Derek Moore, chairman of the Association of Independent Tour Operators, on why Britain needs a Tourism Minister.
"AITO is extremely disappointed to hear of John Penrose's departure from the role of Tourism Minister. We, in common with other travel and tourism organisations, have lobbied for many years for tourism (outbound as well as inbound) to be taken seriously by the Government. To have tourism downgraded in this way after such a short period of time leaves us wondering if Government really gives due recognition to the huge tax income it gains from corporation tax, VAT on Tour Operators' Margins, employment taxes and more via the travel industry.
First looking at inbound tourism, this is a key part of our expensively-earned Olympic legacy. We believe it simply cannot be relegated to non-Ministerial status. We further believe that impetus must not be lost post Olympics. The weak pound will bring us increased inbound business if handled correctly, which means that inbound tourism will play an important part in our economic recovery at this difficult time; it cannot be ignored or dumped in a Government backwater.
Looking at outbound tourism, there are several key points to consider:
The EU takes the travel industry seriously, and thus so should our Government. The complex issues involved need a Minister who understands the industry - which is, after all, the 5th largest in the UK economy! - and can stand up for the UK industry against the Eurocrats.
Red tape and costs are both barriers to entry into the tourism industry and both stifle growth. John Penrose instigated an important report called the Tourism Regulation Task Force, the results of which were released in March 2012. The report included the key suggestion that the Department for Transport (via the CAA) should take over regulation of licensable and non-licensable outbound business, as had also been recommended by the Better Regulation Initiative way back in 2006. This key issue from our 140 SME members' perspective has not yet been acted upon.
We hope fervently that this very simple but key step to reduce both the cost and red tape associated with consumer protection, along with the myriad of other legislation (Package Travel Regulations/EU Package Travel Directive, ATOL Reform, etc.) currently being reviewed with regard to outbound tourism will not now simply be left to gather dust in the wake of the Minister's abrupt departure.
Mr Cameron should reconsider and reinstate Tourism as a Ministry in its own right. Tourism delivers economic growth in the UK via its considerable contribution to employment (both inbound and outbound sectors) and via its massive tax contribution. It also helps in creating international understanding and assists many poorer destinations worldwide to earn hard currency via visitors' spend and via employment opportunities. Unfortunately, this reshuffle suggests a Government that is not connected up:
Mr Cameron proudly insists that we should, even in a recession, spend enormous sums in overseas aid and yet he does not seem to realise that outbound tourism provides jobs for people in the countries he wants to assist. It is surely better to help such countries to develop employment, as tourism can do, rather than just hand over money as aid. (As the Chinese say - give a man a fish... or, better still, teach a man to fish.)
One of the reasons that Britain is still influential post Empire is because so many people around the world continue to think well of the UK. Inbound tourism is a key part of this as are, rather topically, overseas students. If the number of tourists and overseas students is reduced, the influence of the UK declines too. So-called "soft power" is thus a key aspect of foreign policy. Every one of us is an ambassador for the UK when travelling abroad as outbound tourists. This is not so relevant in the Costa de Sol but, for bespoke long haul holidays to more unusual destinations, it counts for a lot. If key countries (eg Japan) like the British - in part due to tourism - this fundamentally increases the likelihood of direct foreign investment in the UK and other such positive economic and social consequences; this is not something to be taken lightly.
In summary, we believe that, for a plethora of important reasons, it is vital that tourism is represented at Ministerial level in our Government.
* Do you agree with Derek Moore? Share your views by clicking on POST YOUR COMMENT below.
Friday, September 7, 2012