'England's tourism is sidelined'

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The Independent Online
THE GOVERNMENT'S long-awaited tourism strategy will downgrade the idea of England as a holiday destination, the Conservatives have claimed.

Chris Smith, Secretary of State for Culture, Media and Sport, will unveil the plans at the Millennium Dome in Greenwich tomorrow as a great step forward for the UK's fifth largest industry.

Among the announcements will be an annual tourism summit, more cash for London and the regions and moves to increase access for the poor and disabled. However, the strategy document, a copy of which has been leaked to The Independent, shows that the English Tourist Board will be slimmed down and given a "narrower remit".

The ETB will have its marketing powers removed, a decision that the Tories claimed would abolish the "England marque" in all future advertisements and promotions.

While its sister authorities in Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland all have increased budgets, the English board will be forced to cut its publicity and hand over most of its functions to regional boards. The per-head government spend on tourism in the UK will work out at pounds 8.45 for Northern Ireland, pounds 3.76 for Scotland, pounds 4.99 for Wales and 20p for England.

The strategy document, The Tourism Challenge, has been delayed three times by the Government since its intended launch date last summer.

Peter Ainsworth, the Tory spokesman on culture, said the document was "an empty publicity stunt" which failed to address the real problems facing the industry such as the strength of the pound and increased red tape.

"The proposed new ETB will be little more than a talking shop. It's a poke in the eye for the English and is part of the Government's downgrading of the country as part of devolution. It further marginalises England within the British Isles," he said. "England, to attract 85 per cent of all visitors to the UK, will become the only nation in the developed world which doesn't have its own marketing remit."

The document outlines six key areas to develop and improve tourism within the UK over the next decade, including improving traditional seaside resorts. Regeneration grants will be directed at some coastal resorts to tackle deprivation while boosting jobs and skills in the tourism industry.

In contrast to the ETB, the British Tourist Authority will be given an extra pounds 5m over the next three years to raise the nation's profile at home and abroad.

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