The UK isn’t doing nearly enough to ensure we are one of the world’s top tourist destinations. That was the message from Ufi Ibrahim, Chief Executive of the British Hospitality Association (BHA), at the third conference of the International Association for Tourism Ec
onomics, hosted by Bournemouth University this month.
During her keynote speech ‘UK Tourism: Barriers to Growth’, Ms Ibrahim said the hospitality industry poses a serious opportunity that is not being leveraged at the moment.
“As international competition increases we have to be better than world class to get a strong market share. In 2009 the UK ranked 6th on the list of the World’s international arrivals, with 29.9 million visitors in comparison to France, which has 74.2 million.”
Ms Ibrahim said we need to address the factors that affect tourism and those that may prevent tourists from choosing the UK. For example the UK ranks poorly for fuel price levels in comparison to other countries across the world, and for ticket taxes and airport charges we are almost bottom of the world league alongside Mali, Senegal and Timor-Leste.
And after the recent Royal Wedding reportedly giving the UK economy a £2billion boost, now is the perfect time to capitalise on the global events ahead – the 2012 Olympic and Paralympic Games and the Queen’s Jubilee to name a few – and the opportunities they present.
“VisitBritain says 4.7 billion viewers (70 per cent of the World’s population) saw at least some of the coverage of the Beijing Olympics. And 2012 is estimated to provide an additional 1.6 billion Games-related positive media coverage for Britain. But in order to maximise this potential we absolutely must have Government support,” says Ms Ibrahim.
“Hospitality is the fifth largest industry in the UK, contributing 2.6 million jobs. But given the right Government framework, the UK hospitality industry can create a further 236,000 new jobs by 2015.”
Ms Ibrahim called on the Government to take action. “The BHA wants Prime Minister David Cameron to genuinely embrace and champion the tourism and hospitality economy, and look at the barriers to growth and really tackle them. He needs to help us to help UK plc.”
Among these challenges are the unfavourable VAT rates for hotels and restaurants, public sector cutbacks to tourism budgets and agencies such as VisitLondon, and an immigration policy that prevents the recruitment of international chefs from outside the EU.
The BHA is taking steps to try and improve the outlook, such as jointly working with the Treasury to look at the impacts of VAT rates, raising the visibility of the Visit agencies, and promoting the Olympics Legacy beyond 2012 and London.
But Ms Ibrahim said a lot of work still needs to be done. More Government lobbying and a strong desire to invest is needed to keep domestic tourism alive and ensure the UK is a top tourist destination.