Making the tourist bus travel further

You see an awful lot of tourists around Westminster. They pose for photos in front of Big Ben and queue to take the river buses. They spend a lot of money.

There are Germans, Scandinavians, a growing number nowadays from Korea and China. And sometimes you want to take them aside and quietly ask why they've not thought of travelling a bit further afield to see the real Britain away from the capital.

Image caption The committee taking evidence

What about the rolling South Downs? The heritage of Portsmouth waterfront? The beautiful villages of Dorset?

Especially after the Olympics tourists seem locked into London. But MPs have been taking evidence on ways to improve our country's offer for tourists, and the South Coast was at the top of their agenda.

Professor of tourism at Bournemouth University Adam Blake was blunt in his assessment of how difficult it is to persuade tourists off the beaten track.

He said it had been a problem of British tourism for generations. "When people are on a restricted time and budget London is always top of their list."

Image caption Bournemouth MP Conor Burns led questioning

Dorset MP Conor Burns is on the committee and said Visit England often turned into Visit London. What about the 2012 Olympics - weren't attempts made to spread people across the UK's nations and regions?

"In reality it didn't actually do that much during the Olympics." He said: "It was envisaged as a major spreading of tourists, but it never materialised."

'Wrong time'

The director of the National Coastal Tourism Academy, Samantha Richardson, felt the Olympics had come at just the wrong time. Regional tourist boards had been abolished, they were desperate to make the most of tourists drawn in, but the structure had gone.

Image caption Coastal Tourism Academy Director, Samantha Richardson

"The Olympics were an opportunity missed," she concluded.

But it wasn't all doom and gloom. Dorset still has big ambitions to tear those tourists away from Stonehenge and Oxford.

The Culture, Media and Sport Committee also heard from the leader of Bournemouth council, John Beesley.

His ambition is for the town to become "a world class resort" and to get their he says the council and partners have been investing heavily over a long period of time. Now he said that was attracting investment and interest.

But under questioning, Councillor Beesley neatly illustrated the problems of parochial attitudes when it comes to winning new tourist business.

On the Dorset Local Enterprise Partnership, he said, there had been disagreement on what sort of campaign to run. Some favoured a bid to bring people to the coastal resorts, others wanted Dorset's rolling countryside in the shop window.

In the meantime tourists are locked in to the trail of Stonehenge/Oxford/London and the South's attractions are missing out.