Opinion: UK tourism plan can turn good intentions into real reform

Opinion: UK tourism plan can turn good intentions into real reform

Geoff Cowley, managing director of Wyndham Vacation Rentals UK

For a large portion of my 25 years in the industry the level of support for tourism from successive governments has been patchy at best.

The domestic sector all too often seemed to rank a poor second to inbound, the voice of the self-catering industry was drowned out by that of a better organised hotel sector, and the importance of tourism in the regions could be overshadowed by the bright light that is London.

This doesn’t mean we haven’t received support from Westminster, with specific highly-targeted schemes and great work at constituency level. 

The engagement at all levels which prevented the abolition of the Furnished Holiday Letting scheme I felt to be something of a breakthrough, as was the subsequent amendment of the proposal for VAT on caravan sales.

But there is still an enormous amount to be done and good intentions need to be turned into real reform.
This is why last week’s news of the new five point plan, announced by the Prime Minister, came as a pleasant surprise. 

In short the plan envisions a better co-ordinated sector, with focus on skills and jobs, common sense regulation, improved transport and a better welcome for those entering the country.

All of these make sense, with the key to success being joined up working across the various bodies and strong links with the private sector. This approach should be applauded.

In fact, VisitEngland in particular has already carried out great work with its domestic partners – and they’ve played a key role in bringing together businesses to support the travel trade and spearhead joint campaigns designed to champion holidaying at home.

I believe there’s an opportunity for the UK’s other national tourist boards to develop better cross-border relationships as well, replicating VE’s success with agents to sell their destination more effectively. 

As someone who travels all over the UK, and with customers staying literally everywhere from the Isle of Skye to Lizard Point, it was also refreshing to see that the intention is to give the regions beyond London a stronger voice.

This, combined with improved infrastructure, would give those areas which rely so much on tourism a real shot in the arm, helping them to prolong their holiday season and enhance the local economy in one move.

This extension also gets to the heart of the need to improve skills within the tourism industry, as so much of the workforce operates on a seasonal basis, and therefore continuity of staffing and customer care is hard to maintain.

The government has all the right ideas when it recognises a combination of regional support, improved training and better roads can help ensure a successful and sustainable future for the industry in these locations – providing planners appreciate it too, and support the development of accommodation, facilities and attractions suited to year-round occupation and enjoyment. 

The other conversation I find myself having with many business owners is around red tape and regulation. We’ve had a specific interest in deregulation for a number of years and have seen good intentions of the past deliver relatively little.

We have already made clear our desire to see the ‘light touch’ proposed for the sharing economy extended across the thousands of other micro businesses which are at the grassroots of the tourism industry, in ways which don’t reduce the security, safety or enjoyment of our guests. 

This should be supported with wider debates about planning regimes, the impact of changes to the national minimum wage and ratings valuations, all of which could have important ramifications for the park, cottage and boatyard owners for whom we act. 

So all in all, this was a welcome announcement for the domestic travel sector. The key, as always, is in the execution.

I’d encourage everyone to lend their weight to the industry’s efforts – it’s easy to bemoan what’s wrong, more difficult to dedicate the time to engaging with Abta, Tourism Alliance, BH&HPA and other partners to ensure a coherent industry message.

If you have a newly-elected MP – why not start with them? Get them into your business, tell them about our industry, use the stats available and ask them to take an interest when they get back to Westminster.

After all, helping deliver the PM’s plans can help their prospects, and ours.


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