Visit Isle of ManThank you Mr President 

Happy to second this important motion by the DfE Minister. 

As the political member responsible for tourism on the island it has been an enormous privilege to have been involved and to have worked so closely with this particular sector of the Manx economy over the past six years. 

The Isle of Man visitor economy plays a fundamental role in island life and prior to March 2020 we were welcoming almost 330,000 visitors from 11 regional airports and ferry terminals who spent around £142 million during their travel and stay on our beautiful island. 

This included over 46,000 visitors making their annual trip to the Isle of Man TT, which remains a primary visitor attraction. We also welcomed around 47 cruise ships in 2019, which was a record number of ships calling into the Isle of Man in one year.  

However, many others visitors to the Isle of Man prior to March 2020 simply took the opportunity to enjoy this unique island in the Irish sea that offers unspoilt countryside, extensive coastlines and an adventure playground on the doorstep.

In addition to the TT, visitors to the Island have the opportunity to take part in a whole host of events throughout the year which promote the island’s sporting prowess, cultural identity and unique landscapes and natural beauty. 

The Island also offers over 70 visitor attractions that 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. 

Between 2016 and 2019 confidence in the island’s tourism sector was growing, which is highlighted by the inward investment in three new hotels on the island, an ever growing portfolio of self-catering properties and the investment of the new Liverpool Ferry Terminal as well as the introduction of the Manxman ferry.

The Visit Isle of Man Agency, which was established in 2018 to benefit the island’s visitor economy was also gaining real traction by bringing together industry and government in ways previously not seen, particularly with the development of the Visitor First committee. 

Unfortunately, Covid-19 hit the world’s tourism economy 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. 

Mr President 

Now is the 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. 

The Isle of Man Government’s own 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. 

“Our Island, Our Future Isle of Man Visitor Economy Strategy 2022 – 2032” delivers those objectives, and it is the first Visitor Economy Strategy to be brought before Tynwald since 2004, a sign of not only its importance but also the scale of the challenge which lies ahead.

The strategy is also designed to complement and inform the strategies, policies and ambitions across all government departments, agencies and bodies, but it is crucial that the Visit Isle of Man Agency also has the support of Honourable Members here today, in order to deliver the action programme laid out in the strategy. 

The strategy outlines ambitious targets, with a headline target to grow annual visitor numbers to 500,000 and a subsequent economic contribution of £520million by 2032, but we feel it is an achievable target especially if we focus on the development of a more compelling and competitive visitor experience that raises awareness of the Isle of Man as a visitor destination, along with attracting new visitor markets and creating rewarding career opportunities for individuals working within the sector. 

The targets within the strategy are also underpinned by the overall objective of creating a distinctive Manx visitor experience and the establishment of the Island as an eco-tourism destination.  

A vision that we feel is wholly achievable given our unique selling points, loyal customer base and a clear potential to grow through market and product development, with a particular focus on our Biosphere.

The strategy is made up of a comprehensive programme of market research, consultancy studies and competitor comparison, which have consistently shown great potential for growth in the Island’s visitor economy and the benefits that this will deliver for our visitors and for island residents. 

The strong evidence base on which the strategy is built provides a robust platform to support the ambitious targets, including:

  • primary research into potential holiday and short break visitors across the UK and Ireland;
  • Primary and secondary research into the potential visitor population across the UK and Ireland;
  • Consultancy studies which have looked into the opportunities and priorities for hotel and visitor accommodation improvement and development;
  • the potential to develop the Island’s visitor attractions and outdoor activities;
  • Requirements for improving quality assurance;
  • KPMG’s “Our Big Picture Economy Strategy” has so far identified the Visitor Economy as a growth opportunity and they have included the strategy as part of their work

Mr President 

As I have already mentioned, COVID-19 had a devastating impact on the tourism industry, not just in the Isle of Man but globally, and this is one of the main reasons we are presenting a ten year strategy, which allows time for the industry to recover, rebuild and grow.

Covid-19 also caused a significant change in the lifestyle of people worldwide, and subsequently their habits and wishes when thinking about travel and holidaying. 

Research from both Visit Isle of Man and global travel businesses shows there is a growing appetite for travel, but that there is a preference for sustainable travel to minimise the impact on the environment.

We fully appreciate and recognise the challenge which being an island with the additional travel requirements brings. 

This is why the Visit Agency will be working closely with the travel operators, the Isle of Man Steam Packet Company and Air Carriers to promote sustainable travel over the next 10 years. 

Alongside sustainability, there is a heightened focus on travelling for personal well-being. The Isle of Man, as a UNESCO Biosphere reserve, and a nation known for its wide open spaces is ideally placed to capitalise on these growing trends.

The future of travel certainly looks brighter, as people plan to travel more, increase their investment in trips, and adapt to a changing travel landscape. But that means the Isle of Man must adapt too, and prepare for fluctuations in demand for the foreseeable future. 

In this new environment of uneven recovery, it’s more important than ever to address our challenges in order to stand out from the competition and gain our representative share of the growing UK domestic tourism market.

We are currently underperforming as a holiday and short break destination – primarily due to a lack of awareness of what there is to do on Island, perception of travel costs, the highly seasonal nature of our proposition and a lack of diversity in the accommodation sector. 

The strategy outlines seven action programmes, designed to address these and our other challenges over time.

I recognise that the Strategy doesn’t provide the answers to all our challenges, but what it does do is lay down a clear way forward for the Visit Agency to investigate and seek external investment and support in order to meet the objectives laid out within the action programmes. 

Should the strategy be approved here today; the next steps will be the development of clear operational and tactical plans, in conjunction with the relevant stakeholders. 

Measurable targets will be set for each action programme and their constituent projects, with progress monitored through research and performance measurement surveys.  

I have already spoken about it being a 10 year strategy. Our key focus from the outset will be to address the most obvious issues – that of seasonality, capacity and ensuring the experience of current visitors meets their expectations. 

We will do this by targeting and growing our current core target markets and developing our events offering. 

The Visitor First working Group already has a number of projects in place to enhance the visitor welcome at the Sea Terminal, Welcome Centre and Isle of Man Airport as well as initiatives to boost the knowledge of visitor facing teams across industry. 

These projects will have an immediate impact as we lay the foundation for a solid platform from which we can build, as our action programmes materialise and visitor numbers increase.

In 2019 there were over 60 million domestic overnight holiday stays in Great Britain. Primary research from Visit Isle of Man also in 2019 highlighted that at least 11 million of these holiday makers are suited to our current proposition – so we know the market exists.  

As we start to deliver on the key actions, market and brand development will be critical to the success of the strategy..

The motion includes the production of an annual report on progress which is to be included in the annual Department plans going forward. 

The Agency recognises that the approach to delivery must change, with performance management and data shortages being addressed as a priority. 

Honourable members, I hope you can see the potential that the Visitor Economy can offer to the future of the Island and its residents, and I hope you can support the proposed strategy which wishes to capitalise on this.

Thank you Mr President