Reaction to the appointment of Hugh Robertson has been misplaced, says Ufi Ibrahim, chief executive, British Hospitality Association.
When John Penrose stepped down as tourism minister in September, the industry was rightly concerned. We have had a chain of tourism ministers and few have made any real impact on the industry. John understood the ins-and-outs of tourism and his support for it within government was a positive change and one which we immediately recognized. We said at the time that his departure was certainly disappointing, although we hope that he will continue to bang the tourism drum from the back benches.
But it's on with business and it's the BHA's job, as the leading representative body of the hospitality industry, to make sure government understands the economic and social importance of our industry. So, I believe, various comments in the press about the incoming minister Hugh Robertson are misplaced. Most were concerned with the new minister's expansive brief - a selection of functions, including sport and the Olympic legacy, and gambling and licensing. In my view multitasking is nothing unusual and the reshuffle may in fact present us with an opportunity. I believe that the tourism brief is unique in that it takes more than one minister in more than one department to bring about a coherent and lasting legacy.
I have already reminded Hugh Robertson of the priorities that we at the BHA are dedicated to delivering on behalf of our members:
- To set out the facts that demonstrate the full economic potential of the tourism industry as one of the top five employers in the UK and one which, given the right environment, could increase jobs by up to 10%;
- To lead the 'Big Conversation for Hospitality' along with Business in the Community (HRH the Prince of Wales Trust). As an industry I believe that together we really can make a positive difference in tackling youth unemployment;
- To champion the Campaign for Reduced Tourism VAT - in this economic climate a particularly tough nut to crack, but one we must do. After all, most other European Countries have shown us that cutting tourism VAT is one of best ways that we could boost growth;
- To encourage the reduction of red tape and over-burdensome regulation across the industry and to make sure there is a level playing field in government procurement on behalf of the food and service management industry.
- To encourage changes to visa policy and procedures, particularly for Chinese visitors.
In the year of the Olympics - and in the year of the BHA's first Tourism Summit - I believe the industry can and will build a lasting legacy. I know that our new tourism minister recognizes the critically important role that tourism plays in the national economy and we'll need him to do all he can to get a fair hearing in the corridors of Whitehall.