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Sealing the deal to keep tourism thriving

Matt Hill, Programme Director, Tourism and Retail, London First 

When you think about Industrial Strategy, tourism might not be the first sector to spring to mind. You’re more likely to conjure images of manufacturing or heavy industry, rather than hotels and heritage attractions.

But tourism has a huge impact on the London and national economies. London attracted a record-breaking 19 million visitors last year, and is projected to attract over 40 million by 2025. Tourism creates 700,000 jobs in the capital and around £36 billion a year, or 12% of London’s GDP. For the wider UK, there were nearly 40 million visits in the 12 months to August 2017 with visitors spending £24 billion – the best ever 12 month period.

In total, tourists contribute £127 billion in gross value added (GVA) to the national economy. Tourism is two and a half times bigger than the automotive industry, a bigger exporter than the insurance sector and is growing faster than the digital sector.

So why isn’t tourism at the forefront of public consciousness when we’re talking about Industrial Strategy? Perhaps it’s because it’s so diverse, encompassing accommodation, food and beverage, retail, transport, attractions and all sorts of supporting services. It also permeates virtually every region of the UK to some extent, making it much less tangible than a manufacturing plant or tech cluster.

In many ways, this makes a Sector Deal even more important. The varying interests of such a diverse and dispersed industry make it easy to file in the in the ‘too difficult’ box. But we know there are some overriding issues to address, and strategic interventions which will make a difference to every level of the industry, and that’s why London First has been so keen to help develop the Tourism Sector Deal.

London continues to be the gateway for the majority of tourists exploring the UK, and it’s crucial that the Industrial Strategy defends and enhances the UK’s role as a connected, open and welcoming destination for both business and leisure visitors. Working alongside the Tourism Industry Council, our members and other sector bodies, we have laid out a number of key actions in the Sector Deal proposal to make that happen.

Many of these actions address key concerns for London First members, including:

  • travel for visitors from the EU member remaining visa-free;
  • safeguarding EU and international market access for the UK aviation sector and international rail;
  • pilot two- and ten-year visas for Chinese visitors made permanent, and extended to India and other key markets;
  • any introduction of Electronic Travel Authorization (ETAs) being used as an opportunity to make better use of multi-entry visas from emerging markets;
  • addressing airport capacity constraints with an Airports NPS and a new national Aviation Strategy.

The weaker pound may have helped to drive tourism numbers and revenues to recent record highs, but we can’t take our success as a tourism hotspot for granted.

London First and our members are already working with London and Partners to turn the London Tourism Vision into a reality, but the success of London’s and the wider UK’s tourism economies are inextricably linked. This proposal shows that the tourism sector across the UK is ready to come together and work with government to help deliver on recommendations.

There is a clear and achievable proposal on the table, commanded by Steve Ridgway CBE with the unified support of the Tourism Industry Council and all major tourism bodies. It is now down to government to accept those recommendations on connectivity, alongside the equally important Sector Deal proposals on skills, tourism zones and productivity, so that one of the UK’s most important industries can continue to thrive.

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