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Volume 742: debated on Wednesday 30 January 2013


Asked by

To ask Her Majesty’s Government what assessment they have made of the prospects for United Kingdom tourism in 2013.

I beg leave to ask the Question standing in my name on the Order Paper and, in doing so, declare an interest as the chairman of the Association of Leading Visitor Attractions.

My Lords, tourism is the fifth biggest industry and worth £115 billion per year. In many parts of Britain, it is the leading economic sector. It has great potential to grow: VisitBritain reports that the volume of international tourism will grow by 3% this year, with a spend of £9 billion. Domestic tourism accounts for 80% of the market, and VisitEngland predicts a £500 million additional spend over four years. The Government are working with tourism organisations to secure these objectives.

I know that my noble friend is very conscious of tourism’s importance, but are the Government? On 31 December, the Prime Minister sent a three-page letter to all parliamentarians on the Olympics legacy. Unbelievably, there was not one word on tourism. Is my noble friend aware that tourism created one-third of all new UK employment in the two years to the end of 2011 and now accounts for 9% of all employment? Two months ago, the Intercontinental London Westminster opened, just by St James’s Park tube station. Of its 170 permanent staff, only 68—or 40%—were from the United Kingdom. There were 13 each from Italy and Spain, 11 from Lithuania, 10 from France, eight from Poland and 47 who were from 30 other countries. It is a veritable United Nations. Just what are the Government doing to encourage our young people to embrace career opportunities in tourism and hospitality?

My Lords, first, I am very conscious that I am replying to a former Minister for Tourism. I assure your Lordships that the Government are taking tourism and its potential extremely seriously. The Prime Minister is leading from the front on this issue; indeed, the Secretary of State and the Minister for Sports and Tourism are fully engaged in promoting it. The Government are investing £137 million over four years via the GREAT campaign, which is delivered through VisitBritain and in partnership with the private sector. Through that investment, we hope that almost 60,000 new job opportunities will be created. Those will of course include job opportunities for the young, while the success story of apprenticeships is very strong.

My Lords, is the Minister aware of the strong and widespread feeling among tourism operators in Wales that Wales is not being marketed abroad effectively by VisitBritain? This fact was recognised by his ministerial colleague Mr Stephen Crabb, who said earlier this month in another place that there would be a meeting very soon with VisitBritain to discuss the specific problem. Has that meeting taken place and if the Minister does not know, can he make inquiries and let us know the outcome?

I shall certainly make inquiries for the noble Lord and place a record of the findings in the Library. Clearly, the task and responsibility for VisitBritain is to work with all the other organisations including VisitEngland, the Northern Ireland Tourist Board and VisitScotland, and they must of course be co-ordinated because VisitBritain has the responsibility to ensure that, across the country, there are greater tourism opportunities. Wales, with its countryside and industrial heritage, is hugely important in that respect.

My Lords, could my noble friend boost tourism this year by suggesting that we put on special tours of all those marvellous areas and wonderful buildings that will be despoiled or destroyed by the extravagant expenditure of HS2?

My Lords, I know that HS2 has been the subject of earlier discussions; of course, there will be considerable opportunities with that rail network of getting to many parts of the country. As a man of Buckinghamshire, I understand what my noble friend means but the overall objective is to ensure that this country has a vibrant transport network.

My Lords, given the previous question, I should declare an interest as a director of VisitBritain. Does the Minister agree that the great opportunities that exist for British tourism on the back of the excellent images of Britain through the Olympics and Paralympics will be limited if people have difficulty getting into Britain? It is not just a visa issue, it is also an issue about aviation policy and the negative publicity that British airports have had over the past few weeks. What action are the Government taking in the short term to help alleviate these difficulties for people coming into Britain?

A number of issues are being taken forward. The first, although we want to go beyond visa issues, is that last year the UK Border Agency launched the simplified approved destinations scheme, which is particularly important for China. Clearly, there are also important advantages. We want to ensure that the growth of tourism from India and other countries improves. Our objective is to get 500,000 new visitors from China by 2015. This is clearly going to involve a great deal of work co-ordinating vis-à-vis airports, as the noble Baroness suggested, and across the piece to ensure that many people from all around the world can visit our wonderful country.

My Lords, I declare an interest as Constable of the Tower of London, which received 2.5 million visitors last year, 70% of whom came from overseas. Will the Minister indicate what he is doing to encourage the UK Border Force to present not only a secure but a welcoming entry into this country so that queues and the grumpy attitude seen on some occasions do not deter people from visiting this country and our wonderful attractions?

It is very important that people receive a welcome not only in terms of the visa application process but on their arrival. It is acknowledged that we always need to do better. In particular, we have moved up three places to ninth out of 50 countries in the Anholt brands index in terms of the welcome that the UK grants its visitors. That is an indication of the warmth of the Olympic welcome, but it is something that we must build on all the time.