Tracey Crouch was appointed tourism minister in May. Lee Hayhurst heard about the passion for the industry
The Subbuteo set neatly laid out in the Department for Culture, Media and Sport office of tourism minister Tracey Crouch is a reminder that she is not dedicated to the travel sector.
Put this to the MP for Chatham and Aylesford, and FA-accredited football coach, however, and she immediately bridles at the suggestion she’s somehow not committed to addressing the needs of the industry.
Sport and culture are also included in Crouch’s brief, meaning she oversees areas as diverse as gambling and national lotteries, heritage and Royal Parks. But in the week that the Rugby World Cup kicked off, during which overseas visitors are expected to boost the UK economy by £1 billion, she insisted the multi-disciplinary nature of her role actually strengthens its standing rather than weakens it.
“Sport and heritage clearly forms an incredibly important part of the tourism offering in this country,” she said. “During the Rugby World Cup, you will see tens of thousands of people coming to the UK for the six weeks of the tournament to watch a sports event. It’s up to the industry to capture that audience beyond the stadia, while they are here.”
Of course, the issue the travel and tourism industry has always had is not about the personal dedication of tourism ministers to the cause, but the firmly held belief that the sector is significant enough to warrant its own ministerial position – ideally at cabinet level. Is there an industry that wouldn’t like its own place at government's top table?
Crouch agrees that the UK undersells itself to the world, particularly in how it promotes its rich culture and heritage outside of the recognised tourist honey traps.
She points out that, alongside her boss John Wittingdale, the secretary of state for culture, media and sport, she is fresh from gaining a direct and detailed insight into the challenges facing UK tourism, having been on the select committee that conducted a major inquiry into the sector that resulted in the new Conservative government’s five-point plan (see box).
“We spent six months on the select committee and came up with a strong report that was welcomed by the tourism industry,” she said. “Now, as ministers, we find ourselves in a position to implement that. Our five-point plan was part of that and shows how dedicated we are to addressing the challenges that tourism is facing.
“I’m proud about how much the tourism industry contributes to the UK economy, and we should be doing everything we can to promote that.
“We have listened to industry concerns and we took the committee out of Westminster – it was not just a case of industry representatives coming to us. We heard from people from larger organisations representing the industry and also smaller ones. When we were appointed as ministers, it was welcomed by the industry because it was appreciated you had two people who fully understood the concerns and needs of the industry.
“I want to see the tourism industry continue to grow. There are markets out there that will become increasingly important to us. I want to make sure we are promoting ourselves to those markets, that we have people coming to the UK.”
The last government’s Tourism Council, comprising numerous stakeholders in the outbound and inbound industries, including Abta, will be strengthened and continue to reflect this broad‑church approach. And a new cross-ministerial tourism body will ensure the travel sector’s views are considered by other government departments that have an impact upon it.
APD and the Schengen Agreement – a policy debate recently brought into sharp focus by the Syrian refugee crisis – are two areas in which Crouch said the concerns of the industry were understood and discussions were taking place.
To underline the importance of tourism to the government, Crouch pointed out that it was prime minister David Cameron who launched the tourism plan in one of his first acts after the election.
The five priority areas clearly highlight the understandable focus a UK tourism minister must give to inbound and domestic travel.
But Crouch said she recognised the diverse nature of the industry and considered outbound as a valuable part of the overall mix, particularly in terms of the skills and employment it offered.
“I feel passionately that the industry has a lot to offer youngsters who want to start careers in travel and stay in it,” she said. “I see parallels with the fast-food industry and other retailers. There’s no reason why you can’t start on the shop floor and work your way up to management level. The industry has to promote itself as a long-term career option for people to go into. It should not just be seen as a part‑time holiday job. The industry is diverse and there is a huge range of options for anyone who wants to get into it.”
As we spoke, Crouch was herself poised to enjoy a holiday in Cornwall, not as some sort of public show of support for domestic tourism – she says she’s well travelled – but because she’s been too busy to plan anything else this year.
“People want different things from their holidays,” added Crouch. “Some people want to stay here and appreciate the cultural offerings we have and visit different places, other people want to go abroad and sit on a beach and enjoy the sunshine and do something different. I think the fact that we have that choice and can make the most of these opportunities is incredible.”
Next year, Crouch plans to take a period of maternity leave from the role. But as long as she’s around, the sector at least has a sporting chance of getting its voice heard in the corridors of power.
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