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Volume 564: debated on Thursday 20 June 2013

In the 12 months to April 2013, tourism spend by international visitors in the UK was up 13% to a record £19.9 billion. This result highlights the importance of tourism in this country, which contributes £115 billion on average to the UK economy each year.

That is very encouraging, but looking forward a decade, what projection has my right hon. Friend made of demand for passenger arrivals capacity and beds? Is she confident that the industry can meet that demand to maximise the export earnings opportunity?

My hon. Friend is right that we should always keep these sorts of things under close review, which is exactly what we do. He will be aware that Sir Howard Davies is undertaking an independent review of airport capacity and how we can better use existing capacity. He is due to report in 2015. As for accommodation, the figures for the UK overall show that we have a one-third capacity available in hotel accommodation across the country. There are particular issues in London, which is why I very much welcome this week’s announcement of £700 million of investment in luxury hotel accommodation at Nine Elms, which we should applaud the Mayor for securing.

I recently had the pleasure of attending the launch of Chester Civil War Tours, a new small company showing people the sights of the siege of Chester in the civil war, including the battlefields and also the pubs. What role does my right hon. Friend think heritage and culture have in promoting tourism in our towns and cities?

My hon. Friend is absolutely right to highlight the importance of culture in supporting the tourism industry. That is why I was so pleased that the Treasury was able to understand the arguments we put forward and that we have secured such a strong deal for the culture sector in this country.

The situation facing the tourism industry in the north-east is unfortunately less positive. We have seen a reduction of 60,000 in the last year. What action will the Secretary of State take to ensure that the north-east is not left behind?

The hon. Lady is right to say that we want every corner of the country to have a strong tourism industry. That is why our “Holidays at Home are GREAT” campaign is the biggest ever domestic tourism campaign aimed at exactly what she is looking for, which is to boost tourism throughout the UK.

Few city regions have seen as much growth in the visitor economy as Merseyside over recent years. This has been underpinned by the work that the local authorities have done in the boroughs. What conversations has the Secretary of State had with Communities and Local Government Ministers about ensuring that the spending review does not put that investment at risk?

Through the work we do on the GREAT campaign, we bring together Ministers from many different Departments to ensure a co-ordinated approach to how we market Britain abroad. The hon. Lady’s part of England has a strong story to tell when it comes to marketing Britain, which is something I hope she would work with me on.

It is excellent news that visitor numbers and visitor spend rose last year to record levels, but my right hon. Friend will also be aware that the UK still slipped by one place, from seventh to eighth, in the list of top 10 destinations. Can she say what is being done to attract more visitors to the UK, particularly from China, many of whom are still being deterred by the cost and difficulty of obtaining visas?

My hon. Friend is absolutely right to say that we always need to be actively marketing Britain abroad. That is where our GREAT campaign, with £37 million already invested, comes into its own. It is a campaign that this country can be proud of. As for visas, we have made significant improvements to the situation that we inherited. We have now seen an increase of, I believe, around 30% in visas from that country.

The tourism economy in Wales is worth £5 billion a year and employs 8% of the population, including many in my constituency. This week the Welsh Government announced a new target to increase that figure by 10%, including by increasing inward tourists from Ireland and the United States in particular. Does the Secretary of State welcome that and will she commit to meet and work with the Welsh Government to promote Wales, as well as England and the UK?

I thank the right hon. Gentleman for his question. We work closely with the Welsh Government through VisitBritain. This is a shared objective. VisitBritain has a clear target of increasing international tourism by 33% by 2015, and that will mean some 200,000 extra jobs in this country. Tourism is an important sector, and we have some excellent support plans in place.

My constituency is particularly dependent on tourism. What discussions has the Secretary of State had with the Treasury about the capacity for reducing VAT in line with some of the countries on the continent? That might help the sector to grow, and would be particularly helpful to the tourism business in Somerset.

I understand the point that my hon. Friend is making, but there would clearly be a significant cost associated with any such change to VAT. I prefer to invest positively in our country as a place to visit. At the moment, the Treasury is not convinced that there is a correlation between a cut in VAT and any benefit in terms of figures.