Next week (24 September), business leaders, politicians and young people will gather for our 20th Big Hospitality Conversation event at London's City Hall, supported by the mayor of London Boris Johnson. In the space of two years we have taken a concept for creating a better route into the hospitality sector for young people and made it real.
Now it's time for us to determine where this leads us. We could all pat ourselves on the back, recognise that we have helped thousands of 16 to 24-year-olds through apprenticeship programmes and structured work placements, and we could raise a glass. Well done all, job done.
Or we could see that we have built a foundation, created a platform, and that only now is the potential of this initiative - and the scale of the work required - becoming clear. There are two things that matter to me: numbers - because ultimately this is about scale and helping as many people as possible; and voices - because every story I hear from someone who has directly experienced this programme reaffirms how genuinely life-changing it is.
If we explore the numbers a little more, we can see that the hospitality industry is the fourth largest employer in the UK, is set to create 300,000 new jobs by 2020 and has a tremendous opportunity to support the economic competitiveness and effectiveness of this country. We have to find new and better ways to invest in tomorrow's talent and find and support routes into the industry for young people. Its future wellbeing is dependent on it.
As for voices, I could tell you any number of stories from motivated and excited young people. People who have been offered an opportunity, applied themselves and are now forging a career. People - many of whom were 'outside' the traditional career support structures - who have benefited from work experience and apprenticeships, and from direct support from corporates and SMEs.
Those who know me know I believe in actions, not words. A conversation is a means to an end. If it's a 'big' conversation, it follows that it should lead to big results, so here's my view on how we should build on these foundations.
We must get further support from government and encourage it on board more meaningfully. We need government to commit structured funding for the Big
Hospitality Conversation to reinforce the efforts of the British Hospitality Association and those individuals and companies that give their time and energy for free.
This funding should be used to establish better infrastructure and information resources - companies need help so that they can help others.
We need government to do increasingly more to recognise the importance of the hospitality sector within UK plc. And we need incentives and benefits for those companies that invest in training and equipping the hospitality professionals of tomorrow.
Government, big companies like Premier Inn and small firms and independents all have a role to play. The conversation's only getting started. This is where it becomes really interesting.