The industry rejoiced when David Cameron spoke so tub-thumpingly about tourism back in the summer. He said: “Tourism presents a huge economic opportunity, not just bringing business to Britain, but right across Britain, driving growth in the regions and helping to deliver the rebalancing of our national economy that is so desperately needed”.
At last, we thought: a government with some appreciation of the merits of hospitality and tourism, two industry sectors that have traditionally been so woefully undervalued and under-supported.
Three months on, and doubts are beginning to emerge over what sounded back in August like a Damascene conversion. Operators already face the dispiriting prospect of a New Year VAT hike to 20%.
Now comes the announcement, this week, of cuts to the number of non-EU workers to be granted visas to work in the UK, from next year. While this news will be of immediate alarm to the thousands of ethnic restaurants that need to look beyond Europe for the skilled chefs they need, all involved in hospitality should be concerned.
Inbound tourism hinges on the rest of the world’s desire to experience British culture, history and society. Our ethnic restaurants add texture to the country’s cultural tapestry – and any measure that threatens them is therefore unwelcome.
The hospitality industry has long benefited from successive waves of immigration. If barriers to entry are placed in the way of fresh waves of skilled hospitality workers, the Prime Minister must accept that our status as one of the world’s dining hotspots will be compromised; and the potential benefits of hospitality and tourism depleted.
Mark Lewis, Editor, Caterer and Hotelkeeper