Tough times for distribution of local tourist-related products in the UK with confirmation that a system to share details of services on consumer-focused websites is being axed.
VisitEngland has spent the best part of the last the last ten years developing the EnglandNet project, a scheme to establish a national and publicly-funded network of booking and payment services for tourism products.
The platform allowed tourism board websites around the country to include an online search and listing platform from a central database of products.
It was funded centrally by the UK government as well as grants from individual, regional boards, and was owned and managed by VisitBritain from the beginning of 2006.
Startup costs for the project were in the region of ¬£6.8 million and, according to VisitEngland, has cost between ¬£1 million and ¬£1.6 million a year to operate – a figure disputed by critics who claim a far higher cost to taxpayers and regional development boards.
The writing was on the wall for the project earlier this year when VisitEngland announced that due to a 34% budget cut over the next four years implemented by central government that it would no longer support the project either financially or operationally from the end of September 2011.
At the time, VisitEngland said the design of the product database was such that it could be released as an “open source toolset”, so third parties could use the technology to develop their own systems and allow existing systems to “interoperate”.
Owner of the search and booking element, Evvivo, was said to be keen to continue operating the services and work with other technical suppliers, with VisitEngland pledging to “ensure a smooth transition and minimise inconvenience”.
It has now emerged that not only has the project seen its public funding cut but technology – and consumer access to the the vast array of products – will be cut by the end of August 2011, meaning all search facilities are effectively being removed from the VisitEngland and regional websites.
An official says:
“VisitEngland is confident that continuing advances in technology and changing consumer behaviour and expectations relating to information access make this the right time for the industry to implement a new approach to product promotion at the national level.”
The move comes a year ahead of the London 2012 Olympics, an event which tourism bosses are hoping will attract visitors across the world to the UK.
VisitEngland claims “the breadth and depth of product which is promoted through private sector product search and booking services has increased significantly”, a trend it hopes will be a “realistic and highly cost effective alternative” to the facilities provided by EnglandNet.