Tourism, us and the economy

By | Category: Travel tips & opinions

According to the World Travel & Tourism Council travel and tourism contributed £231.6 billion to the UK’s GDP and is the fastest growing sector responsible for 11.9% of all jobs. That means that tourism is more important to the UK than financial services (8.9%) and banking (3.4%) singly and only slightly behind if you add those two sectors together. It is three times the size of the automotive industry yet when did tourism last ake the headlines?

As pitched to everyon’es tourist prize – the Chinese. the Britain is Great campaign

And more importantly, tourism is spread throughout the UK whereas banking and financial services tends to be based either in the south east of England or in major urban conurbations. Tourism functions outside those conurbations as well as within it making an impact wherever you travel in the UK.

Being so important to the lifeblood of the nation, it is easy to see how important successive governments treat the subject.

In the last twenty years there have been thirteen cabinet ministers responsible for tourism which is hardly long enough for many of them – even if they had any interest in the subject – to master their brief. But rarely to these ministers talk about tourism preferring to talk about other parts of their brief such as the digital economy, broadband or sport. The new cabinet minister is Nicky Morgan an ex solicitor who, during her time in the House of Commons hasn’t shown much interest in tourism.

Titanic Belfast - biggest tourist attraction in Belfast
Titanic Belfast – a popular tourist destination

Shadowing the cabinet member have been sixteen MP’s although one – John Whittingdale – held the brief twice and was even the cabinet minister for a short period. I use the term “short period” in the wider scheme of things. In terms of the cabinet post he held it for fourteen months, a long time in this position.

as is Glencoe in the Scottish Highlands…

The actual person responsible for tourism is a very junior minister. Not quite the lowest of the low but only a step above it is a Parliamentary Under Secretary. It is that title that the tourism minister has had. The current minister for tourism is Rebecca Pow who attained the job two months ago and who wasn’t moved in the Boris Johnson reshuffle. There have been none tourism ministers in the last twenty years with the longest tenure being twenty-eight months.

There are six non-executive board members for the Department of Digital, Culture, Media and Sport (tourism doesn’t even warrant a mention in the departmental title) and you might expect that one of them might have some tourism experience or at least an interest in the subject. The closest is an interest in the arts and museums.

North wales landscape
…and Snowdonia in Wales

You could argue that tourism doesn’t fit well in the department and some people (like me for instance) could argue that it would be better located in a different department such as the Department of Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy. If nothing else, tourism is now big business. At a pinch it might go to the Department of the Environment or the Department for International Trade, but being left in the Department of etc means it languishes in a dumping ground of ill-matched concerns.

Just before leaving office Theresa May announced a new tourism sector deal which involved tourism apprenticeships, more hotel rooms (I assume the private sector will build these rooms so why is the government involved?) and to make the UK the “most accessible destination for disabled visitors, through improvement of disabled facilities and access to destinations across the country.”

Shakespeares Birthplace
and Stratford-upon-Avon.

The latter will help domestic holidaymakers as well as those coming from abroad but do not think the document is just about attracting overseas visitors. We who live in the UK spend more on tourism in the UK than all of the overseas visitors so the strategy is meant for us as well.

But there is a new government. Will Boris Johnson continue this tourism sector deal, beef it up, alter it or leave it to moulder on some Whitehall shelf?

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