The prime minister must act now for the country to capitalise on the potential post-Olympic visitor boom, says Travelodge CEO Grant Hearn.
The lesson of the past year is that hard work, investment and planning can deliver spectacular results. If we want the post-Olympic boom to be a golden age for UK tourism, the time for patting ourselves on the back is now over. I have personally spoken to many UK tourism leaders and no one knows what happens next. Where is the post-Olympics strategy?
We have a real opportunity within our grasp, which can play a significant part in helping to recover our economy. Our lack of immediate action is costing jobs, growth and investment. While we dither, our European neighbours are aggressively pursuing growth via their tourism industry with cuts to VAT and discounted tourism taxes in many competitor countries.
Getting rid of a dedicated tourism minister as a first act post-Olympics in the reshuffle was a mistake. If the Government is really serious about winning tourism gold, we urgently need to win increased visitor numbers from the growing international economies. Experts predict that global tourism will increase by 60% by 2020, with 50% of growth coming from the four BRIC countries: Brazil, Russia, India and China.
As things stand, we risk missing out on the fastest-growing market in world tourism because of our current visa regime. Since 2007, the number of outbound visitors from China has nearly doubled from 34.5 million to 60 million but only 3,000 came to Britain!
We must develop a government strategy including tourism trade agreements with China, India, Brazil and Russia to relax visa requirements. If we can make the UK a centre for the trading of the renminbi, why can't we be the number one destination for leisure visitors from China?
Positively, there is one deficit in our economy that is falling - the tourism trade deficit - reversing a 20-year trend down last year to £13.3b. If we can get this to a surplus, the extra income can create up to 50,000 new jobs.
But despite it being the UK's sixth-largest by value and our third-largest export sector, tourism is too low on the agenda for the Department for Culture, Media and Sport. The first step to putting the UK back on to the tourist map would be to move the industry to where it belongs - the Department for Business, Skills and Innovation.
The Government pledged to "use this extraordinary year to turbo-charge our tourism industry". We wait to see if the prime minister will back his rhetoric with hard actions.