully independent, grant-funded body, which would subsume all activity currently undertaken by Jersey Tourism and certain other agencies, while developing an entirely new approach"
And will "Visit Jersey" be staffed largely with existing staff, given the divisions and inability of the old Tourism department to work with the industry (one of its key arguments)? And if not, what will happen to those staff? While that is not within its own remit, one would expect Senator Alan Maclean to address that kind of issue, and it is not clear whether he has any firm answers. But he needs to, if only for the sake of the employees for whom he must owe a degree of moral responsibility.
All we have had from the Minister in the JEP is the bland statement - "Are we going to be able to take all staff? No. But there is a great deal of opportunity for existing staff". Clearly staff will have to reapply for jobs in the new "Visit Jersey", with no assurances that they will get any appointments, and no assurances have been given for what will happen if they do not get taken on.  He has said that redeployment within the States and voluntary redundancy are "possibilities" after "Visit Jersey".
"Jersey Tourism will, in future, benefit from the appointment of a Shadow Board" said the Minister. Well, it must be some benefit to an existing Department to have a recommendation that it be replaced! Seldom has the rationale for a proposition been so firmly contradicted by its outcome.
I can only speculate as to morale at Jersey Tourism. It must be rock bottom, especially as the Minister accepted these proposals with such enthusiasm. If the Minister "benefits" from the voters in October in a similar way, he will be out on his ear!
Returning to the report - it attempts to give a history of tourism and its decline. But this historical narrative is highly suspect. It speaks of a rally after attempt by Jersey Tourism to boost the industry, and notes that:
"For a time it seemed the efforts were being rewarded. However, the underlying trend continued to be downward and some of the established players in hospitality and leisure began to exit."
There is no acknowledgement of the fact that the 1980s saw the start of budget airlines cutting swathes into the market. By the 1990s and post-Bergerac, this had devastating effects on the industry. It became cheaper to go to southerly sun-drenched destinations than to come to Jersey, and by retaining the existing price structure, Jersey simply could not compete.
At the time, this also coincided with John Rothwell (President of Tourism Committee) policy to modernise hotels and guest houses and go upmarket, so that the proprietors tended to recoup costs by increasing prices, at what could not have been a worst time.
There was also an edict in place to ensure continuity of year round services, to the exclusion of any cheaper airlines operating in the summer months. In part this was sensible, as the airlines needed the summer for the viability of the winter, but it might have been better to operate more like the domestic bus company, and have more and cheaper flights in the summer balanced by fewer flights in the winter. The net effect, in any rate, was for prices to remain sufficiently high to deter tourists coming to Jersey.
The report does address this, but offers no solutions - "There is no transport policy for the Island, for sea and air which would satisfy both business and leisure traffic with a year-round service"
But the history of decline, which involves the advent of budget airlines to sun-soaked destinations does not seem to have appeared anywhere in the report, which surely is a major oversight. It is like writing about the evacuation at Dunkirk, but without mentioning the encroaching German armies; it is history with a hole in its centre.
The new preliminary recommendations say:
"Access management - protecting and developing all routes into Jersey and managing trade relationships to ensure all forms of traveland booking methods are embraced"
Which doesn't tell us how it is going to address the problem of cost, and competition with budget airlines!
Bottom line: "Visit Jersey" is fundamentally looking at marketting, but it is not clear that it would address the underlying issues such as high air cost to Jersey.
The report lays down the barest guidelines and says that the "Visit Jersey" quango would be tasked with "developing a strategy to consider and resolve these and other details." 
So a lot is being placed on the new entity without specifying in too many details how it would be more successful than the old one. Like Jersey Finance, there is a clear implication buried in the report that it could levy extra funds from members (or stakeholders), so it would have more cash. But how it would measure success seems largely to have been left to itself to decide, which is not perhaps the most independent way of doing so.
For the meantime, we are left with an artists sketch, which is a good start, but is only a work in progress, and does not really get to grips with some fundamental issues.

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