Thank you Mr President
Happy to second, in order to ensure that we do have this very important debate on tourism and the visitor experience – but I am not entirely sure at this moment in the time if I will be supporting the motion on the Order Paper….
The Hon Member for Arbory, Castletown and Malew, Mr Moorhouse moving the motion is asking that Tynwald is of the opinion that the visitor experience on the Isle of Man should be improved, and that the Council of Ministers should submit an improvement plan ahead of TT 2024.
As the political member responsible for tourism and motorsport on the island for over six years, I was a little confused from reading the motion around exactly what the Hon Member meant by “Visitor Experience”…
… was the Hon member talking about the first impression that our visitors get when they come to see our beautiful island or the actual number of visitor attractions available in and out of the tourism season?
Therefore, I have split my comments into two sections, because I think we have all seen the excellent videos that were produced by Charles Guard, in order to highlight the current state of Douglas as the Capital of this island that continues to have around 30 abandoned sites across the capital at the moment.
Unfortunately, Douglas is not alone, because there are far too many empty brownfield sites across the whole island, which does bring down the general look and feel of the island at the moment – but that doesn’t mean we still don’t have a wonderful Island to visit and explore any time of the year.
During Covid-19 I remember seeing a lot families, groups and individuals taking the opportunity when they could to get out and explore our beautiful island…
Many of them uploaded and shared pictures and their stories, and I would encourage all island residents to continue to do that, because it does help promote our island to potential visitors.
One point made by Charles Guard, which I do fully agree with, relates to the half developed sites in the capital, which gives a very negative impact on the island…
…and I would fully support any legislation that ensures that any key developments across the island are completed within a set timeframe.
As for visitor attractions, I think my Hon friend from Arbory, Castletown and Malew should spend more of his free time actually exploring what the Isle of Man does have to offer at the moment, because he is very fortune to be representing one of the most beautiful parts of the island.
Within his own Constituency he has Castle Rushen, the old House of Keys, the Nautical Museum, a beautiful Railway Station, Rushen Abbey, Derby Fort and Scarlett Point to name a few of the experiences that my colleague can and should explore…
My Hon friend also has some of the best pubs and eateries …so he certainly isn’t lacking visitor experiences within his Constituency.
In fact the Hon Member might be surprised to know that the Isle of Man has around 70 visitor attractions, which embrace our culture, heritage and history, along with sharing our myths, legends, music, language and our links back to our Viking and Celtic origins – these form the cornerstones of our tourism offering.
Our heritage transport systems also remains a unique selling point to both independent and group travellers.
I think we also need to be very careful around any negative headlines in respect of the island’s tourism sector at the moment, because it does seriously impact on our visitor economy, and it certainly doesn’t help with its recovery.
Prior to March 2020 I felt confidence in the island’s tourism sector was growing and that we had started to see inward investment in new hotels, an ever growing and increasing portfolio of self-catering properties and the investment of the new Liverpool Ferry Terminal, along with new Manxman ferry.
Establishing the Visit Agency in 2018 also helped to bring together industry and government in ways never previously seen before.
We also have to remember that Covid-19 hit the island’s tourism sector very hard in March 2020 and it was the first industry to feel its impact, and one of the last industries to open up with many still feeling its effects….
…but the island’s tourism sector has survived.
We always knew that the recovery of the Isle of Man tourism sector would be slow, but I personally feel that the Visit Agency, the tourism and motorsport teams within DfE have done an amazing job post Covid…
…and I would certainly like to put record my sincere thanks for their hard work over the last couple of years.
The marketing teams also have to work tirelessly to encourage people to visit our beautiful island, especially out of season…
…and that is not an easy task at the moment with serious issues around connectivity to and from the island, which must be having a serious effect on business and leisure passenger numbers at the moment.
In 2022, Isle of Man Visit Agency published their 10 year strategy entitled “Our Island, Our Future”, which set out a very clear plan around leisure opportunities, along with enhancing the Isle of Man as a place to invest, work, live and relocate.
One of the key headlines within the strategy is to grow the annual visitor numbers to 500,000, along with an economic contribution of £520 million and creating 5,000 jobs by 2032.
I still believe that these figures are achievable, but we need to focus all of our attention on the development of a competitive visitor experience that raises awareness of the Isle of Man as a visitor destination.
The 2022 report also highlighted the fact that the island’s tourism sector has been underperforming as a holiday and short break destination and that our accommodation offering, although it is improving, is still behind many of our competitors.
The Island Plan calls for a tourism offering which is more diverse, supports our island all year round, and is a valued and growing part of the island’s proposition to both visitors and residents.
If we are to lift overall standards, see new investment in the sector, along with fully delivering those key objectives in respect of our tourism sector then the Manx Government has to take the Isle of Man tourism sector more seriously…
…and to do that then we need to have a serious discussion around setting up a new Government Department, which will focus all of its attention on the island’s tourism, heritage, culture, transport and the arts.
The new Department’s core principle would be to drive forward tourism numbers over the next 15 years, protect our heritage, culture and arts for future generations, improve our connectivity to and from the island via our air and sea routes, which benefits locals, visitors and our local Manx economy.
The Department would also be tasked with continuing to improve the overall visitor experience to the island and to lift the overall standards right across the tourism sector on the island.
Unfortunately, the Department of Community, Culture and Leisure was dissolved in April 2014 and many of its functions and responsibilities were placed in the wrong Government Departments at the time…
…and that single decision has had a major impact on our visitor economy.
I genuinely believe that now is the right time to start bringing these components back together under a new Department, and it is the right time to restore confidence and to lay down a solid foundation to rebuild a sustainable tourism sector on the Isle of Man for the future.
I listen to the rest of the debate, but I am not entirely sure the motion is needed, especially when the Visit Agency has published its 10 years Visitor Economic Strategy.
Thank you Mr President