A week after he hit the front pages for criticising the quality of service in UK hotels and restaurants, VisitBritain executive chairman Christopher Rodrigues calls on the Government to provide more financial support to the tourism sector in 2009.
I am a huge advocate of this industry and proud to promote British tourism overseas. That is why I was so pleased to host the national tourism summit in Liverpool last week. It proved an excellent opportunity to start a conversation about how the Government can act now to support the industry and ensure it continues to deliver benefits for the nation.
The prime minister clearly demonstrated his support for British tourism last week, and many of us will be hoping for a boom year in 2009. The UK is a globally attractive destination with a range of enviable tourism assets. The visitor economy supports 2.7 million jobs and is fast-reacting in job creation - every £40,000 of tourism spending creates a new one. Investment in this industry can nurture future growth and deliver an extra 164,000 jobs by 2018.
But we must recognise the challenges to maintaining our global competitiveness and remember that the UK has already slipped to sixth in the league of global destinations. We cannot afford complacency. There is no guarantee of success.
Although the exchange rate might bring benefits, budgets don't reach as far in core markets and are already compromising marketing capabilities, while the unfunded 2012 tourism strategy might threaten the full delivery of the Olympic legacy opportunity. If we get it right, the weaker pound offers us the double whammy of an extra 4.9 million Brits prepared to holiday at home and overseas visitors who see Britain as newly affordable. But we have to make sure we continue to deliver on quality, value and service - and that is what I said last week to a journalist from the Independent.
As the financial services sector shrinks, the Treasury must look to other revenue streams, and tourism represents a viable alternative. It is why we continue to push for modest additional support that could have a rapid impact, in particular to enable us to extend our current £6.5m "value campaign" working both domestically and in core overseas markets.
And I will continue to press the case with Government to help support a successful 2009 for our industry.