The recommendation comes during a Triennial Review of tourism quasi-autonomous non-governmental organisations (quangos), for which the government is currently accepting submissions.
Penrose’s proposals are in line with the Tourism Policy launched during his time as minister and maintained by both his successors. They point to the fact that Visit England is the only national tourist board that is still legally a part of VisitBritain, whereas Visit Scotland, Visit Wales and Discover Northern Ireland are all independent.
“VisitEngland and VisitBritain are vital cogs in tourism’s wheel. Without their work, our visitor economy wouldn’t have been nearly so successful, and the Olympic tourism legacy would have been a lot smaller. But the world moves on, so they need to deal with new challenges.
“VisitEngland should be fully independent, so it can match Visit Scotland, Visit Wales or Discover Northern Ireland at last. And both VisitBritain and VisitEngland should ramp up their partnership marketing still further, so they steadily grow out of their dependence on government cash and eventually become industry-wide marketing coordinators instead of public sector quangos,” Penrose said.
VisitEngland said it appreciated his support.
In its submission, he explained that legally separating the two entities would not pose any technical difficulties, as VisitEngland has been demerged from VisitBritain on an operational level for five years and is now “ready to stand on its own feet”.
According to him, VisitEngland should spend more time helping local tourism boards across the country to market their individual areas better, while continuing to work in partnership with VisitBritain and tourism companies.
Ultimately, Penrose believes VisitEngland and VisitBritain should become independent industry-wide trade bodies coordinating tourism marketing campaigns.
He added that VisitBritain and VisitEngland currently achieve a 1:1 match between public and private matched marketing funds, but that the best-in-class performance from tourism boards in other countries is higher, with some of them delivering ratios of 1:3 or more.
“Given the continued pressure on public spending, improving this leverage ratio to match the level of 1:3 or more over the course of the next Comprehensive Spending Review period should be a priority. That said, delivering this amount of improved leverage won’t be easy, and will take time.
“VisitBritain and VisitEngland will have to build on the commercial marketing relationships they have developed over the last few years. They must build and retain credibility as desirable and competent marketing partners if they’re going to attract a larger share of the marketing budgets of highly-commercial tourism sector companies,” Penrose said.