Hotels in Britain are too expensive and of “worrying” quality while our rush-hour trains are “dreadful”, according of the Government minister responsible for attracting more tourists to the country.
In an astonishing attack on the nation’s tourism infrastructure, Margaret Hodge also said that facilities at Stonehenge are not up to international standards and that visitor attractions in general must raise their game before the 2012 Olympics.
Tourism chiefs described her comments, in an interview with Holiday Which? magazine, as out-of-date and said that they failed to recognise the effect that Government imposed taxes have on prices.
Her remarks are likely to further inflame tensions with the industry after a series of public spats including a House of Commons reception earlier this summer where she was reportedly heckled over the issue and clashed openly with one business leader.
Mrs Hodge, who said she enjoys holidays in Italy, told the magazine: “I agree that hotels are expensive and I worry about the quality.”
She pointed out that only around half of all UK hotel accommodation was part of the star rating system set up by the AA and Visit Britain.
Asked about public transport she insisted that the London Underground was cleaner and more modern than parts of the Paris Metro but added that she would never venture there in rush hour.
“I don’t do the rush hour. I used to and it was dreadful,” she remarked.
Sidestepping a question over whether British passengers got value for money on rail journeys her advice was to “book ahead” but admitted that even then availability on cheap deals was “limited”.
She also drew attention to the long-running planning wrangle over visitor facilities at Stonehenge, one of Britain’s most popular and internationally recognised attractions, admitting: “The facilities don’t befit a World Heritage Site.”
In a broader sweep at the industry, she went on: “Tourists need to be offered good deals and we have to make attractions better … The Olympics has provided a catalyst for people working in heritage and tourism into making their facilities more attractive.”
Responding to the minister’s remarks on hotels, Martin Couchman, deputy chief executive of the British Hospitality Association, said: “I just don’t think that the analysis is right, I don’t think the quality is poor.
“That is not to say that there are not some poor quality establishments but the overwhelming majority are far better than they used to be.”
He went on: “Yes we are one of the more expensive countries, we have got one of the highest rates of VAT on hotels, France has only five and a half per cent.”
On prices in London, he added: “It has enormous costs associated with it, any time anyone delivers anything to a hotel in central London, food for example, they charge them the Congestion Charge.”
Last month Nick Varney, the chairman of the entertainment group Merlin, which owns attractions such as Madame Tussauds criticised Mrs Hodge over comments she was reported to have made accusing large visitor attractions of poor customer service.
And in June she was said to have stormed out of a reception for industry chiefs on the Commons terrace after being heckled and booed. Guests said she had a stand-up row with Philip Green, chairman of the trade group UK Inbound, who criticised “high taxes disguised as green initiatives, ridiculous red tape and a schizophrenic approach to air travel”.