Leaders from the private sector have joined forces to lobby the UK government to take British tourism “more seriously”, following last week’s call by industry bodies VisitBritain and UKinbound.
The coalition includes Merlin Entertainments, owner of Alton Towers and the London Eye, Butlins, Hoseasons, Bourne Leisure and Travelodge. The lobby is demanding the responsiblilty for tourism be passed to the business department as it is treated as a “poor relation” in its current home.It argues that the country’s tourism industry ought to be given the same government focus as industries such as farming.
In a letter to the prime minister, the coalition says tourism has the potential to be one of the country’s biggest assets this year as the weak pound attracts visitors while the downturn also forces Britons to holiday at home. However, it says the industry is only granted a “lowly status” within the Department of Culture, Media and Sport and believes its needs would be better served as part of the Department of Business, Enterprise and Regulatory Reform.
“Instead of being at the forefront of government activity we are hidden in a department that does not represent UK industry,” says the letter. “Too often ministers concentrate on sport and the arts rather than tackle the hard business and commercial matters needed to ensure the future progression of the tourism industry. Despite tourism employing more than two million people and generating £110bn in revenue, smaller sectors such as transport and farming have their own department.”
Unlike other industries, the group is not pushing for additional finance. “It is not a lack of money that is the problem, it is a lack of focus,” said Travelodge chief executive Grant Hearn. “At the moment the industry approach is very fragmented; what’s needed is a collective business voice,” added one former tourist chief.
Last week tourism bodies called into question’s the Government’s support for the tourism sector, following a tightening of visa requirements and new air passenger duty regulations.
VisitBritain said the high cost of visas and the bureaucracy obtaining one is putting off people from visiting Britain. Meanwhile UKinbound took a similar stance, as well as calling for a delay in the new system for Air Passenger Duty, which comes into force later this year.
VisitBritain said visa fees had risen 75 per cent since 2006, and claimed that their costs were the reason many tour operators and independent travellers did not include the UK in European tours. France, for example, received 750,000 visitors from China in 2007, but the UK took in only 150,000.
The visa threatens VisitBritain’s promotion of UK as a destination in key growth markets such as China, India, Russia and the UAE.
Meanwhile UKinbound has criticised the new Air Passenger Duty. At the annual UKinbound Convention in Manchester, chairman Philip Green said the Government is ‘“supporting” us by complicating & increasing APD and by extending the reach of VISA costs requirements. Is that the kind of support we need?”