My Lords, the UK has a strong visitor offer and a thriving tourism industry, supported by the Government’s tourism action plan. Initiatives such as the £40 million Discover England fund develop new and innovative products to offer both domestic and inbound visitors. We are working hard to support our first-class business visits and events sector. The industry, in close collaboration with VisitBritain, has proposed a tourism sector deal, which the Government are considering.
My Lords, I thank the Minister for his positive response, but the Government recently announced that they are considering a cut in tourism VAT for accommodation and attractions in Northern Ireland—no doubt a response to a DUP request. But why just Northern Ireland? Out of 36 European countries, only three, including the United Kingdom, have failed to reduce VAT for tourism, yet if a cut of 5% took place, over 10 years tourist businesses in this country would be hugely boosted, 120,000 additional jobs would be created and £4.6 billion would go into the Treasury coffers. So why do the Government not get on with this measure and do it for the whole country, not just consider it for Northern Ireland only?
The noble Lord is correct that the call for evidence is focused on tourism in Northern Ireland, but of course responses from other parts of the UK would be very welcome, and there is still time: the consultation closes on 5 June. The Government are certainly aware of concerns about the impact of VAT on tourism and that is why at the Spring Statement the Treasury launched a call for evidence on the impact of VAT.
My Lords, in the spirit of the Question asked by the noble Lord, Lord Foster, we had an almost identical Question just a week ago, since when a very significant event took place on Saturday at Windsor. It seems obvious to me that British pageantry should be factored into the consultation that is taking place, which should extend not just to Northern Ireland but across the country. Will the Government consider this as a very concrete proposal? As a secondary question, and in view of the fact that the sermon preached last Saturday was so powerful, may I suggest that good preachers might form part of the strategy as well? I express an interest, of course.
I think the House will agree with me that we all appreciated the sermon in all its innovative nature. The noble Lord is absolutely correct that pageantry is one part of the offering that we have in the UK. For 2018 we have lots of interesting events around the UK, including China’s First Emperor and the Terracotta Warriors at the World Museum, Liverpool, and the Great Exhibition of the North. There is an awful lot we need to work at to ensure that tourists come here to Britain this summer and beyond.
My Lords, is the Minister aware of how damaging Airbnb and similar services are to the tourist industry, and what complaints there are about the damage it is doing? Internationally, a number of countries have within the last month introduced a restriction on these services so that they do not take away ordinary accommodation and destroy the tourist industry.
My Lords, does the Minister appreciate that in some of our national parks, the problem of tourism is actually how to manage the number of visitors? For example, in the Lake District National Park last year we had 19 million visitors; this year, it is likely to be over 20 million, all of whom have to travel by road. Will the Minister look at the possibility of dusting down the plans for a light railway from Windermere to Keswick?
I think the noble Lord raised a similar question about a week ago on the subject of routes into the Lake District. I am not going to repeat the answer given by my noble friend Lord Ashton but I will say that we are very aware of the need to transport tourists to and from important areas within the UK, including the Lake District, quickly and safely.
My Lords, eight out of every 10 international visitors to the UK book their holiday online but a lot of the smaller SMEs do not have the digital skills to be able to market their businesses. Will the Minister agree to meet me and representatives of the industry to work out the best way to enable those businesses to get the skills necessary to grow the visitor economy across the regions and nations of the UK, which currently brings in £127 billion a year?
I cannot immediately agree to meet the noble Baroness but I can certainly pass the message on to the Ministers concerned. She makes an important point: the visitor experience for people coming to the UK starts the moment that they start booking, so it is extremely important that we make it user-friendly.