The travel industry should give up lobbying tourism ministers and focus on heads of government, say tourism leaders.
UN World Tourism Organisation (UNWTO) secretary general Taleb Rifai (pictured) told last week's Hospitality and Tourism Summit in London:
“Tourism ministers are very lowly. Decisions are in the hands of others. We should target heads of state to wake them up to this industry.”
Merlin Entertainments chief executive Nick Varney said: “Why aren’t we taken seriously by the government? We are represented by a second-division department.
"John Penrose is the best tourism minister we’ve had in 20 years, but he is in a second-division department.”
Varney said the UK’s 20% VAT rate on hotel rooms and tourism services was as big a problem to the inbound industry as Air Passenger Duty.
He said: “We have raised the issue of VAT with the government. We produced a detailed study with [business consultancy] Deloitte and submitted it to the Treasury.”
The report demonstrated that cutting the VAT rate on hospitality and tourism would generate jobs, he said. “But the Treasury is engaging at a snail’s pace.”
Varney told the summit: “We are big employers. We have to keep pushing, and not pushing multiple agendas.”
World Travel and Tourism Council (WTTC) chief executive David Scowsill said: “There has to be a better way to come together to face the government.
“The UK industry is not very coordinated. It does not give clear macro messages to government. There are big things the industry needs to deal with – visas, APD, Heathrow.
"You need to get together and agree the top three messages the government needs to understand.”
Rifai, a former tourism minister for Jordan, said of the UK: “You are paying to tell people ‘come to the UK’ and paying more to tell people ‘Don’t come to the UK’. Make your mind up.”
VisitBritain chief executive Sandie Dawe disagreed, saying: “It is not as though the industry is not good at putting its point across.
“We know [culture secretary] Jeremy Hunt takes [the industry’s arguments] to Cabinet. We know the Prime Minister and Chancellor think tourism is a good idea. But the country is not run like a business.”
However, Laurence Geller, head of Strategic Hotels and Resorts, said the industry should “stop whingeing”.
Geller told the summit: “I’ve heard a lot of garbage here...You British say ‘Let the government do it’.
"You should do it yourself or stop whining. You should stop talking about the government and fix it yourself. Put some money in and go and market [the UK].”
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