The UK’s hospitality industry has welcomed outgoing prime minister Theresa May’s tourism sector deal.
There were hopes that the announcement of a Tourism Data Hub would bring accurate and easily-available data to a sector which has been hampered in the past.
The government said that more than 130,000 new hotel rooms were set to be built across the UK by 2025, with 75% being built outside London, as the country prepared for an extra nine million visitors per year.
May said: “As one of the most visited countries in the world, the UK is a world leader in international tourism and it is crucial that we remain globally competitive to meet growing demands. That’s why I am pleased to announce the UK’s first ever tourism sector deal, ensuring that we continue to innovate, boost connectivity and economic productivity, expand career pathways and break down barriers for visitors with disabilities.
“This deal recognises the important role tourism plays, and will continue to play, in showcasing what our great country has to offer.”
The announcement by the government will see the sector prioritised and recognised as a key driver of future economic growth and vital to the prosperity of the UK. It will see the creation of a Hospitality and Tourism Skills Board, promoting hospitality as a career of choice, supporting and funding a three-year industry-led skills and recruitment campaign.
Commitments include GBP250,000 to improve broadband connectivity in conferences centres across the UK for business visitors.
In addition, the deal would see local Tourism Zones created, a new Business Events strategy and significant investment in infrastructure and connectivity.
Kate Nicholls, CEO UKHospitality, said: “This Sector Deal marks a tremendous moment for all of us in the hospitality, tourism and leisure industries. The move will be absolutely critical in changing the perception of the sector within Government and the wider public opinion, and acknowledges that hospitality is key to the country’s economic growth.
“Tourism and hospitality are inextricably linked, with over 80% of tourism jobs within hospitality, so this will have a positive impact on our ability to recruit and retain the people we need. UKHospitality has worked tirelessly to ensure that the government understands the importance of our vital industry and we look forward to continuing this partnership, with positive action to secure the future workforce for our sector.”
Thomas Dubaere, COO of Accor Northern Europe, said: “This announcement is welcome recognition of the significant role the tourism and hospitality industry plays right across the UK economy. The sector employs one in ten people in the UK, whose skills are required daily to represent the nation to the world.
“The number of people employed in accommodation and food service has risen by 18% in the last decade. At Accor, we are investing heavily in the UK, helping to ensure people can capitalise on their talent and the opportunities the sector provides. We believe the Sector Deal will highlight both the range of high value career paths and the economic benefit our industry offers.”
The announcement included promise of a Tourism Data Hub, which, it said, “revolutionise” the way data was used by the sector. The hub would, it said, collate regularly-updated data showing the latest trends and spends, allowing businesses to better target overseas visitors.
Hotel industry consultant Melvin Gold welcomed the Tourism Data Hub, but with reservations. Gold told Hotel Analyst: “Any improvement in the UK’s tourism statistics is a welcome and much needed development. If this is just a silo but without much improvement in collection, collation, timeliness and reporting that will be a disappointment.
“The government has been aware of the inadequacy of its tourism statistics for a long time. In 2004 the-then Department of Culture Media and Sport received a report entitled ‘Review of Tourism Statistics’, which stated that: ‘Due to the sheer diversity of tourism services, and the unique challenge of measuring a consumer-defined industry, we have come to believe that there is no other sector in the UK economy as significant as tourism in which the key strategic and management decisions are so hampered by a lack of adequate data. Existing sources are no longer fit for purpose and the potential economic, social and environmental contributions of the tourism sector will only be realised if priority is allocated to better measurement’. That received little support or action at the time and so this latest announcement is hopefully the long overdue boost that the country’s tourism statistics need and deserve.”
Commenting on the additional rooms, Gold added: “This is largely confirmation of the level of activity in the sector in recent years and openings in recent years have been at a similar pace to that now envisaged. There is no apparent government funding for this announcement but if they were to assist it would likely to be in smoothing the planning process which is often one of the largest impediments to hotel development.
“They will also need to recognise that most new hotel development is in chain hotels and with the scale of development, smaller, independent hoteliers are finding the environment tough and some have closed. That means that the character of the UK’s hotel industry is changed and further changing and government should ideally seek to support the diverse nature of hotel supply in policy setting.”
HA Perspective [by Katherine Doggrell]: Tourism was not the only area of the economy to benefit from the last-minute/gasp enthusiasms of Theresa May as she flapped around looking for a legacy other than being least-likely to be paid to teach a course in selling a deal.
But while it wasn’t alone, it was much overdue. Not in terms of content – there was little clarity on what will actually happen in terms of hard cash invested – but in the general realisation that here was an industry thriving despite the government only turning to it when it needed a few golden eggs.
With those in nominal power paying attention, and investors starting to see it as more mainstream, there is the hope that more people will start to see it as a credible career as well. Not just front-of-house staff, but all the people needed to come up with revenue management strategies, keeping an eye on costs, getting past the failure of f&b. It might not be May’s legacy, but hopefully a moment in the sun which will last longer than her tenancy at Number 10.
Additional comment [by Andrew Sangster]: This is a case of the good, the bad and the ugly. The good, and any criticism of this deal should recognise that this is a significant step forward, centres around the improved government awareness of the importance of our sector.
But the palpable sentiment underpinning the whole UK government approach to tourism is one of underwhelming enthusiasm. Contrast, for example, how politicians and lobbyists get so exercised about manufacturing, or arts sector industry such as film.
And this is the bad. The definition of the industry sector is not fit for purpose and means government can get away with largely ignoring it.
The ugly in the report is the way in which the natural growth of the industry – 130,000 new rooms by 2025 for example – is adopted as if that is a result of government policy. More accurate would be to describe this growth as occurring despite government policy.
But back to that definition. Tourism simply does not cover our industry adequately. Are business travellers, the most profitable segment of our market, tourists?
Much better would be to describe our sector as part of the experience economy. In fact, we should simply adopt the experience economy and shout about the role of travel and tourism in the centre of it.
Given that the experience economy is the future for wealth and job creation, any government shown to be not listening ought to suffer significant electoral damage. We need to reposition for the future. The tourist industry definition is not up to it.