Comment: The game has just begun

“The tourism and hospitality sectors are very important. They feature in the industrial strategy as two areas where it is particularly important to work together with firms big and small, as we are doing, to establish training institutions and spread technology so that we can raise their performance to compare with the strongest performance elsewhere in the economy.”

So said Greg Clark, the Business Secretary, in the House of Commons on Monday.

Monday (November 27) saw the publication of the government’s White Paper on the Modern Industrial Strategy – this is the next stage on the road to a new economic plan for the UK.

The story so far

During the past year, the tourism industry has been making its case collectively for a ‘sector deal’ within this process. In January this year, the government made clear that it had an open-door process for any industry to come forward with a long-term plan and vision, backed by the whole industry and led by a single figure.

Other industries, such as automotive, life sciences and nuclear, already had established plans and delivery structures and have subsequently received early sector deals from the government.

With more than three million people employed in tourism across every local authority, and currently accounting for 10% of GDP – and a growth trajectory higher than insurance and automotive – the case for a tourism sector deal is overwhelming. But the narrative and case had to be put coherently, ambitiously and with ‘one voice’.

Strategy structures

The government’s industrial strategy is structured around “place, innovation and business”. The tourism plan includes these key issues in droves. Our plan looks to improve productivity by 1% by 2025. This would deliver an additional £12 billion into the economy and help drive an additional 70,000 jobs.

With poor productivity across the UK economy, steps forward in tourism and hospitality will be the engine for improvement in the UK’s overall performance.

We have also set out how we will achieve a step change in job retention, skills training and, importantly, an image change – encouraging more people to take up a job in this sector. Alongside this, we have shown how the UK can be the most successful destination in Western Europe by 2025, outperforming key competitors.

This would mean driving our net export figure yet further. One fact that we should talk up far more is that tourism currently accounts for £30 billion of UK exports, putting us in the top four industries.

Tourism Zones

While these ambitions seek to address national challenges, we know that to achieve them, the work needs to be done on the ground. That’s why we have put forward plans for ‘Tourism Zones’ – a new idea to help drive local leadership and problem solving in areas where tourism is the dominant economy and can drive improvements in seasonality and place-building.

The tourism sector deal bid I presented in October is ambitious and it incorporated hundreds of organisations and businesses who came together. From SMEs in Scotland and Wales and major global attractions, to international retail, pubs, hotel groups and everything in between, the desire to land the deal has been overwhelmingly clear.

I spent more than two decades leading Virgin Atlantic through huge change and continue to be immersed in the sector with a large hotel in Cornwall and latterly as chairman of the British Tourist Authority (VisitBritain/VisitEngland). I will be meeting the business secretary Greg Clark in the coming weeks to press the case for a tourism sector deal, and pressing for negotiations to begin as soon as possible.

This week has been a really important milestone. Just a few months ago, many would have thought it unlikely that tourism would have been mentioned in a Modern Industrial Strategy. We were in the first paragraph of the first page of the Sector Deals paper, and threaded throughout the White Paper.

But the game has only just begun, and it’s now more important than ever to land the deal and begin the hard work.