Brighton and Hove is a seaside tourism-based economy and the jobs of many rely on the city projecting a tourist-friendly image.
Direct tourism accounts for around 14 per cent of all employment, equivalent to 21,000 direct jobs in the local economy.
It also accounts for a spending injection of nearly £886 million in Brighton and Hove – more than Brighton and Hove City Council’s annual budget.
With so many jobs at stake, tourism should be a major priority for the council.
That is why it is worrying sign that the city performed so poorly in recent national tourism survey.
It should be a canary in the coalmine for the council’s political administration.
A survey of 3,700 tourists conducted by consumer body Which? put Brighton and Hove in the bottom half of Britain’s seaside destinations in a lowly 70th place out of a possible 105.
So what is going wrong with the council’s tourism policy?
A revolving door at the tourism committee
There is growing evidence that neither the Greens nor Labour are taking tourism as seriously as they should be at the council.
There has been a revolving door of leadership on the council’s tourism committee beginning to take its toll of the local tourism sector.
So far this year, the council’s important Tourism, Equalities, Communities and Culture Committee has had four different chairs – two Labour and two Green.
Labour has had three different spokespersons, with Brighton and Hove News reporting on the latest Labour councillor to stand down from this role this month.
The Greens, the current administration, have had three different spokespersons, and have now split the role with two joint chairs.
This instability of leadership on such an important committee has translated into a muddled tourism policy which has increasingly alarmed the industry.
The treatment of Brighton’s historic motoring events by the council this year is a case in point.
Brighton hosts dozens of motoring events in Madeira Drive – many of which have taken place for at least a decade – including the Ace Café Reunion and the Brightona motor cycle rally, speed trials, the Classic Car Run, Brighton Breeze – for VW owners – and rallies for Mini and historic commercial vehicle owners.
A study by Sussex University estimated that the Veteran Car Run alone brings in £1.1 million to the local economy. The event attracts 10,000 people, with day visitors spending an average of £50 each and overnight visitors £200.
But this year, incredibly, both Labour and the Greens put the future of all nine of Brighton’s historic motoring events under review.
First Labour, under pressure from a campaign group, refused to give unequivocal support to the future of historic motoring events in Madeira Drive apparently on environmental grounds.
Then, after a backlash from the public, tourism industry and event organisers, Labour was driven to a U-turn – but then collapsed, allowing the Greens to take power.
At the first council meeting under the Green administration in August, the future of heritage motoring events was once again put under threat again, with a Green spokesperson comparing the speed trials to the hundred years war, the glorification of speed and stating that anyone who wanted to see a Mini could just stand in the street.
This caused a fresh round of uncertainty and distress to the organisers of heritage motoring events and put jobs and a significant part of our tourism economy at risk.
With the tourist economy being so vital to Brighton and Hove, tourism policy should be a priority focus for our council.
While Labour and Greens have been squabbling over who should run the council and swapping deck chairs on the tourism committee, Conservatives have been listening and engaging with the tourism industry over the summer, standing up for the industry and putting forward ideas to strengthen it in the future.
Conservative councillors Lee Wares and Robert Nemeth have been focusing on engaging with businesses and attractions in the key tourism precinct of Madeira Drive and looking to protect and expand the base of the tourism industry in this area.
Thanks to their efforts, the Conservative compromise to reopen Madeira Drive as a reconfigured one-way street has been put into effect, the council has been forced into another U-turn on the future of heritage motoring events and exciting new proposals for a rejuvenated Volk’s railway will go to the council this week.
At a national level, the Conservative government recognises the importance of tourism to Brighton and Hove’s economy and has provided the funding to support tourism businesses in the city.
In a boost to tourism the government provided £4.2 million to save 40 theatres, arts venues, museums and cultural organisations across Brighton and Hove.
Venues and organisations include Concorde 2, the Brighton Dome and Festival, Latest Bar and Brighton Pride – key parts of the tourism economy.
Culture Secretary Oliver Dowden said that investment was a “vital boost” for “cultural beacons” across the country.
The Conservatives have maintained a clarity of purpose and vision during the pandemic on the importance of a strong tourism industry to our seaside city.
It is vital for local jobs that our tourist economy that Brighton and Hove City Council does the same.
Councillor Steve Bell is the leader of the Conservative group on Brighton and City Council.