Bob Cotton, outgoing chief executive of the British Hospitality Association, says hospitality operators will be looking to the new Government for only one thing: recognition of the contribution the industry currently makes to the national and regional economies…
Despite many official reports and "frameworks" - few of which have been read and none of which has had much impact - tourism and hospitality has grown to a £110b industry that is largely misunderstood by Government.
Any measures that the Government has introduced have been wholly negative - such as the abolition of the Hotel Buildings Allowance, the reduction in other capital allowances, the escalation of the Air Passenger Duty and the all-pervading increase in the number of regulations (and resulting costs) that are imposed on business generally.
So, if nothing else, the industry would be grateful for a Government that, at least, made an attempt to understand what tourism has achieved, what it is currently achieving and what it could achieve, if only those in Whitehall and Westminster recognised its potential.
To begin with, it's a massive creator of new jobs, both skilled and unskilled, full-time and part-time - over two million if every sector is taken into account. In many parts of the country - the South-west, the Lake District, many costal resorts, parts of Scotland and Wales, even London - tourism remains the key economic driver; in some cases, the only economic driver.
Both cities and rural areas benefit. No industry can create jobs so quickly so easily. About 1,000 new hotels have opened in the past eight years - that's almost 50,000 jobs, with half that number planned for the next five years. How many more in the restaurant and other sectors?
Yet Government fiscal measures hold back this expansion, particularly inhibiting independent operators from investing in their property, thus improving their facilities.
Secondly, Government refuses to ring-fence any money to promote Britain in the coming decade, when we have the Olympic Games in 2012, the Rugby World Cup in 2014, the possibility of the Football World Cup in 2018. Instead, VisitBritain has to cope with these major events and still continue its current promotions to an ever-widening circle of source countries, on an ever-decreasing budget.
Finally, the increasing use of legislation to regulate every aspect of business life is a source of huge concern. It is not only the complexity of the new regulations that worry operators, it is the cost of implementation.
The danger is apparent, from calorie-counted dishes on the menu (not yet compulsory but beware!) to the chaos of the introduction of the Scores on the Doors scheme; from the confusion of the new licensing law in Scotland to the danger that hotels face under the new Digital Economy Bill if guests illegally download material from the internet.
There are numerous other examples of regulations - the regular increase in the national minimum wage is only one example - that are seriously affecting the financial viability of many businesses. Yet government looks to these same businesses to raise even more taxes: the proposed increase in national insurance is likely to cost hospitality employers £100m a year.
The industry is hamstrung by regulations that have a negative impact on costs and jobs, yet ministers seem determined to introduce more and more of them. And in all this, the Government's better regulation efforts have yet to make any real impact.
With justification, the industry has been urging the Government to take tourism seriously for the past three years. We can only hope that the next Government will meet that challenge.
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