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Volume 791: debated on Monday 14 May 2018


Asked by

To ask Her Majesty’s Government what is their most recent assessment of the importance of tourism to the economy of the United Kingdom.

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

My Lords, the Government recognise that tourism is vital to the UK economy. Tourism makes important contributions to local economies across the UK and is particularly significant in rural and coastal areas. In 2016, direct tourism GVA was estimated to be worth £66.1 billion to the UK economy, a 2.2% increase on 2015. The sector is predicted to grow at an annual rate of 3.8% through to 2025.

My Lords, last year’s tourism growth was four times greater than that of the overall economy. Tourism is now arguably the number one industry in more parliamentary constituencies than any other single industry, and future developments such as Diageo’s £150 million investment in its whisky distilleries’ visitor centres, the £28 million upgrade to Blackpool’s Winter Gardens and the £55 million master plan for the Royal Albert Hall will provide complementary boosts to design and construction industries and food and drink manufacturers.

In Northern Ireland, 8.5% of the total jobs are in tourism. Approximately 500,000 visitors cross the border from the Republic of Ireland annually, 30% of them visitors to Titanic Belfast. Does the Minister accept that any hard border would be a big no-no for Northern Ireland’s tourism?

My Lords, in her Mansion House speech, the PM made a commitment to avoid a hard border, which is important because 28% of all visits to Northern Ireland by residents from outside the island of Ireland arrived at a port or airport in Ireland. We understand that Northern Ireland’s visitor attractions, including the Titanic and the Giant’s Causeway, rely heavily on external visitors, many of whom travel across the border.

My Lords, may I ask the Minister a slightly shorter question? Is he aware of the contribution that heritage railways make to the tourist economy? On the latest estimate, it is somewhere between £250 million and £300 million a year, particularly in the coastal and rural areas to which he referred in his Answer. Could he please have a look at the Written Answer his noble friend Lord Henley gave me last week about the future supplies of coal, which are so important to steam railways, and give an assurance that, after 2023, coal supplies will continue to be available?

My Lords, I do not have specific figures on heritage railways, but I can assure the noble Lord that I shall not shunt his question into a siding and, with the help of my noble friend Lord Henley, I shall endeavour to smoke out the answer.

My Lords, tourism is the third or fourth largest export earner for the UK. Since we relaxed the tourism visa for the Chinese, we have more than doubled the number of Chinese people coming to the UK. Are we proposing to do the same thing for some of Africa and India?

My noble friend makes a good point. We have offered a two-year visa to the Chinese since 2016 for the same price as a six-month visa. This is a pilot scheme that is currently being evaluated, and we have no plans to stop that. However, until the pilot scheme has been evaluated, there are no plans to extend it.

My Lords, to build on what the noble Lord, Lord Popat, just said, the precise figure is £85 for a two-year multiple entry visa from China since 2016, whereas from India the figure is four times that, at nearly £350. With India being one of the fastest-growing economies in the world, and a huge number of tourists from India going abroad, we are losing out on those tourist visitors. Would the Minister agree with that? Secondly, the Government’s plan for Brexit is to do free trade deals around the world. Free trade deals are about movement of people. Without doing this, do the British Government think they will have a free trade deal with India? Dream on!

My Lords, I have not seen any evidence that the cost of visas has penalised tourism from India. Although visas are constantly being looked at by the Home Office, the tourism industry overall has gone from strength to strength, with year-on-year increases since 2012.

Does the Minister accept that the motor car is one of the greatest challenges to the tourist industry, and that we are not helped when railway companies, such as Northern, frequently cancel trains? Two weeks ago, 94 trains on the Lakes line into the Lake District were cancelled in a single week. Will the Government look at the possibility of forcing Northern Rail to run a proper service into the Lake District?

I agree that a proper service is important for tourism. One of our main problems at the moment is persuading tourists from outside the UK to go to places apart from London, which accounts for 58% of visits. It therefore follows that a proper transport infrastructure is essential to get visitors away from London to look at the benefits of our wonderful heritage.

My Lords, VisitBritain estimates that the UK will attract more than 40 million overseas visitors this year, following six years of record-breaking growth. However, the UK is losing market share because many of our competitors, particularly the major ones, are spending much more than us on promoting their countries abroad. Will the Government act to secure the long-term future of Britain’s tourism industry by including this vital sector in the modern industrial strategy?

Absolutely. That is why the tourism industry has brought its sector deal together. It is with BEIS at the moment and I believe the department will comment on it imminently.

My Lords, in my enthusiasm to ask my question, I omitted to declare my interest as president of the Heritage Railway Association.