March 04, 2011
The British Hospitality Association welcomes the publication of the government’s tourism strategy, and the support it gives to UK tourism, but it believes there are risks to its implementation.
“Many of the recommendations resonate with the BHA’s own report – Creating Jobs in Britain: a Hospitality Economy Proposition – which the association published last October,” said Ufi Ibrahim, chief executive. “We are very pleased the government has taken many of them up.
“And of course, we are delighted that the prime minister continues to be so committed to the industry.”
However, she said it was frustrating and self-defeating to have a grand design if one government policy pushed the industry forward and another policy dragged it back.
“So we applaud the fact that this strategy is aimed at reaching across Whitehall but we are concerned that new policies empowering local authorities and Local Enterprise Partnerships to support tourism may not be realised.
“While the strategy is long on vision, it appears to be short on how that vision will be translated into reality.”
This was particularly so in the organisation and funding of Local Enterprise Partnerships and Destination Management Organisations, which the strategy admits are critically important in the development of domestic tourism.
“But government has given very little detail about how they will be structured and financed and how supportive of tourism LEPs will be. Yet tourism is the economic driver of many regions of the country. As a result, it’s very difficult to see how effective LEPs will be for hospitality and tourism, and that’s a significant risk to the industry’s latent potential for regeneration and job creation in precisely those areas of the country where it is most needed.”
Ms Ibrahim was also concerned about the strategy’s passing acknowledgment of the high rate of VAT.
“VAT has become one of the most pressing issues facing the industry. The present high rate is making UK tourism very uncompetitive. In the latest World Economic Forum Global Travel & Tourism Competitiveness Monitor, the UK ranks 133rd out of 133 countries in terms of price competitiveness.
“So we are spending £100m on seeking to attract 4m additional visitors to the UK just at a time when the UK is bottom of the international price competitiveness league. This serious price disadvantage also encourages potential staycationers to vacation overseas.
“This is completely counterproductive to the Prime Minister’s objective to grow domestic tourism from 36 per cent to 50 per cent of total tourism spend by UK residents – an objective which we heartily applaud. We need far more action on this issue than the strategy seems willing to deliver.”
Ms Ibrahim also applauded the creation of an industry task force led by senior industry figures to cut red tape, as well as the commitment to improve staff and management skills across the industry by increasing the number of apprenticeships and other courses.
“We already have many task forces but what we feel is most needed is a top level governmental task force in Whitehall, led by the Prime Minister, to bring about his stated vision of making tourism one of the fundamental pillars of the UK economy.”
She also welcomed both the aim to cut passport queues at UK ports and airports as well as the promise to make tourist visas simpler, faster and more convenient by increasing the number of visa biometric ID centres around the world, putting applications online and publishing application guidance in more local languages.
However, more broadly, the hospitality industry would be concerned about how the aims in the strategy would be resourced, how they would be achieved and by when.
“Industry rivalry at an international level continues to intensify. In the case of tourism, one of the only exports in the UK which are subject to VAT, competitiveness cannot be ignored. Tourists have an increasing number of destinations to choose from and price is one of the key factors in deciding where to travel.”
The government was clearly leaving much to the private sector to organise and fund but this was at a time when the private sector was being squeezed by higher costs and the implementation of higher prices through the 20 per cent VAT rate.
“That’s a double whammy. Yes, BHA members will certainly be very active, both nationally and regionally, to ensure that the strategy is implemented in the most effective way. And we very much welcome the government’s stated support for tourism and its confidence in the industry’s potential for growth.
“But is government leaving too much to the private sector, without any funding or any indication of specific government action to support the strategy’s implementation?”
She said that VisitEngland’s application for funding from the Regional Growth Fund was critical to the future of UK tourism.
“We call on the Fund to provide the resources so that VisitEngland can support the industry’s activities which will, in turn, create more jobs.
“We are actively promoting partnership between industry and government and the BHA is eager to discuss further the opportunities and reduce the risks that the strategy has highlighted. Only then can we achieve our stated goal of sustainable tourism growth and the creation of new and additional jobs.”