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UK Economy: Tourism

Volume 757: debated on Thursday 20 November 2014


Asked by

To ask Her Majesty’s Government what assessment they have made of the impact of tourism on the United Kingdom economy.

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

My Lords, tourism is a major part of the UK economy. Deloitte estimates that it will contribute £61.1 billion directly to the economy this year, supporting nearly 1.8 million jobs. This rises to £133.6 billion and 3.15 million jobs when indirect impacts on the wider economy are included. Tourism is central to our plans for growth and we are working with the sector to achieve this.

My Lords, national tourism policy is to boost tourism in and to the regions. However, the way that air passenger duty is imposed runs counter to this. It is a flat tax, the only differential being between different classes of travel. Thus, if flying a national carrier, business class, London to Moscow return, air passenger duty represents only 2% of the total cost of the fare plus APD, whereas flying a budget carrier, London to Glasgow return, finds APD equating to 87% of the total cost. Is not this a nonsense, and will my noble friend urge his Treasury colleagues to look at the way in which APD is levied if we really want to encourage and boost regional tourism?

My Lords, obviously the first thing I must say is that matters of taxation are for the Chancellor; the Treasury continually reviews all taxation matters. I understand my noble friend’s point about percentages, but the band A rate is £13 and is going to remain that for four years. I do not think it is a considerable sum but it does, in total, contribute nearly £3 billion to the Treasury.

My Lords, does the Minister accept that tourism is particularly important in Wales and that overseas tourism brings a disproportionately greater amount of revenue to the Welsh economy? If so, will he take up the matter with VisitBritain and encourage it to turn every stone to ensure that visitors do not just come to London but reach other parts of the UK?

My Lords, I entirely agree with the noble Lord. This is why I am very pleased that there is a new £1.5 million Visit Wales campaign, for example, to bring more German visitors to Wales. It is a great experience for them as well as for visitors from America and Ireland. Visit Wales is working with VisitBritain and all the other tourism organisations to ensure that the experiences of all Britain and Great Britain are enjoyed.

My Lords, did my noble friend read the recent article in the papers suggesting that the so-called mansion tax would be a threat to and might lead to the closure of many of the stately homes of this country, which attract an enormous number of tourists? In that context, I hasten to add that I have no interest to declare.

My Lords, the first thing to say is that rural Britain, country houses and heritage sites are an enormous draw to people visiting. The Chinese, for instance, say that one of the principal reasons that they want to come to this country is because of our countryside. I think the truth is that, if the mansion tax were implemented, very few mansions would be clobbered but a lot of smaller houses would.

My Lords, would the noble Lord agree that the growth of the working poor is a matter of great concern? Will he join me in calling on all employers in the tourism industry to commit as soon as possible to paying all employees the living wage?

My Lords, the Government are clear that, where the living wage is affordable for a company, we encourage it to pay it.

My Lords, the good news about the tourism industry is that there are many flexible jobs in areas of relatively high unemployment, more jobs for women and a higher number of SMEs. This is to be welcomed but the bad news, as we have just heard, is that these are generally low-paid jobs with limited opportunities for training. They offer little, if any, chance for apprenticeships and there is increasing use of zero-hour contracts. As a result there is a rising tide of job insecurity in the sector. Does the Minister have a plan, and what precisely will it achieve?

There is very much a plan. That is precisely why the Prime Minister announced that the next phase of trail-blazers would be attributed to the tourism and hospitality sector. That is very much ongoing. The British Hospitality Association has pledged to create 300,000 jobs by 2020. Many reputable companies are running apprenticeship schemes. There is masses going on in the Government’s apprenticeship scheme and in other companies.

My Lords, language barriers can exist for individual tourists travelling outside London to the nations and to the regions of England, and there are barriers to doing things such as purchasing rail tickets cheaply. We need to ensure that people have access to appropriate foreign languages when they visit historic homes, and so on. Do the Government have any plans to look at ways in which foreign tourists who are trying to travel outside London can be assisted both in our transport systems and their destinations when their English is not at the highest level?

My Lords, it is clearly very important, through VisitBritain, VisitEngland and the other organisations, that the welcome given to visitors who do not speak English is as accommodated as possible. That is precisely why, for instance, in the China Welcome campaign many more museums are ensuring that Mandarin is part of the repertoire. I hope that will be the case throughout the country. I will discuss that point with officials.