As the festive season approaches here at the HTF offices it is all still go – a visit to Blenheim Palace yesterday to organise next year’s English Tourism Week conference brought home just how wonderful is our national tourism offer – so much culture, heritage and enterprise rolled into one. Nothing could have been more beautiful in the crisp cold blue of yesterday’s morning than the vista of Blenheim framed by the lake and the sunshine and the festive cheer as we pulled in – and it was heartening to see that Blenheim, a successful tourism model if ever there was one, maximising the spirit of Christmas enterprise by the sale of some rather magnificent Norwegian pines (the ones that don’t drop needles) grown and sold from the estate itself. Our conference, ‘Culture, Heritage, Tourism – developing the product’ will be held at Blenheim on 16 March and will feature a key note speech from Lady Cobham, Chair of VisitEngland, and a follow-up from John Hoy, Blenheim’s Chief Executive, on the success of Blenheim as an economic model.
Which leads us to enterprise on the High Street and the Portas Review. Some of the areas we will cover in our conference include the gap in skills – particularly around customer service within the tourism industry – and on our return journey, out of interest, we visited some retail areas within various historic cores. I was surprised by how quiet these shops were at this time of year, and also by the fairly low standard of customer service (although it pains me to say it). The Portas Review, out this week, has 28 recommendations for High Street recovery. These focus largely on filling empty premises and show considerable strategic vision, but there could be stronger links to the particular offer of tourism within high street cores, and within this addressing the issue of skills is imperative. The customer service was so poor in the places we visited yesterday that I could well see at least one reason why they were empty. With 2012 fast approaching and overseas visitors expected at an all-time high, we would surely want their retail experience to be as good as their tourism experience – there must be greater join-up between the two. And it goes without saying (although I shall say it) that the heritage offer within the high street of the historic town should be included within this.
But enough scrooging for now! Here at the office we wish you all a lovely festive season and extend our heartfelt thanks to you all for your continued support. We look very much forward to seeing you all again in 2012, and hope you will enjoy our 25th Anniversary celebrations! Merry Christmas!