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Covid:19: Tourism Sector

Volume 676: debated on Thursday 4 June 2020

7. What steps his Department is taking to help the tourism sector to reopen safely after the covid-19 lockdown restrictions are eased. (902920)

12. What steps his Department is taking to help the tourism sector to reopen safely after the covid-19 lockdown restrictions are eased. (902927)

13. What steps his Department is taking to help the tourism sector to reopen safely after the covid-19 lockdown restrictions are eased. (902928)

The tourism sector is hugely important to the economy, which is why we are meeting regularly with the industry. I have established a cultural renewal taskforce and, within that, a specific visitor economy working group to prepare guidance to help the tourism business reopen safely. As the Prime Minister has said, we have set a very ambitious target to try to get the sector back by 4 July, so long as it is safe to do so, and I am working to make that a reality. Of course, once tourism reopens, I will vigorously champion British holidays.

Figures last month showed that workers in seaside towns were being laid off at the fastest rate of any area in the UK, so will the Secretary of State look at greater flexibilities to allow the hospitality industry to open up sooner, particularly with outside premises; will he lobby the Chancellor to reduce the VAT rate on tourism to 5%; and will he ensure that our great British seaside towns can start to recover by making staycations a practical option? He is very welcome to visit the delights of Worthing for a staycation at any time.

I thank my hon. Friend for that; I would be delighted to visit Worthing. Indeed, I much prefer British holidays to holidays overseas, so I would be delighted to visit his constituency and others. He is absolutely right to highlight the importance of support for the sector. That is why, for example, we have had extensive support with the job retention scheme. I am working closely with my colleague the Chancellor, and we will be looking at further measures. Of course, once the sector is ready to go, I will be at the forefront of championing a campaign for British tourism.

Residents in Truro and Falmouth understand how hugely important the tourism sector is to Cornwall. It supports one in five jobs in our county. I thank the Government for the £444 million they have put into Cornwall so far to help us through this pandemic. Will my right hon. Friend assure me that, when it is safe to do so, the Government will join me in promoting Cornwall as a world-class tourist destination and ensure that our businesses can get back on their feet as soon as possible?

I know that Cornwall is a world-class tourist destination. I spent many happy holidays there as a child and, indeed, have taken my own children there on many occasions. As I said, we are hoping to get tourism back as rapidly as possible, and when it is back we will invest extensively in ensuring that we have a major campaign to encourage British people to take British staycations.

Tourism agency VisitBritain has proposed a bank holiday this October to help the tourism industry. It has been estimated that that could raise £500 million for the economy. Will the Minister seriously consider that proposal?

Yes. I thank my hon. Friend for that suggestion. That is an excellent proposal. One of the challenges we will have is getting the sector up and running as strongly as possible in the summer and extending it for as long as we can. This is a matter that I am discussing with my colleague, the Business Secretary.

Does the Secretary of State agree with the Scottish Government’s Cabinet Secretary for the Economy, who warns that the tourism industry, which is already deprived of vital foreign workers due to visa restrictions and which supports more than 200,000 jobs and contributes over £7 billion to the Scottish economy, now faces the double whammy of a no-deal Brexit combined with the ongoing impact of covid-19? Does this not justify a further extension of the job retention scheme to support the sector, and an extension of the transition period to avoid a deeply damaging no-deal scenario, compounding the horrendous coronavirus circumstances?

We have already extended the job retention scheme through to October. On the hon. Gentleman’s point about a further extension of the transition period, I think the British people have been pretty clear about this. They just want us to get on and leave, and we will not be extending again.

Theatres, art galleries, music venues and concert halls are all really struggling, and without culture, we are nothing; our life is nothing and we are not an attraction for international visitors. Will the Secretary of State ensure that the amount of money that has so far been made available is at least doubled? Otherwise, we are simply not going to keep some of these major institutions, whether it is the Parc and Dare Theatre in Treorchy, the Royal Academy in London or the Old Vic. Will he seriously consider the idea of a 5% VAT rate for all arts organisations?

The hon. Gentleman is absolutely right to highlight the rich value of culture both to individuals and to our wider economy in the creative industries. I have been engaging extensively with arts organisations and others. That is why I have appointed Neil Mendoza as a cultural renewal commissioner to come up with proposals in this area. I am absolutely determined that, as we go through this crisis, we ensure that we retain the huge strength we have in this nation in the cultural sector.

My constituents, Stuart and Laura McKay, sank their life savings into a holiday let in East Sussex. It was running successfully for a year, then coronavirus arrived. They are on zero income at the moment, and they do not qualify for any of the schemes because they are trading too newly. They ask whether the Government could introduce something to allow holiday lets for homes, to restart the sector, if we are all going to staycation? They say that, because of Dominic Cummings, they are not hopeful, but maybe the Secretary of State can prove them wrong.

As I have said, I am keen that we get the tourism sector going as rapidly as possible. We have set the ambitious target of 4 July, and if we can do it consistent with public health, we will do so. Self-contained accommodation has a lower risk than other areas, so I would hope that that will be at the front of the queue.