The newly established body of industry leaders hopes to showcase how valuable hospitality is to the country's economy and bring tourism to the fore in government policy making. James Stagg reports
Tourism minister Helen Grant has launched a Tourism Council in an effort to bring together the hospitality sector and government and boost the image of the industry.
The council will be jointly chaired by Grant, Matthew Hancock, minister for skills and enterprise, and Simon Vincent, Hilton Worldwide EMEA president. It will meet quarterly to discuss how best to promote hospitality and tourism to potential guests and the next generation of employees.
The initiative was launched at the British Hospitality Association's annual Hospitality and Tourism Summit, held at the Novotel London West last week.
Speaking to The Caterer, Grant said: "The sector makes a huge contribution to the UK economy and we want that to continue. I think listening to people who are at the coalface is a very important part of that process of assisting. They can tell us what the challenges are, what's working and not working."
Grant added that she was determined to continue the skills agenda in terms of jobs and apprenticeships. "For me, it's becoming a mission to dispel the myth that the sector is about starter jobs," she said. "It isn't. The people on our panel prove it. That's what I want young people to know."
Vincent added that it was a unique opportunity to put tourism at the heart of government policy. "We as an industry have been crying out to be heard by government. This is a really positive initiative. We have to seize the opportunity," he said.
Vincent said an agenda for the council had not yet been set, but that it would concentrate on reinforcing the UK's position on the world stage.
He added: "I plan to represent the industry and find a common agenda on those issues that will have the most impact.
"The council will target realistic goals. We are a year away from a general election and have 12 months to make an impact. We have no financial jurisdiction. We're here to represent the UK as a great place to come on holiday and experience British hospitality."
Council member BHA chief executive Ufi Ibrahim said the industry deserved to have a position at the heart of government. "All credit to Helen Grant for listening," she said. "We can drive forward job creation and help to equip thousands of people in this country with the skills required for a growing industry."
Despite the launch of the new initiative, the consensus at the summit was that the government must do more to support hospitality.
Accor UK and Ireland managing director Thomas Dubaere said the hospitality industry continues to over-perform in this country and makes a significant contribution to the economy, but still wasn't taken seriously enough in Westminster.
BHA chairman Alan Parker added: "We will continue to create valuable jobs for the UK economy and, in return, we don't expect hand-outs but simply the recognition and understanding that tourism is a jobs and economic growth creator.
"Hospitality and tourism is a major export industry and must be nurtured as such. Innovation on visa access, additional runway space and a lower rate of tourism VAT are issues that matter to the industry."
MEMBERS OF THE TOURISM COUNCIL
Stephen McCall, chief operating officer UK&I, InterContinental Hotels Group
Gary Morrison, vice-president and general manager EMEA, Expedia
Penelope, Viscountess Cobham, chairman, VisitEngland
Peter Suddock, chief executive, Dudley Zoo
Helen Grant MP, minister for sport, tourism and equalities
Ufi Ibrahim, chief executive, British Hospitality Association
Simon Vincent, president EMEA, Hilton Worldwide
Patrick Dempsey, managing director, Whitbread Hotels and Restaurants
John Waterworth, chief executive, Parkdean Holidays
Matthew Hancock MP, minister for skills and enterprise (not pictured)
INDEPENDENT SCOTLAND COULD CUT HOSPITALITY VAT
Scottish tourism minister Fergus Ewing refused to rule out a VAT cut for hospitality if Scotland were to become independent.
The Scottish National Party minister told delegates he would be keen to reduce the rate of VAT in Scotland to increase its competitiveness with other EU countries.
"I'd like to do it," Ewing said. "But it would be up to the first parliament of an independent Scotland to make the decision, not myself.
"The case for lower taxes in Scotland could be positive for the rest of the UK following independence. If Scotland took the lead, it would be a shining example for our friends at HM Treasury."
However, Ewing did fall short of committing to the cut for fear of not being able to deliver. "It's wrong of me to make promises that we would be able to cut VAT in the event of a yes vote in Scotland," he said. "However, independence would allow us the opportunity to chart our own course."
One promise he would make was a 50% reduction in Air Passenger Duty (APD) in the first four years of an independent Scottish government. Ewing said: "The current APD rates aren't just about travel, they're also a deterrent on airlines to open new direct routes. It's difficult to see what could be more damaging to tourism than taxing people for the temerity of wishing to travel here."
He also ruled out the possibility of a bed tax in Scotland. "We are implacably opposed to any suggestion of a bed tax anywhere in Scotland," Ewing said.
OLYMPIC EFFECT CONTINUES TO RIPPLE THROUGH THE COUNTRY
The UK's regions must pool their resources to promote tourism.
That was the message from Kit Malthouse, deputy mayor of London for business and enterprise, who said that UK cities and attractions should not be competing for
the same guest.
"The Olympics, we think, led to a re-evaluation of London across the globe, which has seen investment and visitors flocking to these shores in ever greater numbers," he said.
"We are the only city in history where numbers of visitors after the Olympic Games have gone up, rather than down."
French visitor numbers were on the rise in London, Malthouse explained, and likely to overtake Americans soon. Meanwhile, visitor numbers from China were rising at double-digit growth, though from a low base.
Malthouse said that annual visitor spend in the capital now stood at £12b, and that it wanted to work with other regions to grow spend across the UK even further.
"We want the capital to work as much as possible with the rest of the country," he added. "We've had a slightly self-defeating structure in the UK where London, Scotland, Wales and Ireland compete separately for the same American. Instead, we should be telling that American we're only two hours apart and they should spend a couple of weeks - rather than days - visiting all the parts of the UK."
Malthouse said there was massive potential to pool resources and advertise the UK as a joint offer.
"We have a pilot on at the moment with Wales. We're promoting London alongside seeing castles and cities in Wales, which is only an hour and a half away," he said. "It has run on the east coast of the USA and we also ran a competition for six weeks that attracted 15,000 entries. There's a lesson there."