by Simon Lester
Everyone working in the tourism and hospitality industry knows how vital our industry is to the communities in which we work. Over the past five years, employers like me have created one-in-five new jobs, invested millions of pounds into local economies and bolstered the British economy by £126.9bn. However, despite this important contribution, as an industry we are consistently undervalued at the highest level.
The British Hospitality Association and the Campaign to Cut Tourism VAT are working to address this, issuing a call to action for the industry to help push hospitality up the Government’s agenda. In September last year, I attended their Hospitality and Tourism Day in Westminster. Along with contingent of business owners and industry leaders from across the country, we descended on Parliament for a day of meetings and discussions at the highest level of Government. We were there to raise awareness about the contribution our industry is making across the country, as well as to call for action on some of the key issues we face.
Over a working lunch, we were updated on the latest economic figures for the industry and agreed on the most pressing challenges and our key asks for politicians. As if on cue the heavens opened as we made our way over to the Houses of Parliament, reminding us once again of one of British tourism’s greatest challenges.
Whilst they weren’t able to fix the weather, our MP meetings were productive and politicians were keen to hear our experiences. Many were aware of the importance of tourism to their constituencies, but some were surprised at the percentage of employment that our industry accounted for. Discussions turned to how best parliamentarians can alleviate some of the major issues that we face as employers. In particular, the tax burden on businesses working in our industry is almost uniquely high in Britain and we pointed to the Campaign to Cut Tourism VAT’s call for a reduction as a potential driver of growth.
Having met with David Davies MP, in whose constituency my business runs hotels, I was fortunate enough to bump into my own Member of Parliament, David Burrows MP in the corridor. Whilst surprised to see a still-damp constituent roaming the halls, he was intrigued about that day and has since met with me to discuss some of the issues. I have also met with Grant Shapps MP as I also operate a hotel in his constituency too!
To round off a successful day, Caroline Lucas MP hosted a celebratory reception speaking alongside BHA Chairman, Nick Varney. A large number of MPs dropped in to meet their constituency business leaders over drinks and canapés. Word had spread through Westminster as to just how hospitable the hospitality industry can be, and the reception was filled with an almost unprecedented number of MPs and peers.
More than 60 MPs from all major parties were involved in the day, including members of the Culture, Media and Sport Committee which oversees tourism. The day provided not only unprecedented access to the decision-makers who shape the way our industry operates but it also helped foster enduring working relationships between parliamentarians and business leaders. Since September, I have had two MPs contact me to discuss the priorities of my business and come to visit our hotels in their constituencies. This year’s Hospitality and Tourism Day is taking place on Tuesday 13th September 2016 and I would urge both BHA members and businesses of any size to get involved and to use it as an opportunity to represent our industry.
Simon Lester is Chairman and Chief Executive of Lester Hotels, a leading hotel management and development consultancy with 8 properties across the country. He is also the Group Chairman of The Academy for Chief Executives and the Executive Chairman of Venue Directory.com.