Can we afford to wait for 2012?
by Marc W. Etches

Can we afford to wait for 2012?

With eight Local Authorities vying for one ‘super casino’ licence has the UK Government got it all wrong? What about the potential value of these licences to tourism in the UK?

The current UK balance of payments for international tourism is in deficit to the tune of £20 billion and growing. The World Travel and Tourism Council predicts that within the next ten years the UK will lose 20% of global market share and become the 10th worst performing international destination out of the 174 economies it measures.

The number of people employed in the UK in what is regarded as the world’s largest generator of wealth and jobs, travel and tourism, is expected to fall in real terms in a period when the rising prosperity of China, India and Russia is voraciously consuming new destinations for business and leisure tourism.

So has the UK lost sight of the bigger picture? Is it about to lose a golden opportunity for upping its game in terms of its tourism product? At a time when the Department of Culture, Media and Sport (DCMS) is consulting on its 2012 Tourism Strategy and proclaiming the need to position the UK as a truly world-class destination, its public policy in relation to casinos is apposite.

The ‘scandal’ surrounding the Dome has seemingly made it even more likely the Government will stick to one regional casino. However, there are half a dozen companies that have the financial resources, operational experience and commercial desire to invest in creating world-class integrated entertainment complexes in the UK.

The development of eight such facilities would attract around £3bn of capital expenditure, directly employ 16,000 people, develop much-needed workforce skills and generate £600 million annually on salaries and services within local economies.

Bizarrely, and despite the clear need to leverage private sector funding for urban regeneration projects in this country, most of this capital and the ensuing benefits will probably end up elsewhere in Europe.

The current political impasse over the disparity between the number of willing local authorities and available licences has the potential to topple over into a morass of legal challenges including one against the monopolistic situation of one licence in one location until at least 2015.

The location of several licences in one location could be a popular and politically convenient solution. Of course, there would be disappointment among those cities that lose out but such a concentration of investment in infrastructure, jobs and skills would be a powerful catalyst for the creation of a truly world-class entertainment destination.

The consequent market efficiencies of such critical mass would be attractive to the operators; the arrival of Universal in Orlando was beneficial to Disney as much as to Florida.

The Casino Advisory Panel is taking Evidence in Public in September from Blackpool, Brent, Cardiff, Glasgow, Greenwich, Manchester, Newcastle and Sheffield and will make its final recommendations to Government in December. The final decision will be a matter for Tessa Jowell, and ultimately Parliament.

The regeneration and tourism value of locating several regional casinos in one location could act as a national project, primarily paid for by the private sector, that would inspire the leisure and tourism industry to raise the bar of quality and service delivery; a national tourism project that would help the UK to regain a competitive edge in the global marketplace. It might also be universally popular!

Date Posted: 21-Aug-2006

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