The Caterer interview – Ufi Ibrahim

29 October 2010 by
The Caterer interview – Ufi Ibrahim

Has the challenge been as you expected?

It is a wonderful opportunity as this is a time of real change, so we have the chance to look very carefully at emphasising the right areas and possibilities for our industry.

Do you see this as a clean slate in terms of forging links with the Government? Everyone is keen on understanding, exploring and improving the way we work together. I am very fortunate, as two weeks after I joined the BHA]( the Prime Minister [made a speech about the importance of tourism]( It was a hugely exciting opportunity for us, not just because David Cameron was saying that tourism is really important for the UK but going on to set growth targets for the industry.

Do hospitality and tourism work well enough together? Hospitality is the core of tourism. The sense of hospitality is what can make or break a destination. They work well together, but that doesn't mean that there aren't new opportunities that we can unlock.

One of the ambitions the BHA has is to be able to start to really open the doors for our industry, to maximise opportunities and give it the conditions in which to grow.

What changes to tourism policy can help hospitality? Travellers have the perception that it is very difficult to get a British visa, which actually it is. It is a real issue and hugely expensive.

We do want to bring more bona fide tourists into the UK because they bring in spending that is so important to our restaurateurs and events industry. Particularly in the run up to the Olympic Games, this needs to be addressed.

How can you sell hospitality's contribution to the economy? According to research carried out for us by Oxford Economics, we are the fifth largest employing industry in the UK. We are a real significant job creator.

It is not just about the number of jobs but the fact the jobs we create can help people on a real career path.

We want to really celebrate and champion our industry through our Hospitality Economy Proposition [see below]. We want to say: 'Here is an industry that can lead economic growth and development, regeneration and a rebalancing of development across the UK'.

What are the key initiatives that can promote growth for the hospitality industry? One of the key principles we are championing is partnership. If you can genuinely sit private sector leaders with public sector leaders then I think you are already halfway there. There is so much that the private sector can actually help to bring to the table in so many regards.

There is no point in having one policy that seems to help the industry while another drags it back. We must have real coherence and consistency running through any decisions that Government make. It is critical.

Prior to you joining, the BHA has lost the likes of Travelodge, which claims it can do as well on its own. Are you keen for them to rejoin? There is a lot of fragmentation in the industry. It is not only one or two companies who are stepping out and saying they are going to try it on their own.

Government agencies have to deal with, just in the space of hospitality and tourism, more than 50 different trade associations. That's absurd.

The BHA stands for partnership and we stand also for a common voice because that gives us real strength and gravitas when we speak to Government.

So inviting Travelodge and other organisations to participate in this common voice is something we will always be open to doing, not just to them but all the voices in our industry.

The more we speak together and have unity on issues, the more focus we have, the faster we can identify priorities and act upon them.

So you are already talking to other associations? Of course; we are communicating with the Tourism Alliance, the BBPA, many of them. There are so many different associations out there. It is really important for us to be able to pull together a real co-ordinated effort so we have one voice on the big issues.

How do you intend to bring the many organisations together? I have already had discussions with the Government, the tourism minister, the secretary of state for Culture, together with VisitEngland, VisitBritain, various trade associations and the Tourism Alliance in order to help create dialogue. We are committed to creating a platform which will bring all of the hospitality, tourism and leisure leaders together with Government biannually.

At the moment there is no single high level conference in the UK where our leaders can meet, share, learn and actually come to agreements together. It will create a platform where we can have this single vision moving forward. We intend to hold the first one in 2012 as part of our contribution to helping with the Olympic legacy.

Is hospitality taken seriously enough within Government? We have an excellent representative in John Penrose. He reads reports from front cover to back - which, internationally speaking, I know they don't all do.

He is an outstanding individual but he has very little power within the Government. He has one of the lowest-ranking ministerial seats and reports into the Department for Culture, Media and Sport. No mention of hospitality or tourism.

So what do you propose? We want hospitality to be championed; we want a promotion. We believe it would be better fitted in business as a higher ranking state level minister representing hospitality and tourism.

There we can have a better grasp of all the policies that are affecting us from elsewhere. So we're asking for that promotion to be better positioned and have the leadership we need. John Penrose needs the power to represent us.

How do you intend to take the agenda forward? It's all about being proactive. The BHA will no longer sit back, wait for policies to be discussed, announced or even floated. From now on we're taking the agenda into our hands and inviting Government to see the opportunities.

Let's make Britain a competitive world class destination. We have everything it takes and we're delighted to be in a position to be able to make it happen.

SETTING THE AGENDA: MAIN POINTS OF THE BHA'S HOSPITALITY ECONOMY PROPOSITIONâ- Partnering - The creation of a cross-cabinet committee for hospitality and tourism
â- VAT - A study into the impact of the 20% rate of VAT on hotel accommodation
â- Visas - Ease visa application procedure and make their cost more competitive
â- Migration cap - Scrap the introduction of a cap on Tier 2 workers from outside the EU
â- REITS - Allow hotels to operate within the framework of the Real Estate Investment Trusts
â- Visitor experience - Facilitate BHA members to train UK Border Agency staff in customer care
â- Tourist boards - Secure the long term future of the UK's national tourist boards to enable a greater level of commercial focus
â- Local Enterprise Partnerships - Influence Local Enterprise Partnerships to embrace hospitality as key economic drivers


[Tourism can save economy, says Cameron >>](

[Here's how to help tourism, Mr Cameron >>](

BHA calls on government to partner with industry to create jobs and wealth >>]( James Stagg

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