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Volume 590: debated on Thursday 15 January 2015

The Office for National Statistics estimates that the direct contribution of the tourism sector to the economy in 2013 was £56 billion. Taking account of indirect benefits, Deloitte estimates that in the same year the sector was worth £127 billion gross value added to the UK economy, supporting 3.1 million jobs.

I welcome that response. As my right hon. Friend will know, Crawley contains Gatwick airport, which is a major gateway to the UK. What more can the tourism industry do to ensure that people coming to the UK travel on to other destinations and take advantage of the many benefits and tourist attractions in Crawley and West Sussex?

My hon. Friend raises an important point. He will be aware that Gatwick is already a major local economic driver, generating some 23,000 jobs at the airport alone, and he is right to ask what more it could do to attract visitors to Crawley and Sussex. He will be aware of Visit Sussex, and I encourage the town to work more closely with that and with Tourism South East, to see what more it can do to show its local attractions.

The Secretary of State will be aware that across Kent tourism accounts for the direct employment of nearly 65,000 people. Tourism VAT rates across the EU are much lower than in the UK, and if VAT on accommodation was reduced to 5% that would boost jobs and bring a further £1 million into Kent. What conversations has he had with the Treasury about the benefits of a future cut to VAT, as that would bring jobs and growth into Kent and the UK as a whole?

My hon. Friend has raised that issue before and I know she feels passionately about it. She will know that tax is an issue for the Treasury, and we have ongoing discussions with the Treasury on a number of issues. I am sure she will join me in welcoming the fact that in 2013, because of the support the Government have provided to the sector, we saw record levels of tourism, and it looks as if 2014 will be another record year.

Tourism is particularly important in rural areas. What can we do to encourage VisitBritain to highlight the excellent hotels, holiday accommodation and visitor attractions in rural Wales, and indeed the entire west of England, to make it a tourist destination for people coming from abroad?

My hon. Friend is right to say that tourism is vital for local economies, and I have a big ambition to get more people out of the cities and visiting our fantastic countryside. He will be pleased to know that one week from today we will launch the Countryside is Great campaign in New York, with the fantastic Katherine Jenkins performing. That will help make clearer to international tourists exactly what our fantastic countryside has to offer, including in Wales.