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Government actions on tourism need to match intent

09 February 2011 by
Government actions on tourism need to match intent

The Government's tourism strategy must provide a framework in which the industry can grow, says Hospitality Skills Academy chairman Bob Cotton.

How serious is the coalition Government about growing UK tourism? Every business understands the need for financial cutbacks and all of us want to see the economy grow again, so David Cameron's assertions that tourism is a pillar of the economy and the most important industry of the future was good news indeed. Yet government actions tell a different story.

There are three areas in particular which are causing grave concern to the industry and damaging its growth prospects, all of which run contrary to the prime minister's stated good intentions.

First, investment in product and people. More than £25b has been invested in new hotels in the last 10 years, but little of this is by independent operators. This is because financial encouragement in terms of tax breaks for the owner-operator to expand and refurbish is meagre - yet this is by far the biggest segment of the hotel sector in terms of numbers.

At the same time, banks are playing hardball when it comes to lending and overdraft facilities. And regulations still bite. Although there has been some favourable movement in the area of employment tribunals, talk about deregulation appears to be just that - talk. Recent changes in the law about parental leave, for example, will potentially make life more - not less - difficult for smaller businesses.

Second, migration. The decision to impose the condition that migrants seeking work in the UK must be at graduate level effectively cuts off the source of skilled chefs for those many restaurants who rely on cookery skills learned by chefs over many years in their country of origin.

This is an example of a government department making decisions which will have severe negative consequences, not just on one sector, but on the industry as a whole.

Third, marketing and promotion. Having cut funding to all tourism agencies, particularly those in the regions, this is a danger that the Olympic Games legacy will be lost. And we know how effective the present £35m funding of VisitBritain is in helping to generate overseas visitor revenues of £16b.

So where does this leave the tourism industry? Despite David Cameron's support, exactly where we left off with the previous government. We await the government's tourism strategy to see whether it decisively addresses these and other key issues. Unless it does, it will be a pretty meaningless document.

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