One message for Whitehall

24 April 2008 by
One message for Whitehall

Peter Hancock, chief executive of Pride of Britain Hotels, hopes hospitality's response to the Government's current tourism review will influence legislators

Tony Blair's spin doctor Alastair Campbell was quoted in Caterer a couple of months ago saying that our industry must "speak with one voice" when lobbying politicians.

Whatever you may think of him, or his former boss, there can be no denying that Campbell is an authority on getting one's message across.

And he is right, of course. We desperately need the support and understanding of legislators. However, hospitality being such a large and fragmented industry, it's no surprise there are dozens of competing organisations trying to be heard.

The messages sometimes conflict - for example, when one group calls for minimum prices on alcohol while another bridles against taxes that harm our competitiveness.

As someone who works closely with hoteliers, I have always regarded the British Hospitality Association as the principal body addressing our concerns and am one of Bob Cotton's many fans. The association certainly has the size of membership to be genuinely representative of the trade.

But with the Department for Culture, Media and Sport recently inviting us all to give our comments to its wide-ranging tourism review (the deadline for responses was 11 April), there is a danger that the "one voice" could be dissolved into thousands.

Everyone has different expectations of what the state should do to support tourism. More money for VisitBritain? A new English tourist board? Tax breaks? Fewer regulations? Minimum prices? Lower duty? Simpler employment laws? Easier passage into the country for tourists and enthusiastic workers but stricter border controls for everyone else?

My guess is that the tourism review, if thoroughly documented, will just pile up like the luggage at Terminal 5 - and that would be a terrible shame.

It is probably unreasonable to expect favours from Whitehall or Brussels when what Campbell's former employer called "schools'n'hospitals" have such insatiable appetites for public money. Despite this, there is vital work to be done in resisting new financial and regulatory burdens and in trying to ensure that the depleted funds available to the tourist boards are spent on attracting foreign tourists - and nothing else.

We may not have one voice, but surely we have one message: stop interfering in our businesses and start promoting Britain as a destination.

Peter Hancock calls for any Government investment in the tourism industry to be spent on promoting Britain as a destination

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