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Tourism Industry: Covid-19

Volume 698: debated on Thursday 1 July 2021

What steps his Department is taking to support the recovery of the tourism industry from the covid-19 pandemic. (902110)

What steps his Department is taking to support the recovery of the tourism industry from the covid-19 pandemic. (902111)

What steps his Department is taking to support the recovery of the tourism industry from the covid-19 pandemic. (902127)

We recognise the impact of covid-19 on the tourism industry, which is why we published the tourism recovery plan to help the sector to return to pre-pandemic levels as quickly as possible and build back better for the future. The Government have already provided over £25 billion of support to the tourism, leisure and hospitality sectors in the form of grants, loans and tax breaks. As our plan sets out, we will continue to support the sector as it recovers.

I thank my hon. Friend for his answer and for his visit last week to my beautiful constituency of Eastbourne, where he will have seen no shortage of ambition or potential—only a shortage of new recruits to the hospitality workforce. What plans do he and the Department have to promote careers in hospitality and tourism, which is a vital sector in the UK and in Eastbourne? Would maintaining the 5% VAT rate help employers to offer ever more competitive wages?

It was a joy to join my hon. Friend in her incredibly sunny and warm constituency last week and see at first hand the hard work she has been doing on behalf of her constituents, and particularly those in the tourism sector. I know she shares my view that developing skills and careers within tourism and hospitality is vital for the sector’s recovery. As stated in the tourism recovery plan, we will work closely with the sector to ensure that businesses can employ more UK nationals in year-round better paid, high-quality tourism jobs. Regarding extending the temporary VAT cut, as we discussed last week, including with her constituents, the Government keep all taxes under review. I have noted her suggestion and I am sure that Treasury Ministers have, too.

Inbound tourism in normal times contributes about £28 billion to the UK economy. What discussions has my hon. Friend had with other Departments about reopening safe international travel so that UK tourism jobs can be protected and indeed grown as we go forward?

I know what a great champion my hon. Friend is for tourism and international travel, as we heard at Prime Minister’s questions yesterday. He is right that inbound tourism is vital. A lot of talk has been about outbound tourism, which is also a really important sector, but, in 2019, 40 million visitors came to the UK, spent money and had a great time. We are having frequent conversations. I talk to the Under-Secretary of State for Transport, my hon. Friend the Member for Witney (Robert Courts)—the aviation Minister—and others on an almost daily basis. The Department for Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy also has an interest in this area. I can therefore assure my hon. Friend that we are having many cross-Government discussions about the importance of the tourism, international travel and aviation sectors.

As more people decide to holiday at home in the UK, we have a golden opportunity to improve the economy of our seaside communities, some of which have high levels of social deprivation. However, to direct visitors to those areas, we need more brown tourist signs on motorways and major trunk roads. What support can my hon. Friend give to the campaign in my constituency to get Highways England to put up a brown tourist sign on the M2 to showcase the many wonderful attractions on the Isle of Sheppey?

I commend my hon. Friend for his work on behalf of tourism businesses on the Isle of Sheppey. The purpose of brown signs is primarily to direct road users to a tourism attraction or facility to aid the efficient management of traffic. They are not meant to be billboards or adverts as such, but, as he articulated, they do fulfil a useful purpose. He will be aware that such decisions are for local authorities and Highways England, but I appeal to them to listen sympathetically to his request.

I have been speaking to leaders in the tourism industry who are distinctly underwhelmed by the Minister’s tourism recovery plan. An inclusivity ambassador, a rail pass and £10 million of vouchers is not the level of ambition that they were expecting from the much vaunted plan. In particular, coach operators, fairgrounds and tour guides missed out on support during the pandemic. What sector-specific support does the Minister plan to give to those areas that missed out on support during the lockdown and pandemic and had to suffer through three consecutive winters with a lack of support from the Government?

To date, as the hon. Member will be aware, the Government have provided more than £25 billion of support for the tourism, hospitality and leisure sector. That may not be appreciated by him but I know it has been by the sector as a whole. We are continuing to give support and that number will go up considerably. In terms of the sectors that have not automatically qualified for assistance, that is precisely why, as I have stated in the Chamber, the additional restrictions grants were out there—more than £1 billion of funding to help those sectors that did not automatically qualify—and we will keep the support under review constantly. Many in the sector welcome the ambition in the tourism recovery plan not only to get back to 2019 levels of tourism activity domestically and inbound, but to go well beyond that, and I hope that the Opposition will work with me and others to achieve that goal.