Leading travel industry figures have written to the Prime Minister calling for tourism to be removed from the Department for Culture, Media and Sport.
The business leaders, which include the chief executives from Hoseasons, Butlins, Travelodge and the British Association of Leisure Parks, Piers and Attractions, say that tourism has the potential to be one of Britain’s strongest performing industries, but it is being held back by a lack of attention.
Currently, the industry employs over two million people and generates more than £100bn of revenue. While the current weakness of the pound against most international currencies has been a problem for most industries, it makes the UK a more attractive destination for foreign visitors.
“There has never been a better opportunity or need in recent history, to get behind UK tourism,” said Richard Carrick, chief executive for Hoseasons. “The current economic climate and adverse exchange rates are likely to mean that 2009 is a boom year for incoming and intra-UK tourism.
“If we don’t get a handle on the way tourism is dealt with by Government quickly, this massive opportunity will be spurned, in the same way that very large sums of money invested in the myriad of tourism agencies across the UK for many years has been squandered.”
In the letter, they call for the responsibility for tourism to be moved to the Department of Business, Enterprise and Regulatory Reform, claiming that the DCMS pays far more attention to culture, art and sport, it lacks any co-ordinated thinking and has an unacceptable turnover of staff.
Last November Barbara Follett became the eighth tourism minister in 11 years.
They believe that under the auspices of the DBERR, the tourism industry would be given the same recognition as manufacturing, retail and construction, and access to a department that would promote its causes within Whitehall.
“Tourism suffers from playing a lesser role in a Department that concentrates on sports and the arts rather than having a business focus,” said Grant Hearn, chief executive for Travelodge. “With £350 million being allocated annually for tourism promotion it is not a lack of money that is the problem, but a lack of focus.
“At the moment the DCMS is not getting the basics right. No cohesive strategy, a lack of consistent performance measures across the sector and not even the correct infrastructure to collect revenue data. All of these issues are better dealt with by a department designed to build commerce.”
The tourism figures who signed the letter:
Amanda Thompson, managing director Blackpool Pleasure Beach
John Dunford, chief executive of Bourne Leisure
Colin Dawson, chief executive of the British Association of Leisure Parks, Piers and Attractions
Des Gunewardena, chief executive of D & D London
Richard Carrick, chief executive of Hoseasons
Nick Varney, chief executive of Merlin Entertainments
Grant Hearn, chief executive of Travelodge