I welcome the fact that tourism is at its highest levels ever, with foreign visitors contributing £22.4 billion to our economy and the industry as a whole supporting some 1.6 million jobs. The start of this year was the strongest on record, and VisitBritain research shows that since the referendum more Europeans say they are more likely, rather than less likely, to visit the UK.
Southend, of course, is a wonderful tourist destination, with the longest pleasure pier in the world. London Southend airport flies to 26 international destinations. The airport does not do Brussels, however, but it does do Europe. Will the Minister, on his re-election, agree to come to Southend to discuss how a new, emboldened Britain can do the European Union and the country a good job globally with trade with all nation states?
My hon. Friend raises an important point both about regional aviation and the beautiful part of the world he represents. That part of the world is known for its common sense, which I am sure will be reflected on 8 June. We have been very clear that we are working to ensure the best possible liberal access to European aviation markets and are seeking to replicate third-country arrangements with the likes of the US and Canada. We are committed to working with the sector to get the best deal for the UK, and I will be delighted to meet him to discuss how we can boost tourism in Southend.
Tourism employs 12,000 people in Norwich, where the value of the sector has grown 87% over the last 10 years—my fine city is a top 10 destination. Tourism is a quarter of the city’s employment. Will my hon. Friend reassure me and Norwich employers, first, that the position of valued members of staff who may be citizens of other European countries will be a personal priority and, secondly, that in seeking a strong future, especially for our young people, the Government will address the skills that British workers could develop to offer Norwich’s growing tourism industry?
My hon. Friend is right to champion tourism in Norwich. As the Prime Minister has said, it is right that we ensure that tourism and hospitality businesses can access the skills they need from the EU and that we ensure that young people in the UK have the right skills to work in this sector. I know she will continue to support tourism through her Norwich jobs initiative and as vice-chair of the all-party parliamentary group on youth employment, on which I enjoyed working with her.
Tourism requires airports to be open to people, and the Association of British Travel Agents tells us that getting an early deal is of the utmost priority. The chief executive of Stansted airport recently told MPs from our region that no deal means no flights. What assessment has been made of the cost to the British tourism industry of no deal?
The hon. Gentleman should be more optimistic. We have the largest aviation network in Europe and the third largest in the world, handling more than 250 million passengers and 2.3 million tonnes of cargo last year. We are working closely with the industry and are confident that securing a deal on aviation will be in the interests of both the UK and the EU.
Many businesses in rural areas such as Angus have diversified in recent years into short-term holiday lets, many of which are taken by citizens of the European Union who come across at short notice. There are serious concerns that, when we leave the EU, there could be a downturn. Will the Minister give us an assurance that, in any deal with the EU, there will remain the freedom for people to come for short-term holidays and that there will be no visa requirements requiring them to get documents before coming to the UK?
I recognise the importance of that issue. I discussed some of those issues directly with the Scottish hospitality sector during my last visit to Scotland. Of course we want to ensure that visitors from Europe can continue to come to the UK and spend their money here, and we want to ensure that we have the best access for tourists in both directions. That will be a subject for the negotiations to come.
Southampton airport in my Eastleigh constituency provides regular flights to Amsterdam and therefore more than 55 African nations, driving, among other things, bilateral trade. Will the Minister outline what his Department is doing to promote similar initiatives to bring benefits to the UK economy ready for leaving the EU?
My hon. Friend is absolutely right to champion the aviation routes from her constituency, and of course the UK, as a global nation, will continue to want to trade with both Europe and the wider world. Having strong aviation links and liberal access for aviation will be an important part of that.
Tourism in Northern Ireland currently generates £764 million of revenue and attracts 4.5 million visitors. The aim is to double that by 2020 using major events such as the world police and fire games, the UK city of culture and the Giro d’Italia. To achieve that goal, will the Minister outline his strategy for incorporating the UK-wide tourism industry? What support is being offered in the interim?
We have been working closely with the Department for Culture, Media and Sport and our colleagues in the territorial Departments to ensure that we have the best approach to selling the UK brand around the world. I recognise that Northern Ireland has a fantastic tourism offer, and I was delighted to meet representatives of the Northern Irish hospitality industry during my visit last autumn.
As you know, Mr Speaker, some of the finest parts of the Peak District national park are in Staffordshire, alongside Shugborough, Doxey marshes, Cannock Chase and many other beautiful places. One of the skills that our young people need so that we can benefit from the tourism industry lies in the teaching of languages. What is my hon. Friend doing, together with the Department for Education, to ensure that that is a priority?
My hon. Friend, who is a great champion for his local area, is right to raise this issue, and we have discussed with the tourism and hospitality industry the importance of attracting people with language skills. One aspect we are looking at is how, through negotiations, we might be able to continue engagement with the Erasmus programme in the future, but there are many other ways in which we need to boost our skills domestically, and boosting languages will be very important to a global Britain.
Tourism is the main catalyst for economic development in South Down, which will have a land border with the EU. How will that burgeoning cross-border tourism trade be nurtured and financially protected in the face of the challenges from Brexit and given that the Republic of Ireland’s VAT rate on tourism is 9% whereas in my constituency it is 20%?
One of our highest priorities in these negotiations and in our whole strategy for the UK’s exit from the EU is to secure the soft border that exists, to make sure that there is no return to the hard borders of the past and that the economic progress we see as a result of north-south tourism within the island of Ireland continues, and to ensure that those bodies can be in place. I assure the hon. Lady that this is an issue on which we will continue to engage, and we will continue to promote the excellent tourism offer in Northern Ireland.
The Minister is obviously aware that a record 37.6 million overseas visitors came to the UK in the past year. Is he aware that 70% of those came from the EU? Does he agree that those figures show that although the UK may be leaving the EU, we are very much welcoming and open to visitors from the EU and the rest of the world?
I wholly agree with what my hon. Friend and neighbour says. He is a great champion for the tourism industry, and may I thank him once again for the work he has done to make sure that our Department gets to hear directly from the tourism and hospitality industry across the UK?