MPs launch rural tourism inquiry

AN influential committee of MPs has launched an inquiry into the role of tourism in supporting rural growth in England.

Rural tourism provides around £17 billion a year to the English economy.

But rural communities face some particular challenges to tourism growth such as transport connections, restrictions to broadband access and seasonal employment.

Now the the Environment, Food and Rural Affairs (EFRA) select committee has launched an inquiry into how rural tourism can be supported.

Committee chairman Neil Parish said: "Tourism in rural areas creates job opportunities and supports the economic viability of communities."

MPs would examine how effectively public programmes and government policies support rural areas to stay competitive in a global industry, he added.

England has seen a rise in tourism spend in the past year from domestic and international visitors – but over half of the money spent by overseas tourists is in London.

Figures by Visit England show that in 2014 just 18% of domestic overnight trips were taken to rural areas – down from 22% in 2012.

The inquiry will examine how more people from at home and abroad can be encouraged to visit more of England's rural places, for longer and at all times of the year.

It will look at ways to encourage farmers and rural residents to diversify into tourism and grow their businesses in the countryside.

Mr Parish said the committee wanted to ensure visitors' experiences were balanced with the need to preserve the environment and the character of local communities.

"We will also be asking how we can work to make the growth of countryside and coastal tourism sustainable, balancing economic, social and environmental interests."

The committee is seeking written submissions on the following key questions:

* Marketing: How well do agencies promote rural destinations across England? What more should be done?
* Access: What changes, if any, are needed to give people better access to the coast and countryside?
* Funding and fiscal policies: How can public funding be best targeted to support new rural tourist businesses?
* Planning and regulation: What, if any, changes are needed to regulations covering special rural areas?
* Infrastructure and skills: What measures are needed to ensure infrastructure meets visitor needs?
* Local environment and character: How can policies balance the needs of tourism and the environment?
* Defra role: Should Defra play a role encouraging other government departments to support rural tourism?

Written evidence should be submitted online by 6 September via the Rural Tourism in England inquiry page.

Submissions should be no longer than 3000 words.


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