Comment: Make your voice heard

Nigel Huddleston, MP for Mid-Worcestershire and co-chair of the all-party parliamentary group for the visitor economy, highlights the importance of lobbying Westminster during Brexit negotiations.

Tourism is the UK’s fourth largest industry and our fifth biggest export earner.

It contributes £127 billion a year to our economy and sustains more than three million jobs – and more than a quarter of all new jobs since 2010 have been in the tourism and hospitality sector.

A record 36.1 million overseas visitors came to the UK in 2015, spending a record £22.1 billion. In short, the industry is doing pretty well.

Pivotal decisions

Unfortunately, these facts are not widely known outside the trade and the important contribution of the tourism industry to the UK economy is relatively poorly recognised in Westminster – yet this is where pivotal decisions will be made that will affect the industry for decades to come.

But recognition and respect for tourism in parliament is growing and MPs with a travel industry background or who represent constituencies where tourism is a major part of the local economy are increasingly vocal.

In recent years, key industry bodies have become far more visible in Westminster and far more effective in lobbying policymakers.

It was reassuring that one of the first publications from Theresa May’s new government was the Tourism Action Plan.

Sterling slump

Brexit will bring significant challenges and opportunities and different sectors will be affected in different ways.

Conventional wisdom suggests that – at least in the short term – inbound and domestic sectors should do well from Brexit and the slump in sterling, whereas outbound will be challenged by depreciation and rising airfares.

But it is not that simple.

We may reasonably expect record inbound visitor numbers again for 2016 and even 2017, but concerns have been expressed about how welcoming Brexit Britain is to foreigners – and the hospitality and leisure sectors are particularly reliant on overseas labour: 75% of London’s hospitality workers are EU nationals.

Many MPs, including myself, are asking the government to consider reintroducing a seasonal overseas workers scheme.

Brexit goals

On January 17, Theresa May set out her 12 key objectives for Brexit negotiations.

She said we will not remain in the single market but will pursue bold and ambitious free trade agreements with the EU.

This is a realistic and achievable goal.

The UK, after all, has a £75 billion trade deficit with the EU and there are more jobs in the EU dependent on trade with the UK than jobs in the UK dependent on trade with the EU.

Tempting though it may be to “stick one to the Brits” in vengeance for leaving the EU, it would be a bizarre act of self-harm if European political leaders failed to come to an agreement with the UK and put their own economic well-being at risk.

Open skies

The PM also stated that “no deal for Britain is better than a bad deal” – implying that if the only deal offered is not in the UK’s economic interests, then we are prepared to walk away and instead default to World Trade Organisation tariffs.

Unfortunately, WTO default alternatives don’t exist for some industries such as aviation.

Rather than see British airlines relocate to Europe to secure EU routes, we must ensure that membership of the European Common Aviation Area (ECAA) continues post Brexit, and negotiate other agreements that we currently enjoy through the EU such as the pivotal EU-US Open Skies agreement.

I have been reassured by government ministers that they are acutely aware of such concerns – and they correctly point out that rights are reciprocal and US and European airlines would lose their rights to fly to the UK if no deal were struck.

No one should be in any doubt about the scale of the task and the seriousness with which we will approach the coming negotiation.

All players in the travel industry must make their voices heard.

I and the increasing number of MPs advocating the travel industry look forward to working with business and government to reach a deal that secures a very bright future for this amazing industry.