One of the messages to emerge from the Joint Hospitality Industry Congress (JHIC) meeting in London last week could not have been clearer. In fact, it was so clear, so obvious and, perhaps, so familiar that there's a real danger that it will go unnoticed by the people who need to hear it. The people I'm thinking of reside in Westminster and are often more interested in football, films and fantasy than foreign visitors.
JHIC has published a report, and everyone who has anything to do with tourism in the UK - indirectly, that's just about everyone involved in hospitality - should take a look at it.
Called In the world of hospitality, it compares the UK tourist and hospitality industries with the same in five overseas countries. It is an excellent attempt to benchmark the UK way of operating. The comparisons don't always make for comfortable reading, but at least they're honest, and the report, overall, takes a bullish approach, with the sub-heading Anything they can do, we can do better.
The major findings of the report conclude that the Government "must reflect the importance of tourism and hospitality as a major employer and contributor to national wealth with a clear tourism policy and an integrated approach to tourism marketing."
That's a pretty clear message all right.
Politicians have expressed frustration in the past that they haven't been able to address the tourism and hospitality industry because it is too fragmented. The JHIC conference last week proved that cohesion in the industry is possible. Not only possible, but happening right now. Here is one voice with a co-ordinated call for action.
Everything seems to be going well: the industry is talking, the Government is listening (Caterer, 18 June, page 21) and it appears to be on the brink of some real action.
So why do we suddenly feel uneasy? Because the Chancellor of the Exchequer Gordon Brown, who was due to attend the JHIC conference, couldn't make it at the last minute. He had more important things to worry about.
Maybe he did, maybe he still does, but it spoils the impression that tourism is being taken seriously. Just when we think the Government is about to stop listening to the engine and start driving the car, along comes Culture Secretary Chris Smith, who says: "I'm still considering all the options very carefully… we will be consulting widely."
This listening and consulting is all very well, but the longer it goes on, the more confused and apprehensive and, therefore, the more ineffective the existing infrastructure for tourism becomes.
Tourism and hospitality operators sometimes have to demonstrate immeasurable patience when dealing with customers. They are beginning to need those skills when dealing with the Government.
Caterer & Hotelkeeper