Tourism Minister – Reasons Why a Tourism Minister is Essential (13.09.12)

As David Cameron’s recent Cabinet reshuffle sees the role of Tourism Minister downgraded, with the job now being combined with Sport, rather than as a stand alone post, there is a real question-mark over how seriously Britain’s fifth industry is taken.

Aside from the government appearing not to give due recognition to the huge tax income it gains (corporation tax, VAT on Tour Operators’ Margins, employment taxes and general travel industry) the move shows a complete lack of understanding of the true value of our inbound and outbound travel industries.

In pure monetary terms tourism is extremely significant. The industry is worth £115.4bn to the UK economy, which – once the direct and indirect impacts are taken into account – is equivalent to 8.9% of UK Gross Domestic Product. It employs 2.645 million (one in twelve jobs).

After Chemicals and Financial Services, Tourism is the UK’s third highest export receiving more than £17bn annually. It gives over £3bn income to the Exchequer. Looking to the future, expenditure Tourism is forecast to grow at an annual real growth rate of 3.0% per annum (2010 to 2020) with inbound visitor spending forecast set to grow at a faster rate than spending by domestic residents (4.4% against 2.6%).

So surely, with so many of our industries facing troubled times the inbound tourism industry’s health should be carefully maintained and guided at a full Ministerial level. As without proper management a growth rate forecast of 3.5% per annum (over the period 2010 to 2020) might never happen either.

The downgrading of Tourism Minister also means that in addition to the potential lowering of our industry’s earnings, the country’s post-Olympic PR opportunities could also be wasted.

The fact is the Minister’s inbox is full enough, with issues including the 3rd runway at Heathrow, APT tax, Package Travel Regulations/EU Package Travel Directive and ATOL Reform. Longer term, a well thought out ‘action plan’ with careful management is going to be crucial, as the nation’s overriding tourism policy will play an essential part in shaping how we, as a country, interact with the rest of the world.

Handled carefully, inbound tourism can be one of the country’s most efficient, worthwhile and profitable PR contributors. It provides a constant and essential line of understanding behind what Britain stands for and is good at.

The outbound travel industry is also one of our most important PR tools. A significant percentage of the world might speak English, but without the business and social interaction our outbound market offers, an essential line of communication will be lost.

Our outbound industry also helps in creating international understanding and assists many poorer destinations worldwide with their ability to attract hard currency with significant earning and employment opportunities.

In addition, the fact that the EU takes the travel industry seriously, should mean the UK does too. Times are changing and with the number of present day complexed issues we require a Minister who, not only understands the indusry but also has the job remit to take on the considerable workload.

A case in point being when John Penrose, the recent Minister, instigated an important report called the ‘Tourism Regulation Task Force’ (March 2012). The report included the key suggestion that the Department for Transport (via the Civil Aviation Authority) should take over regulation of licensable and non-licensable outbound business.

Although this may appear insignificant to those outside the industry, it is an example of how without full Ministerial representation any of the 219 million annual UK airport passengers is potentially under-protected and significantly under-represented.

The fact is, it is vital that tourism be represented at Ministerial level in our Government.