Tourism is too low down on the political agenda, so it cannot argue its case with councillors or MPs, warned panellists during a debate at the British Tourism and Travel Show.
The debate heard that coach firms face tough challenges with new emission zones, and limited parking in destinations such as London – but industry lobbying was not getting results.
Allan Edmondson, head of transport at Etoa, the European tourism association, told delegates that his association, along with many other trade bodies, has been arguing on behalf of the industry but those in power were not aware of the importance of the sector.
“We all ‘gasbag’ about it but it is about how the politicians view tourism,” he told delegates during the Tourism Question Time at BTTS on Wednesday (March 21).
“I have been in meetings with London councillors who say tourism is 10th on their list, well below issues such as homelessness. That’s what matters – tourists are not voters.”
John Wales, founder and director of Encore Tickets, and the new chairman of the Coach Tourism Association, added: “Coach tourism not high on the agenda – it is up to us to get coach tourism higher up the agenda so we are not penalised.”
Panel chair Bernard Donoghue, director of the Association of Leading Visitor Attractions, commented that the tourism minister Michael Ellis was not at BTTS.
But he asked panellists what action they would like to see from the minister that would improve British tourism immediately.
Sarah Greenwood, director of Hudson’s Historic Houses and Gardens, commented: “Why is the tourism minster so unimportant? He should be more central to government decisions.”
She added: “Heritage and history drive tourism in the UK…but are not featured strongly enough in how tourism is understood in the UK.”
Donoghue agreed, saying that when politicians “tinker” with the National Curriculum by removing topics such as the Tudors, it leads to a fall in school visits to relevant attractions.
Wales said he would like to see the minister recognise that coaches are an environmentally friendly form of transport, and realise the impact of tourism VAT, especially in Northern Ireland where it is twice the rate levied in the republic of Ireland.
Edmondson said his message to the minister would be: “Remember that a lot of your government’s efforts are in manufacturing but tourism is huge.
“It is just given lip service by government; it is seen as a damn nuisance yet with the amount of money and jobs it accounts for, it deserves to be higher up the government agenda.”
Donoghue said this week is English Tourism Week, and the initiative is highlighting the value of tourism – it is the UK’s fifth biggest industry; third largest employer, and contributes £127 billion to the economy.
He said some Conservative MPs have been protesting about the impact of Brexit on the fishing industry by throwing haddock into the Thames – yet the fishing sector accounts for just 0.3% of Britain’s GDP.
“Last year more people visited the top 10 museums and galleries in Scotland than visited Australia and New Zealand,” he told the debate.
“Overseas visitors to UK generated £2.5 billion which was paid to the Exchequer – that would pay for 30,000 nurses or seven new hospitals.”