Tourism - Motion to Take Note

– in the House of Lords am 5:02 pm ar 24 Mehefin 2021.

Danfonwch hysbysiad imi am ddadleuon fel hyn

Photo of Baroness Doocey Baroness Doocey Democratiaid Rhyddfrydol 5:02, 24 Mehefin 2021

To move that this House takes note of the need to promote tourism in the United Kingdom.

Photo of Baroness Doocey Baroness Doocey Democratiaid Rhyddfrydol

My Lords, the pandemic has elevated tourism from something to be taken for granted to something to be nurtured and treasured. Today’s debate is very welcome, but it is regrettable that colleagues are restricted to just two minutes on such an important subject.

The tourism industry is the UK’s third largest employer, contributing £147 billion a year to the economy and providing jobs for over 3 million people. Those jobs are evenly spread around the country with no region in England having fewer than 100,000 tourism-related jobs. The industry is a huge mosaic made up of thousands of tiny tiles. In total, the sector comprises 240,000 small businesses providing a diverse range of services. Ninety per cent of them employ fewer than 25 people.

Tourism provides over £20 billion each year for rural communities, which supports 350,000 jobs in the UK’s small towns and villages. It also provides £14 billion each year for seaside destinations, which supports nearly a quarter of a million jobs all along the UK’s coasts. That combined £34 billion spend makes tourism the largest non-governmental mechanism for transferring wealth from urban to rural and seaside destinations.

Quite obviously, the industry is the most acutely affected by Covid. In terms of inbound tourism, the sector is not yet even at the start of a recovery phase, since borders are effectively closed. In response to the crisis, the Government have produced a tourism recovery plan with the following objectives:

“Recover domestic overnight trip volume and spend to 2019 levels by the end of 2022, and inbound visitor numbers and spend by the end of 2023.”

According to the Oxford Economics report on which DCMS based this plan, achieving these targets requires initiatives that will generate an additional £20 billion in tourism revenue for the UK economy, of which £14 billion has to come from overseas visitors.

I very much welcome these objectives but I hope to encourage the Government today to be rather more ambitious in the measures that they put in place to realise them. Generating an extra £14 billion in tourism revenue will require large-scale and ground-breaking action that makes overseas visitors sit up, take notice and holiday in the UK. The recovery plan envisages £10 million of vouchers for visitor attractions. That is welcome, but hardly compelling. There is also a promise to talk to the Rail Delivery Group about a new domestic rail pass, which sounds a bit like jam tomorrow, and beyond that, there are somewhat vague commitments to a sustainable tourism strategy and a consultation on statutory registration for tourism businesses. The flocks of tourists that we need to return to this country from overseas will not, I fear, be rushing to book their UK holidays on the strength of these commitments, so we need to be much more imaginative.

The Government have already taken steps in the right direction with a temporary cut in VAT on hospitality. Now is the time to make that permanent, not least because all the UK’s main competitors have a reduced rate of VAT on their tourism products and services. The cut has already saved more than 300,000 jobs. Making it permanent would generate a further 120,000 jobs as well as an extra £23 billion in inbound tourism revenue.

To give one example, for a town such as Blackpool, making the VAT cut permanent would generate a further £216 million per year for the local economy and an additional 3,600 jobs. As things stand, research by the World Economic Forum shows that the UK has the most punitive tax regime in the world for tourists. Recognising, as a Treasury adviser did in discussion with the industry, that a reduced rate of 5% for tourism and hospitality is

“one of the most efficient, if not the most efficient, means of generating GDP gains at low cost to the Exchequer” would go some way to reversing that trend. A second serious economic step that the Government could take is to revise their recent decision to remove the VAT reclaim scheme which attracts high-value, high-spending visitors from countries such as China and the Middle East. The Government’s own analysis shows that allowing duty-free shopping for tourists in the UK would bring in at least £1.2 billion of extra revenue per year. The current situation is essentially a signpost to the global tourism market, telling potential visitors that if they want to go shopping, frankly they would be better off going to Paris or Milan.

The Government must also reform the visa regime. A standard entry visa presently costs £95, but the Government lose money on processing every one of them, and very few people buy a five-year multi-entry visitor visa because it costs £655. The industry instead recommends pricing the five-year visa much more competitively, at around £150, which would cover the costs. That would save the Home Office money and encourage repeat visits, especially from parents of international students studying in the UK, who would of course bring their spending power with them. It simply makes no sense to shut them out of global Britain in the way that the present system does.

Turning briefly from the consumers to the businesses that make our tourism sector deliver for the economy, I want to cover the recruitment crisis that firms are facing because it is very serious. Put simply, there are just not enough people coming forward to fill either seasonal or full-time permanent vacancies. Many potential employees see tourism and hospitality as unstable and far too risky. Many have been on furlough for such a long time over the past 12 months or more that they have sourced alternative employment. Meanwhile, EU workers are not returning to the UK to work, even when offered a job. Having spent quite a lot of time discouraging overseas workers, the Government now need to make clear that they are very welcome—and, of course, investment in vocational qualifications and secure apprenticeships in tourism for young people is critical.

Sticking with the domestic market, I am currently engaged in discussions on behalf of the industry with the Government on amendments to the package travel regulations, which would allow small domestic tourism businesses to work together to provide UK residents with the value-added products that they want. I welcome the progress made so far and the open-minded attitude both of Ministers and officials. I look forward to turning useful discussions into real action in the near future.

Finally, I want to say a word about the impact of tourism on communities. In generating income for the economy, it is essential that much of it is directed back to the communities that host tourists year in and year out. One example is the rail service. Some 85% of visitors to the Lake District come by car, with all the associated issues of congestion and pollution. Expanding rail services in that part of the country—and, indeed, in rural parts of the south-west—would be an immense and very welcome investment in both the tourism industry and the communities that act as host. I am very grateful to councils around the country that have told me about the issues in their areas, not least an unbalanced housing market where homes are bought up for holiday-makers with nothing left for those who live and work in the community. That, too, must be addressed.

After the global economic crisis, research by the Office for National Statistics showed that tourism led the UK’s economic recovery, creating one in three new jobs. Our tourism industry can now lead the UK’s recovery from this pandemic, provided we have the vision, wisdom and conviction to support our tourism industry fully. I beg to move.

Photo of Baroness Young of Old Scone Baroness Young of Old Scone Llafur 5:12, 24 Mehefin 2021

My Lords, I declare my interest as chairman of the Woodland Trust. If you walk in a green space with trees for 15 minutes a day, you can reduce your risk of diabetes by 50%. Lockdown showed many people how experiencing nature saved their mental as well as their physical health. We have a unique opportunity this year to reshape the UK’s vacation experience. A YouGov poll for the National Trust found that more than two-thirds of the British public are looking forward to celebrating summer with a walk in nature. Countryside staycations have multiple benefits: healthier and happier lifestyles; benefits for climate change from reduced aviation carbon; more carbon sequestration from new and better managed woodlands and other green spaces; and site management and tourism jobs in rural areas where jobs are often difficult to create.

We need closer collaboration between the providers of open spaces, local authorities and sustainable transport in national and local tourism strategies. This must include spreading the volume of visits in areas of higher pressure, with support to more sites across more seasons. We need wider education in The Countryside Code—the old one that set down the ground rules, not the new one that bangs on about respect. Most of all, we need a national campaign that

“puts the UK’s natural landscapes and communities at the heart of the country’s brand proposition.”

That is a quote from the Government’s Tourism Recovery Plan, which, alas, came out this month—too late for this year’s season. I ask the Minister to commit to an innovative promotional campaign for sustainable staycations now.

Photo of Baroness Foster of Oxton Baroness Foster of Oxton Ceidwadwyr 5:14, 24 Mehefin 2021

My Lords, yesterday, I joined a peaceful protest just across the road. It involved the tourism and aviation sectors. I listened to stories of job losses, destroyed livelihoods and uncertainty that would make you weep. I understood the frustration and anger at the way in which the industries and supply chains have been the victim of decisions that seemed to be made without any understanding of how they work operationally. These sectors are key to our prosperity. The figures are all there: £71 billion a year from tourism alone supports millions of jobs. While 93 million Brits might venture abroad, 41 million overseas visitors come here. None of the sectors works in isolation and they all depend on each other.

We have the largest aviation network in Europe and the third-largest in the world. It is a great success story and did not happen by accident. In 1984, the late Lady Thatcher privatised BA, the first national flag carrier. The low-cost and charter sectors flourished because the late Lord Nicholas Bethell, with whom I served, was a visionary behind the liberalisation of the 1980s and 1990s. It meant that people from all walks of life could travel, work, do business and live abroad at prices they could afford.

Today, we are in dire straits. In my view, government policy is a bit of a shambles; I do not point criticism at my noble friend on the Front Bench. Last summer, we saw families dragged back from abroad just hours after they had left and flights cancelled last minute as routes were closed. It has started again recently in Portugal, with the Champions League final. The green list is absurd; there are perfectly safe countries on the amber list that are still closed to us—unless you are involved with FIFA, of course. The vax is the silver bullet. Having led the world along with Israel, we have lost ground and are starting to look ridiculous. By all means shoot the messenger but I will say, finally, that if someone, somewhere, makes decisions that are rational, risk-based and treat us like adults, maybe—just maybe—people will get back to work, rebuild this industry and get on with their lives.

Photo of Lord Bilimoria Lord Bilimoria Crossbench 5:17, 24 Mehefin 2021

My Lords, the tourism industry contributes more than £120 billion to the economy. The noble Baroness, Lady Doocey, said that the government tourism plan will recover inbound visitors and spend by 2023. That is too late. The impact of the month-long delay right now on businesses operating in hard-pressed sectors, such as tourism, hospitality, leisure and live events, cannot be lost. Labour shortages are high in hospitality, which is intrinsically linked to tourism, with migrant workers returning to Europe during the pandemic.

We cannot be first on vaccines but last to reopen international travel. We saw a 75% fall in the number of air passengers travelling to and from the UK in 2020. Why are we not using mass lateral flow testing more to facilitate travel? We have become very good at making it available to businesses and to every citizen in this country, so can we use it more to facilitate safe travel? Businesses are telling the CBI, of which I am president, that, without moves to safely increase connectivity into key markets this summer,

“the government will need to consider further sector specific support” for both companies in the travel industry and the wider supply chain. By March 2021, almost 62,000 aviation and aerospace jobs had been lost since the start of the pandemic. We can only assume that more have been lost since then, as well as in the maritime and international rail sectors.

We are competing with other countries. In Europe and the United States, key moves have been made to cover the capital costs of keeping international travel under restrictions—for example, in French airports, the €4 billion rescue package for Air France-KLM. In the United States, there was a $24 billion package under President Trump, and now $25 billion under President Biden. Germany recently created a further €1.2 billion package to support its airports. So, when international travel recovers, UK port and airport operators are likely to struggle to compete against foreign rivals with far stronger balance sheets. Does the Minister agree?

Photo of The Bishop of Lincoln The Bishop of Lincoln Bishop 5:19, 24 Mehefin 2021

My Lords, I speak, once again, about the communities I have engaged with in Lincolnshire over the last 10 years. Two years ago, I was pleased to serve on the Select Committee on Regenerating Seaside Towns and Communities under the leadership of the noble Lord, Lord Bassam of Brighton. That helped me to understand some of the policy issues that need to be addressed by the Government. The committee had a splendid and impressive visit to Skegness, which is addressing some of the issues. Lincolnshire has an extensive coastline and much unspoiled countryside, and is still popular with many holidaymakers. It is heartening to see reports over the weekend of a boom of interest in domestic tourism during the last few months, as a side-effect of the pandemic. However, many of our seaside towns need more than a one-off boost. They need sustained, strategic investment, in which entrepreneurs are encouraged to set up businesses in coastal areas. They need better broadband, better transport connectivity, flexible recruitment practices, and further education provision to be enhanced.

More generally, we all know that tourism benefits from cathedrals and church buildings. Of course, Lincoln Cathedral is one of the most inspirational spaces in the western world. It and other church buildings are places of pilgrimage, worship and living history, but also drivers of local economic growth. It is important that we welcome worshippers, pilgrims, school parties and events back into these spaces as soon as we can. What steps are we taking to increase the promotion of holidays at home, to improve investment and infrastructure in our coastal communities and elsewhere, and to help domestic tourism to get back on its feet?

Photo of Lord Haskel Lord Haskel Deputy Chairman of Committees, Deputy Speaker (Lords) 5:21, 24 Mehefin 2021

My Lords, Aldeburgh is a charming small town on the Suffolk coast. Like many others it has a harbour, a nice beach and lots of seaside facilities. Yet it receives over half a million visitors a year including my family. Like us, many come for the music festival that takes over the area with opera, concerts and recitals, not only in the Maltings concert halls, but at many of the surrounding churches and other venues. But that is only for three weeks in June. In August, there are prom concerts every day for holidaymakers. At other times there are recitals, other concerts, residencies, retreats, master classes and community work full of creative projects—all done to the highest standards which attract students, performers, music makers and those just interested in music.

This is cultural tourism in action. People come from all over the world to see it. The year-round activity keeps all the local services going, giving the whole enterprise resilience. This is levelling-up in action. All this illustrates the value of cultural tourism. What can the Government do to help? In the short term, due to the need for advanced planning and binding contracts, organisers need the Government to provide insurance in case of cancellation and in case of government U-turns because of Covid. The private market will not provide it. Also, support must be maintained for the entire time that arts organisations are forced to limit their audience, and preferably beyond because concern about being in a packed hall will continue for some time.

The clock says that ideas for long-term support will have to wait for another debate.

Photo of Lord Foster of Bath Lord Foster of Bath Democratiaid Rhyddfrydol 5:24, 24 Mehefin 2021

My Lords, I thank the noble Lord, Lord Haskel, for promoting the area of Suffolk where I have the great pleasure to live. He will recognise that it has been badly hit during the pandemic. I therefore genuinely welcome the measures taken by the Government to support the visitor economy during the pandemic, but I argue that more needs to be done to, for example, address the staff shortages that even the Brexit-supporting owner of Wetherspoons is now experiencing, improve local public transport, and ensure that our councils are resourced to support rural tourism and our seaside towns.

I will mention two specific measures. First, the case for reducing VAT for tourism accommodation and attractions is overwhelming. I raised this issue long before the pandemic and pointed out that most other European countries had already done it, and that it would reduce our tourism deficit, create at least 100,000 jobs, and boost Treasury coffers over 10 years by around £5 billion. It is now even more important to help tourism’s road to recovery, so the now-extended cut to 5% was welcome. So important was it that 75% of survey respondents said that they might not have been able to continue trading without it. Given that the measure is proving to be a real benefit in bad times and all the research shows it will be so in good times, I hope the Minister will urge his colleagues in the Treasury to maintain the 5% VAT in perpetuity. I look forward to his comments on that.

Secondly, our world-beating cultural and artistic events are key components of our tourism offer yet many planned live events, such as music festivals, are likely to be cancelled without immediate government support, not only for this year but for ever. Yesterday’s PAC report painted a stark picture of a sector on a cliff edge. For too long, the powerful case for government to underwrite Covid-19 cancellation insurance so that planning can get under way has been ignored. At this late hour, can the Minister offer some hope?

Photo of Lord Lexden Lord Lexden Deputy Chairman of Committees, Deputy Speaker (Lords) 5:26, 24 Mehefin 2021

My Lords, Northern Ireland surely deserves a place in this debate on UK tourism, not least since this week marks the centenary of the opening of its first devolved legislature. Tourism is a devolved responsibility but surely it must be right to take note of it, because progress in Northern Ireland matters to us all.

My title’s territorial designation includes Strangford, County Down. It signifies a lifetime’s devotion to this important part of our country. The 63 properties there in the care of the National Trust are always of special interest to me on my visits. The trust stresses its commitment to “nature, beauty and history”. How wise it is to avoid the controversies that have arisen elsewhere. Historical houses, like statues and college and church monuments, should be preserved to help us to understand our complex past.

Before the pandemic, tourism in Northern Ireland was growing steadily after a decade of success. Tourism NI, the excellent public body that does so much to help the tourist industry, reported a record 3 million visitors in 2019, half from elsewhere in the United Kingdom, which is so important in increasing understanding of Northern Ireland’s circumstances in our country as a whole.

How can the Government help tourism in Northern Ireland recover? They should consider suspending air passenger duty for a specific period. The tax bears very heavily on the Province, to which holidaymakers from within the United Kingdom can, in most cases, travel for only short breaks by air. The Government should also recognise the concern in Northern Ireland’s tourism industry about the forthcoming requirement that EU visitors show passports. This will create particular difficulties in Northern Ireland, whose EU visitors almost invariably travel via the Irish Republic, where identity cards will of course remain valid.

The House can be confident of the Northern Ireland tourist industry’s determination to recover its former success, and play a growing part in the life of Northern Ireland as it enters its second century as part of our country.

Photo of Lord Snape Lord Snape Llafur 5:28, 24 Mehefin 2021

My Lords, tourism brings enormous benefits to the United Kingdom but also places enormous burdens on various towns and cities up and down the country. It might seem a strange time to say this, but I make a plea on behalf of the Local Government Association, which includes all parties, about the burden that tourism places on the finances of many of our major cities.

A pet theory of mine, which I have expounded without any great success over the years in your Lordships’ House, has been the need for a tourism tax in many of our towns and cities. It is always resisted, of course. The Treasury hates the idea—it has hated most of the ideas that I have put forward over my not-so glittering political career. The Treasury loathes the idea of hypothecation because it would take away the control over local authorities’ budgets that it enjoys so much.

The last time I raised this was during a debate last year on the Commonwealth Games being held in the city of Birmingham, where I happen to live. I said that, although the Government have been very generous in assistance, there is still a considerable financial burden falling on the city, and I suggested a tourist tax, perhaps administered through the hotel industry. Of course, the usual objections were made—that the industry itself would not like it and that it would deter tourists and visitors coming to Birmingham. Well, no one has ever been put off going to Paris or Berlin because of tourist taxes. The fact that New York charges its tourists fairly heavily for the privilege of visiting does not deter them from that great city.

I make a plea to the Government to look again at the need for greater financial assistance for our great cities in this country—Bath, for example, has put forward suggestions for a tourist tax. It is said also that it would deter local business if such a tax was applied. It is not deterring anybody in Nottingham, where there is a workplace parking charge. The money raised from that is hypothecated and spent on the public transport system. We could do exactly the same in many of our major cities up and down the country, particularly here in London. I make a special plea to the Minister to look again at this idea.

Photo of Baroness Randerson Baroness Randerson Liberal Democrat Lords Spokesperson (Transport) 5:31, 24 Mehefin 2021

My Lords, enforced staycations have encouraged many people to rediscover the splendours of the UK. Here in Cardiff, famous for its magnificent city centre, beautiful parkland and shopping arcades, we also have a national museum and an art gallery with the largest collection of French impressionist paintings outside Paris; a lovely waterfront, with a lively restaurant quarter; two castles; several theatres and concert halls; and, of course, a magnificent rugby stadium—so please come and visit us.

But as UK tourism recovers, we must not forget the international travel industry. There is still no proper tailor-made support package, and airports are particularly badly hit. Unlike airlines, they cannot just shut down; they must employ staff for safety reasons and to enable emergency service flights to operate. The Government’s AGOS scheme is woefully inadequate. Last year, Gatwick paid £32 million in business rates but received only £4 million from AGOSS. I urge the Government to tackle this and to reverse the decision on duty-free shopping.

Many travel agents have been badly squeezed. They take a package booking for the flight and hotel, and pass the airfare portion on to the airline, usually months in advance of travel. If government restrictions cause cancellation, legally agents have to refund the customer, but some airlines have failed to refund travel agents themselves. Which? has run a campaign to ensure airfares are held safely in trust until travel is imminent, and I urge the Government to deal with this problem.

Photo of Lord Russell of Liverpool Lord Russell of Liverpool Deputy Chairman of Committees

The noble Baroness, Lady Kennedy of Cradley, has withdrawn from this debate, so I call the noble Baroness, Lady Quin.

Photo of Baroness Quin Baroness Quin Llafur 5:33, 24 Mehefin 2021

My Lords, in two minutes I can make only two points. The first is to stress the need for support for tourism in my home area—the north-east of England—and the second, which echoes concerns that have already been expressed, is about the way tourism is being damaged by decisions taken by the Home Office on passport and visa policies.

Regarding the north-east, I declare my interest as chair of Tyne & Wear Archives & Museums. I should perhaps mention some other activities I am involved in, including being chair of the Northumberland National Park Foundation, president of the Northumbrian Pipers’ Society, and having been for many years one of Newcastle’s volunteer tourist guides, doing regular walking tours of the city to show off our 2,000-year heritage to locals and visitors alike. Time does not permit me to extol all the north-east’s tourist assets, but I take some comfort from the fact that the Minister, whose title includes “Whitley Bay”, must already be aware of the region’s great tourist offer.

The helpful Library briefing for this debate points out that the Government are considering whether there are better models and ways of supporting English tourism at the regional level, and I certainly urge the Government to do this in the north-east. When we had regional development agencies, the north-east agency, One North East, did some excellent work in promoting tourism. But since its demise no other organisation has had the same impact, despite the good work being done by smaller or geographically more limited organisations. The north-east has a bigger population than Northern Ireland and it is not much smaller than Wales, but it has far less to spend on tourism in comparison. If the Government are serious about levelling up, they should look at this urgently.

Secondly, and all too briefly, I urge the Minister to lobby the Home Office to continue to allow ID cards and group travel arrangements for school visits from our EU and EEA neighbours. The Home Office says it wants to treat all countries the same, but I am not aware of any school day trips coming to the UK from, say, Sydney or Singapore, but there is huge demand for groups coming through the Channel Tunnel. If the Home Office does not change its policy, it will harm our tourism industry, and its current approach seems simply petty and self-defeating.

Photo of Lord McLoughlin Lord McLoughlin Chair, Joint Committee on the Fixed-Term Parliaments Act, Chair, Joint Committee on the Fixed-Term Parliaments Act 5:35, 24 Mehefin 2021

My Lords, I draw attention to the register of interests and my position as chairman of VisitBritain. The importance of the tourist industry is shown by the number of speakers in this debate. It is a pity that we have so short a time that we cannot cover all the points we would want to cover. I endorse many of the points made by other noble Lords earlier in the debate.

I shall talk about the importance of the visitor economy to United Kingdom plc. The visitor economy, as opposed to tourism, is of great importance. It stretches right across the whole of the United Kingdom, whether it be Northern Ireland, Scotland, Wales or England. That it can help the Government in levelling up is very important. There is no doubt about the devastation which has been heaped on the industry over the past 12 months, not by anyone’s desire but because of consequences which are beyond anybody’s control. One way the Government can achieve the levelling-up agenda, which I fully support, is through tourism and supporting the tourist industry.

There are tens of thousands of jobs and tens of thousands of businesses involved, be they hotel chains or family-run companies. We know the difference there can be between day trips and people who stay overnight: the average day visitor spend is £14.52, and the average spend for overnight trips is £239. One of the great things about the Eden Project down in Cornwall is that it is impossible to visit it in a day; you have to stay overnight. It has had an incredible impact in Cornwall, as far as visitors are concerned. We need to see more ideas like that taken forward. That is very important, and I very much welcome this debate.

Photo of Baroness Humphreys Baroness Humphreys Liberal Democrat Lords Spokesperson (Wales) 5:38, 24 Mehefin 2021

My Lords, in October 2019, tourism leaders in north Wales were celebrating a golden year of tourism, with the area outperforming all parts of Wales in visitor numbers. Nearly 30 million people had visited north Wales, and the overall spend had increased to an all-time high of £3.241 billion. These numbers encouraged a further £100 million of public and private sector investment, mainly in the adventure sector. It was this adventure sector, with Zip World and Adventure Parc Snowdonia leading the way, that was making a difference and driving the growth of the region’s reputation as the European capital of adventure, and, crucially, changing the age profile of visitors. None of this happened by chance. It was part of a deliberate plan by local authorities, local tourism chiefs and the private sector, determined to increase the length of the visitor season and to provide as near as possible to year-round employment for local people.

Nearly two years later, as our tourism industry begins to rebuild after a catastrophic year, I support calls for the Government to take a flexible approach to the continuation of the furlough scheme and the extension of full business rate relief, if necessary. Winters are long in our coastal areas, and our hotels and businesses will struggle to survive on the restricted takings of this shortened season.

Looking ahead, in a move to further promote our area to new visitors, Conwy is using its 13th-century castle and walls—a UNESCO world heritage site—to form the centrepiece of a UK City of Culture bid. I was pleased to see that Grŵp Llandrillo Menai’s Tourism Talent Network project, designed to stimulate public-private collaboration on skills and product development, was successful in its bid for the North Wales growth deal. Can the Minister say what other projects to accelerate the growth of the tourism and hospitality sector in the region are under consideration for this deal?

Photo of Baroness Wheatcroft Baroness Wheatcroft Crossbench 5:40, 24 Mehefin 2021

My Lords, I begin by disclosing my interest as chairman of the Association of Leading Visitor Attractions. Our members are a crucial driver of tourism to the UK. Most visitors cite our cultural heritage as the main reason they come.

The Government have been strong in their financial support for the sector, pumping in more than £25 billion. Given the numbers employed in tourism, that is money well spent, but we need to rebuild the sector now. While it is right that we should aim to build back better across the country, there is no denying that London remains our biggest draw. In 2019, the capital had 21.7 million visitors from overseas. Edinburgh was the closest runner-up, with just 2.3 million. The jubilee celebrations next year will put the spotlight on the capital even more firmly.

The “Let’s Do London” campaign that launched last month aims to stimulate domestic tourism to the city. It got off to a good start but, a few days after it launched, Trafalgar Square was crowded with demonstrators against Covid vaccinations. Under the label “Unite for Freedom”, hundreds of protestors besieged our city, none with a care for social distancing or mask-wearing. Others have pointed out that this country has done brilliantly with its vaccination programme. It is completely beyond me why anybody would not wish to take advantage of the protection that vaccination offers, but these people do not. The truth is that their presence in the centre of the city deters people from coming and going into the shops and restaurants that so badly need their business. While I never want to stop people having the right to peaceful protest or demonstration, does the Minister think it is really necessary that these protests should be held in such conspicuous parts of our capital city, where they will deter the wish to build back tourism?

Photo of Lord Mann Lord Mann Non-affiliated 5:43, 24 Mehefin 2021

My Lords, four weeks ago, despite the increasing levels of vaccination, for the first time, the Government required children, including British citizens entering this country, to quarantine for 10 days. So a five year-old British citizen returning to this country for the first time in a year is required to quarantine indoors for 10 days. What do the Government say should be done if that five year-old chooses to ride their bike in a safe cul-de-sac outside their house or runs into a playground and climbs a climbing frame? What should the state do in that situation? I ask the Minister for a response.

Adventure is critical to those children and to young adults. They are losing out on not just tourism but adventure. Some of the organisations that assist in that—the outdoor pursuits industry, Youth Hostels Association (England & Wales) and the Scottish Youth Hostels Association—have been particularly badly impacted. Of the iconic youth hostels, Alltbeithe and Loch Ossian in remote Scotland are closed; Black Sail Hut is closed to individual visitors; in Wales, of the great mountain youth hostels, only Idwal Cottage has opened to individual visitors so far.

That income drain is huge. The same organisations that suffered 20 years ago from foot and mouth and struggled for a decade to recover are being hit again. My plea on Government is this: they have not asked for help but I ask for help. A sense of adventure is part of tourism. We should intervene, as the state and government should, to ensure that adventure in this country and for young people coming in is available at an affordable price to all. Let these organisations survive.

Photo of Lord Campbell-Savours Lord Campbell-Savours Llafur 5:45, 24 Mehefin 2021

My Lords, I want to speak on tourism and its effect on housing provision in the Lake District National Park. This is a subject of particular interest to my son Markus Campbell-Savours, an Allerdale and Lakeland councillor. His concern remains the provision of housing for local people. It is drifting to holiday letting, denying locals the opportunity of living in their own communities. The proliferation of self-catering accommodation is totally undermining local family housing provision. Planning local occupancy conditions have little effect as they apply only to new build and enforcement is expensive. In Keswick’s housing market, half of all homes sold are to holiday lets; most locals do not stand a chance. The residual residential sector is in constant decline as holiday letting is more remunerative, often under non-local ownership.

My son’s view is that we need a system of capping. He argues for a holiday let licensing scheme, with councillors setting caps based on statutory housing need assessments. Caps would vary to target problem, high-pressure areas. Non-transferable licences could be issued to existing owners, with certain criteria governing expiry—perhaps on death—with special arrangements for companies. Stripped of a licence on expiry, with no guarantee of renewal, holiday lets would lose their price premium. A cap system would be managed by the local authority and self-financing. It would take the heat out of an inflation-driven holiday property letting market and benefit local people. We need action. Something has to be done. The position is desperate.

Photo of Lord Addington Lord Addington Democratiaid Rhyddfrydol 5:47, 24 Mehefin 2021

My Lords, when you are starting to talk about tourism and you have only one minute and 45 seconds left, you think it is best to concentrate on one thing.

The thing I would like us to have a look at is the provision of service in this country. It is something we do not do that well traditionally, and we have improved of late largely through foreign labour. If we are going to get the best out of our tourism capacity, we have to make sure that those who come here or are travelling around have a nice time, to put it bluntly, and make sure that there are staff who are going to look after you properly. Okay, it is great to be polite and everything else, but what emphasis are we placing on the training of staff to deliver properly? There is no doubt about it that a culture of training and looking at maintaining staff in the catering sector and other sectors helps.

We are a northern European country with a lot of history in it. We are not alone; the rest of northern Europe has that. We have cities of interesting and historical aspect, blah blah blah, and so on; London does very well. We do well when we make sure that those institutions are presented well to the public. I hope that the Government will give us some guidance on exactly how they are going to make sure that local people are better trained and attracted more to staying in this world. If they are not, we are simply going to be dependent on foreign labour, and there will be a cycle of not having the highest standards we want, not guaranteeing what we have got and not controlling. We need to know what we are doing here by having our own people trained. Without them, we are losing the benefit of having that local feel that can make the experience even more memorable. It is only one part of this but, please, can we look after the people who look after the tourists?

Photo of Lord Dubs Lord Dubs Llafur 5:49, 24 Mehefin 2021

My Lords, may I say how much I agree with the noble Lord, Lord Lexden, in his advocacy of tourism and the beauties of Northern Ireland? I remember on one occasion, when I had time, walking from Newcastle up the Glen River to the Mourne Wall, and then further—one of the most beautiful walks.

I turn to the Lake District. I have a lot of sympathy with the point made by my noble friend Lord Campbell-Savours. What he did not throw into the mix is having a tough local occupancy scheme, which would again limit the amount of housing taken away from local people.

There are a number of ways in which tourism in the Lake District can be enhanced. First and foremost, there is a need to develop tourism all around the year. There is a feeling that the Lakes are good only for a limited period in the summer. That is when the people pour in. All-year tourism would be a good idea. Most of us have heard the old adage that there is no such thing as bad weather, only unsuitable clothing. Tourism in the Lake District can work all year and one can have a great time.

There are some other difficulties. Public transport needs to be improved. I would like to see the Keswick to Penrith railway line reinstated. It was closed under the Beeching cuts, but it is still possible to reinstate it. There are serious difficulties with parking. As has been mentioned, so many tourists come by car.

I pay tribute to the mountain rescue services. They are voluntary and do a fantastic job. They make a lot of the tourism in the Lake District possible by making it safe to go hill walking or climbing in the mountains. We owe them an enormous debt and we should give them as much support as possible—more than we have been giving them.

I also endorse the comment about visitors from Europe being able to come with ID cards. Let us not make too many obstacles. If it is complicated getting to a country to visit, people will not want to come.

I extol the virtues of the Lake District. It is a wonderful place for a holiday year-round.

Photo of Lord Bradshaw Lord Bradshaw Democratiaid Rhyddfrydol 5:51, 24 Mehefin 2021

All tourists use public lavatories. Generally these are of a poor, unattractive standard. Many things need to be improved to make the public offer for tourists better. Many noble Lords have referred to this, or will do, in their speeches, but few will mention public lavatories—although the noble Lord, Lord Snape, touched on the poor standard of public services.

Public lavatories, along with tourist offices, are usually the responsibility of local authorities. We all know that these local authorities are at their wits’ end to make ends meet, being obliged to meet statutory duties such as social care and special needs education before they turn to discretionary expenditure such as public lavatories and bus services. These services are used as much by local people as tourists. Where they are of a poor standard, as is so often the case, they detract from the image of the country as a whole.

Many services are delivered by local councils and are regarded as the things that are most important. I hope the Minister might be able to offer some comfort to tourists and residents alike.

Photo of Lord Smith of Hindhead Lord Smith of Hindhead Ceidwadwyr 5:53, 24 Mehefin 2021

My Lords, I refer to my register of interests, since part of my business relates to the hospitality sector. I also served on the Select Committee on the regeneration of seaside towns.

Tourism is an important sector of our economy and, in our almost post-vaccinated world, it is equally important to the recovery of public morale and confidence. Could my noble friend the Minister tell the House what support is being given specifically to deprived seaside tourism towns ahead of this year’s summer tourism season to maximise both revenue and safety? Can he update the House on how the five piloted tourism zones set out in the 2019 tourism sector deal are getting along? Could he also tell the House how much investment has been spent since 2019 on the Great British coast through programmes such as the coastal communities fund and the coastal revival fund? I understand that the target was around £227 million.

I thank the Minister for the earmarked finance from the welcome back fund for seaside resorts. Is his department looking at reinstating the ratio of Crown Estate revenue allocated to the coastal community fund back to 50%, rather than the revised 33%?

The Government have made a generous commitment to the tourism and leisure sector this year, via programmes such as stronger towns funding, the future high streets fund and the levelling-up fund. Can the Minister detail who is overseeing those funds to ensure that they are spent correctly, and in ways where success can be properly measured, such as delivering jobs and apprenticeships, maintaining iconic or at-risk heritage and community assets, which draw people to an area, supporting troubled leisure businesses, and encouraging tourism-themed start-ups? This is, after all, taxpayers’ money, and we need to maximise all the value we possibly can. We need to make sure that taxpayers’ funds are being spent in the most effective way, which will produce long-term results and returns.

Photo of Viscount Thurso Viscount Thurso Democratiaid Rhyddfrydol 5:56, 24 Mehefin 2021

My Lords, I draw attention to my registered interests, as chairman of VisitScotland, a board member of VisitBritain and president of the Tourism Society of the United Kingdom. As many noble Lords have already pointed out, the visitor economy is huge. It is a great contributor to both wealth and jobs. I would also argue that it makes a great contribution to well-being. People need to go on holiday, and throughout the nations and the kingdom, they need the mental health well-being that comes from visits.

The industry has been devastated by the pandemic, but it will recover. The £25 billion that the various Governments have spent is gratefully received. I want to make two points—first, to draw attention to a barrier to recovery, and, secondly, to outline an opportunity in recovery.

The barrier is, quite simply, the failure of the labour market. There are many structural reasons why the labour market has failed at this time, and there are many strategies that will help to cure it, but they will not happen for the next year or two. That is in the future. For the next two years there will be a shortage of labour, and there is only one answer to it—some form of visa waiver programme, so that we can hire staff. Quite simply: no labour, no wealth creation, no taxation.

The opportunity to which I want to draw the attention of the House is putting sustainability at the heart of the recovery. In VisitScotland, which I chair, we have a programme called responsible tourism, which we started two years ago. At its heart are two points. One is that, through our visitor management programme, tourism should be done with communities rather than done to them. The second is that we green the product. We have a target to be a net-zero destination by 2030. It is ambitious, but I believe we are well on the way to achieving it.

The visitor economy is a major force in the economy, and it is a major force in well-being. It is a force for good. We have an opportunity, if the labour market is sorted, to build it back, in recovery, sustainably.

Photo of Lord Russell of Liverpool Lord Russell of Liverpool Deputy Chairman of Committees

The noble Lord, Lord Berkeley, has withdrawn from this debate, so I call the noble Lord, Lord Taylor of Holbeach.

Photo of Lord Taylor of Holbeach Lord Taylor of Holbeach Ceidwadwyr 5:58, 24 Mehefin 2021

My Lords, I am chairman of the Midlands Engine APPG sub-group on the visitor economy. Like other noble Lords, I want to speak in this debate because tourism is a much more important element of the economy as a whole than is commonly understood. The recovery of the visitor economy after the pandemic will be a direct reflection of the people’s, and the nation’s, way back from a time that has proved so devasting. In that respect, I agree with the noble Viscount, Lord Thurso. I expect that, in his wind-up, the Minister will reinforce that idea, as he draws on the tourism recovery plan, which addresses many of the multifaceted aspects of noble Lords’ speeches.

My neighbour and friend, the right reverend Prelate the Bishop of Lincoln, has told the House of the joys of his diocese and my home county. I know he will agree that tourism and the visitor economy are about localism and place. In this respect, the recovery in the Midlands generally, and in Lincolnshire in particular, is greatly aided by the key role of destination management organisations. These public-private sector partnerships have adapted to support the industry and can increase visitor spend, attract new markets and investments, extend the season and encourage visitors to lesser-known areas. DMOs listen and respond to businesses, building their trust. They see visitors as people, not numbers, and they work. They work collaboratively in many areas—certainly in Lincolnshire, where they are part of the glue that binds the sector together. They are involved with business, with the LEPs, with town deals and local authorities, acting as a generator of the energy that is so representative of this consumer-oriented industry. I support the Motion before the House—the promotion of tourism is a worthy objective of any Government.

Photo of The Earl of Glasgow The Earl of Glasgow Democratiaid Rhyddfrydol 6:01, 24 Mehefin 2021

My Lords, Scottish tourism, like that in the rest of Britain, has been badly affected by the Covid pandemic and government restrictions have made life very difficult—in some cases impossible—for some tourist businesses to survive. Some have been hit worse than others. The travel trade, in particular, is in desperate need of government help, for domestic as well as foreign travel. The railways, the airlines, the tour operators and many large hotels depend on domestic as well as foreign tourists for their businesses to thrive. Many of the large hotels have succeeded in weathering the storm, but some smaller ones and guesthouses have already gone out of business.

In spite of the Government’s generous furlough pay-outs, thousands of people will soon find themselves unemployed, if they have not already. However, many visitor attractions, often with government help, have managed to hold onto most of their staff. I have a visitor attraction, Kelburn country centre in Ayrshire, situated on the Firth of Clyde, which normally attracts about 90,000 visitors a year. It is part of my ancestral home, and has benefited recently from being a mainly outdoor attraction. The difficulties of going abroad so far this year, and a cold, dry spring, have enticed people to come for good, healthy walks after months of cramped lockdown. We also lay on special outdoor family events in the school holidays, we have a riding school and we provide glamping. This, for those who do not know, is upmarket camping in special tents called yurts. Also, in every year but this one, we have held a major music festival, which is becoming ever more popular and has been cited in the Sunday Times as one of the best music festivals in Britain, not just Scotland—I tell noble Lords this just to show off a bit.

But seriously, these festivals have been very difficult to plan and organise when the Government will not tell us in good time whether they will let them go ahead or not. This year, we did not risk it, and it seems our decision was right. In the last two difficult years for Scottish tourism, I believe I have been exceptionally fortunate. For the future, the Government must invest in the infrastructure of tourism—roads, parks, paths, adequate parking, signage, litter bins and their emptying, public lavatories, of course, information boards and all the various things essential for tourists. They must help to repair some of the damage that has already been done.

Photo of Baroness Barker Baroness Barker Liberal Democrat Lords Spokesperson (Voluntary Sector), Deputy Chairman of Committees

The noble Baroness, Lady Eaton, has withdrawn. The next speaker is the noble Lord, Lord Bhatia.

Photo of Lord Bhatia Lord Bhatia Non-affiliated 6:04, 24 Mehefin 2021

My Lords, I shall speak about how the rural economy contributes to the tourism industry in the UK. It contributes more than £13 billion per year to the economy, making up a substantial part of the overall £97 billion value of tourism in England.

Tourism makes a considerable contribution to the rural economy by supporting village shops, services, jobs and businesses. Rural tourism operates 365 days a year. Over the past 15 months, many businesses have closed for ever as a result of the pandemic and there is high unemployment in some of the most treasured coastal and rural communities. The curtailment of international travel means that there is a great opportunity to invest in public transport and make it easy for everyone to see everything the countryside has to offer. Better local transport links will not only encourage those who live and work in the area to use public transport but encourage holidaymakers to leave their cars at home, which will reduce congestion and emissions.

The UK is one of only four countries in Europe not to take advantage of a reduction in the rate of VAT. It means that British families and international visitors holidaying in the UK pay almost three times as much VAT as they would on a German break and twice as much as they would in Italy, France or Spain. I submit that our VAT should be reduced to help the rural economy; otherwise tourists will go to France, Italy or Spain, with a resultant loss to the UK economy and, in particular, the rural economy.

Photo of Lord Lucas Lord Lucas Ceidwadwyr 6:06, 24 Mehefin 2021

My Lords, I am very grateful to all those noble Lords who have been so succinct in their speeches that we have a lot of time spare in this debate. I very much hope that my noble friend Lord Parkinson will take advantage of that to give an extended answer, or perhaps he will write to us at length afterwards. So many subjects have been raised in this debate that are worthy of answer. I think particularly of the speech of the noble Baroness, Lady Young, on the countryside and all it has to offer—a really diffuse offering that needs a special kind of support from the Government. I think also of the noble Lord, Lord Mann, who spoke about adventure and the noble Lord, Lord Bradshaw, on toilets. Yes, absolutely, we are getting to a crisis point here. We need to reverse the shrinkage in the provision of toilets and to really understand that they are a necessary part of making the countryside in particular—but our resorts in general—accessible to people.

I join my noble friend Lord Smith of Hindhead in welcoming the support that we have heard for the seaside. Eastbourne is a lovely town. Like Whitley Bay, it is enjoying a renaissance, but to continue that it needs help from the Government. First, it needs a strong recognition that there is great value in consulting locally: that what we know, what we want and what we are are important to deciding what should happen. The levelling-up fund was superbly designed in that regard. I have been really pleased to see the coming together of different aspects of the town—the ferment of enthusiasm and creativity created by the requirement for a spread of endorsement and the focus on doing things that really make a difference. Whether we win or lose in that competition, the process will have been immensely positive for us.

However, we also need some things at national level. We are a seaside town—we cannot do everything, we do not know everything and we do not have access to all the expertise we need. It would be really nice to see the Government sponsoring the availability of local rivals to—a horrible parasite that sucks the blood out of our tourism industry. It would be really good to see VisitBritain being much better than it has been in the past on helping local towns with access to data and understanding of the market. A million visitors a year come to Beachy Head, just down the coast from us. We know nothing about them. Who are they and why do they go there? What would it take for them to come on to Eastbourne? That is the sort of data that really needs to be sourced for use nationally and ought to be part of what VisitBritain does.

Training has been mentioned by other noble Lords.

Photo of Viscount Younger of Leckie Viscount Younger of Leckie Lord in Waiting (HM Household) (Whip)

My noble friend is testing the House: he is well over three minutes, so could he conclude his remarks?

Photo of Lord Lucas Lord Lucas Ceidwadwyr

My Lords, we have a time limit on the debate, but the debate has a lot of spare time in it. I apologise for taking advantage of that, but I intend to continue to do so.

Photo of Viscount Younger of Leckie Viscount Younger of Leckie Lord in Waiting (HM Household) (Whip)

I am sorry to interrupt again, but that is not the way the debate works. I am afraid I have to ask my noble friend to conclude his remarks, on the ground that, if everyone were to speak for three minutes, we would run out of time.

Photo of Lord Lucas Lord Lucas Ceidwadwyr

My Lords, the time limit is on the debate; the debate must end by 7.02 pm—I have checked that with the clerks. But I do not wish to continue an argument with my noble friend.

Photo of Viscount Younger of Leckie Viscount Younger of Leckie Lord in Waiting (HM Household) (Whip)

I am sorry to interrupt my noble friend again. I think the mood of the House is that he should conclude his remarks.

Photo of Lord Lucas Lord Lucas Ceidwadwyr

My Lords, I have done so.

Photo of Lord McNally Lord McNally Democratiaid Rhyddfrydol 6:10, 24 Mehefin 2021

It is always nice to start your remarks in a nice atmosphere, although I have some sympathy. There must be a better way of organising debates with such interest across all parts of the House than these two-minute interventions. I ask the usual channels to have a long think about this, because they do not work and it is not fair to those who make a contribution.

I was a member of the seaside towns committee, and I am very pleased that the noble Lords, Lord Lucas and Lord Smith, and the right reverend Prelate the Bishop of Lincoln made contributions on the basis of what was a great experience. I recommend to the Minister a re-read of that report, because it is still relevant.

I must confess that I was a little worried when I saw that both the noble Baroness, Lady Quin, and the Minister were speaking; I thought Whitley Bay was going to be overrepresented during this discussion. I declare my own interest as a member of the Blackpool Pride of Place advisory board and the Fleetwood Trust.

I will use my little bit of extended time to do what most Members have not had time to do in two minutes and pay tribute to my noble friend Lady Doocey, who campaigned for this debate. She does so from considerable experience, as a London Assembly member, a member of the 2012 Olympics preparation committee and the driving force behind the Liberal Democrat tourism strategy—another document I recommend to the Minister for his reading.

Although I was born in the north-west, on the Fylde coast, and still take a great interest in that area, like the noble Baroness, Lady Wheatcroft, I am not one of those who underestimate or belittle the importance of London to our tourist industry. I came to London for the first time in 1962, to attend University College. In the first week, I realised that I was in one of the most amazing cities in the world, and I have never lost that sense of excitement about London. We should not underestimate the asset that it is, not only in itself but to the whole United Kingdom.

We have had a good debate, in that Scotland, Wales, Northern Ireland and all the regions of England have had their champions. I hope the Minister has taken note that this has not been a debate on narrow party interests but an expression of concern from all parts of the House about a sector that believes that it has all too often been the economy’s forgotten army. We heard in particular from my noble friend Lady Doocey and the noble Lord, Lord McLoughlin, about the contribution that tourism and hospitality make to the economy and to providing employment and training to often difficult sectors of the labour market. The sector is a kind of Rubik’s cube of interests: the hospitality industry in all its varied forms; entertainment, from Glastonbury to the Royal Shakespeare and the Blackpool Tower Circus; and a countryside and a seaside, each with a personality of its own.

As I said, I had the pleasure of serving on that seaside committee with the right reverend Prelate the Bishop of Lincoln, and the noble Lords, Lord Smith and Lord Lucas. That report still has points that I would bring to the attention of the Minister. The issue relating to housing that the noble Lord, Lord Campbell-Savours, brought up, is strongly linked to considerable and persistent disadvantages in coastal communities. Young people in seaside towns are being let down and left behind by poor standards in existing educational provisions. It is interesting that the seaside towns that have managed to become homes to universities seem to have done much better in relation to their young people. The committee’s recommendation was that

“Investment from central government must be focused on supporting sustainable, long-term regeneration”.

In the light of the various competitions for regeneration funds, I have to say that some have too much of the smell of the pork barrel about them. I join the noble Lord, Lord Smith, in asking the Minister to make sure that pertinent questions are asked about how, and how well, public money is spent in some of these schemes.

In addition to the structural, social and economic changes that have challenged the tourism industry over the last 40 years, there have been, of course, the dual challenges of Covid and Brexit. I was on the Select Committee on the service industries. Again, I feel that the service industries were the forgotten army of the Brexit negotiations. We are only now finding out some of the complications, as Brexit has its impact. It will take a lot of time and a lot of hard work—I suggest by the noble Lord, Lord Frost—to get the fine detail agreed, so that our service industries, in all their aspects, are able to work in the new relationship. We cannot get away from the fact that the EU is 23 miles from our borders, and that proximity brings all kinds of problems—some of which have been raised today—about visas, workers’ rights and things like that.

Looking at Covid, I do not think there are any quick fixes or silver bullets. Drawing together the various points that have been raised by noble Lords in this debate, tourism needs a permanent or semi-permanent Cabinet committee to make sure that the lines of action needed are drawn together in a coherent way. As was referred to, this is needed in Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland as well. I hope the Government will treat this debate as a contribution to solving some of the challenges we face, and which require a coherent, long-term and fully integrated response from government at all levels.

And since Jenny, my noble friend Lady Randerson, forgot to say it, I want to wish Gareth Bale and the boys all the luck on Saturday.

Photo of Baroness Merron Baroness Merron Opposition Whip (Lords), Shadow Spokesperson (Health and Social Care), Shadow Spokesperson (Digital, Culture, Media and Sport) 6:18, 24 Mehefin 2021

My Lords, I congratulate the noble Baroness. Lady Doocey, on securing this timely and pertinent debate, and I thank the noble Lord, Lord McNally, for cheering us up.

Among the very real concerns expressed today, I have enjoyed hearing noble Lords showcase some of the best of what Britain has to offer, on a colourful tour of the country from the comfort of this Chamber. As part of this rich tapestry, I am grateful to my noble friend Lady Young of Old Scone for reminding us of the benefits of our beautiful woodlands; my noble friend Lord Haskel for promoting the cultural delights of Aldeburgh; my noble friend Lord Snape for raising the matter of financial burdens upon our great cities; my noble friend Lady Quin for being a tremendous ambassador for the north-east; and my noble friends Lord Campbell-Savours and Lord Dubs for speaking up for the provision of housing for local people, as well as for the Lake District and, of course, the great British weather.

I have to confess to partiality in welcoming the wise words of the right reverend Prelate, who spoke to the issues of concern in respect of coastal towns and who also referred to my former constituency of Lincoln, which is a treasure trove of delights. Those visiting it are enchanted by the cobblestones of Steep Hill, leading up to a castle that houses the Magna Carta and the Charter of the Forest and a cathedral described by John Ruskin as

“out and out the most precious piece of architecture in the British Isles”.

I have always been struck by the powerful multiplier effect of the visitor pound. While students, families and academics may come primarily for the cutting-edge University of Lincoln, and while football fans may travel in to watch the mighty Imps in action at Sincil Bank, they will spend time and money while in the city in the shops, hotels, restaurants and pubs. So it troubles me to see boarded-up properties now and to talk with proprietors who are struggling with the challenging day-to-day issues of staffing, and even the basics of keeping open, as a result of the pandemic. Therefore, it is no surprise that noble Lords have powerfully set out the brutal realities being experienced by businesses, employees and local communities in these times. I urge the Minister to take heed of these calls and the many sensible proposals that have come forward today to step up action from the Government.

Much of this debate has, by necessity, been focused on the devastating impact of the pandemic. We know that the food and accommodation sector has been one of the hardest hit by restrictions on trading, which were often declared at the last minute. We saw economic output in the hospitality sector down 90% in April 2020 compared with February 2020. Add to this ongoing fixed costs, accumulating debt, difficulty with staffing and persistent low revenues and cash reserves, and it is surely a toxic mix for an industry that has been hit harder than most.

As of early March, the Office for National Statistics reported that 43% of hospitality businesses were trading, compared with 74% across all industries. We also read that 55% of hospitality businesses had temporarily paused trading, compared with 24% across all industries, and almost one in five hospitality businesses had “low confidence” that their business would survive even the next three months. On 31 January, 56% of eligible jobs in food and accommodation were furloughed, compared with 16% across all industries. This is a shocking state of affairs on an economic and a human level, both now and for the future.

Undoubtedly, the Minister will reference the recently published Tourism Recovery Plan. Regrettably, those in the industry experienced major delays in receiving delivery of this plan, and, when they opened the case, they found that the Government had forgotten to pack everything that they needed. These are extraordinary times that call for extraordinary measures, but much of this plan is just a repackaging of policies already announced. The few new provisions that are in the plan barely touch the sides for this hardest-hit industry, which employs 3.4 million people and generates £147 billion for the UK economy.

The truth is that for the Government to reach the targets in the strategy—of domestic tourism recovering to 2019 levels by 2022 and inbound tourism by 2023—rather more is needed. To rebuild confidence certainty, support and clarity are what tourism needs from government. A specific recovery plan is needed to address the long-term decline of seaside and coastal towns. It is crucial to secure the opportunities for growth presented by the growth in staycations. I encourage the Minister to re-visit the two Select Committee reports which we have heard about today: The Future of Seaside Towns and Time for a Strategy for the Rural Economy.

Tour operators and travel agents need to sell the UK as a destination in foreign markets. They need targeted support to help them survive until international travel can open up again. As we await the details of an announcement, as has been called for on many occasions, we desperately need demystification of the flawed traffic-light system to include just two simple categories: a red list alongside a tightly managed green list. Amber just does not cut it. While we grapple with this traffic-light system, I hope that the Government will be bold in taking steps to encourage and make it possible for people across the UK to enjoy being a tourist in their own local areas, or to travel to the many attractive parts of the country so warmly promoted by noble Lords today.

On the domestic front, as we have heard in this debate, the VAT reduction needs to continue to allow businesses to rebuild, with a clear timeline for when events, exhibitions and conferences can fully operate to rebuild business tourism. With fewer than one in five businesses in the sector having all the staff they need, and over a third being forced to reduce hours or services, we need support for businesses to find the right staff and retain them.

I hope that the Minister will use his best efforts to take the much-needed steps to protect and promote the cause of tourism in this country. Our economy demands it, our people need it and our communities rely on it.

Photo of Lord Parkinson of Whitley Bay Lord Parkinson of Whitley Bay Lord in Waiting (HM Household) (Whip) 6:27, 24 Mehefin 2021

My Lords, I congratulate the noble Baroness, Lady Doocey, on securing this debate and thank all noble Lords who have spoken in it. Even with a longer and more generous time limit, I think we would have struggled to do justice to the rich and manifold attractions that our country offers and the challenges that they currently face. However, I am very glad that we have had speakers from or extolling the virtues of every part of the United Kingdom in this debate—including, thanks to my noble friend Lord Lexden, Northern Ireland. The official record of our exchanges can form a veritable Baedeker guide to the British Isles. I hope that it will inspire people as they plan their staycations this summer.

As the noble Baroness, Lady Doocey, set out in opening the debate, tourism is an economic, social and cultural asset. The tourism sector is a major contributor to jobs and growth in the United Kingdom, indirectly employing 4 million people and making a direct contribution of £75 billion a year before the pandemic hit. The sector connects people to the UK’s history and shows off the beauty and vibrancy of our country today. It will have a key role to play in lifting our spirits in the immediate future, as we bounce back from the pandemic. As noble Lords have said, it is vital that we continue to promote tourism domestically and internationally. That is a collective endeavour and, as the noble Lord, Lord McNally, pointed out, this debate forms an important contribution to it.

In listening to the contributions, I was struck by how many Members of your Lordships’ House are playing a direct role in that recovery, whether that is my noble friend Lord McLoughlin or the noble Viscount, Lord Thurso, through their work at VisitBritain and VisitScotland respectively, or the noble Baronesses, Lady Wheatcroft and Lady Young of Old Scone, and many more. I pick those four simply to make the point, as did the noble Lord, Lord McNally, that this issue touches all parts of your Lordships’ House and is not a party-political one.

I hope that noble Lords will forgive me if I dwell a little on seaside towns, not least because of the large number of speakers who were members of your Lordships’ committee on seaside towns. They referred to its report, which came out just before I joined your Lordships’ House. My noble friend Lord Taylor of Holbeach wisely suggested that I, as a new Member, should read it, which I did with particular interest since I come from a seaside town myself—the same one as the noble Baroness, Lady Quin. I am sure I should learn a lot from one of her walking tours of Newcastle.

Whitley Bay was an Edwardian holiday hotspot. I am pleased to say that it had been enjoying a renaissance in recent years, before the pandemic hit, perhaps because of the recently restored Spanish City or its award-winning independent shops. This echoes the point made by my noble friend Lord McLoughlin about the knock-on effect of the visitor economy to businesses big and small. It is also a gateway to the fantastic beaches and castles of the Northumberland coast, including Bamburgh Castle. If people are quick, they may still catch Harrison Ford, who has been there filming the next “Indiana Jones”.

My noble friend Lord Smith of Hindhead asked some specific questions, picking up on the report of your Lordships’ committee. The Government are taking action to regenerate coastal tourism. The five rounds of the coastal communities fund have delivered £229 million for 396 UK-wide projects. Since 2015, the coastal revival fund has provided more than £7.5 million to support 184 projects in coastal areas to kick-start the regeneration of at-risk coastal heritage. In March, my right honourable friend Robert Jenrick announced the welcome back fund. This aims to prepare councils for the return of shoppers and tourists, including at the coast.

The county of Lincolnshire and its cathedral city have been well represented in this debate, not least by my noble friend Lord Taylor of Holbeach, the right reverend Prelate the Bishop of Lincoln and the noble Baroness, Lady Merron; this is my first opportunity to welcome her to her position on the Front Bench. I am pleased to say that its wonderful cathedral received a National Lottery Heritage Fund and Historic England grant of nearly £1 million in the first round of the culture recovery fund, as well as a capital grant from the heritage capital kick-start fund worth almost the same amount.

Noble Lords have spelled out clearly the challenges faced by the sector because of Covid. Notwithstanding these, the sector has responded to the pandemic with typical and commendable public-spiritedness—whether through event venues being converted into Nightingale hospitals and vaccination centres, hotels opening their doors to rough sleepers and victims of domestic violence, or the swift action of the aviation and cruise industries in the early months to repatriate British nationals stuck overseas. My noble friend Lady Foster of Oxton reminded us of this.

Of course, such generous action comes with a further significant financial impact on businesses. Her Majesty’s Government acted swiftly to protect jobs and livelihoods, providing a range of both targeted and broader support to help the sector. So far, we have provided more than £25 billion of taxpayers’ money to the tourism, leisure and hospitality sectors in the form of grants, loans and tax breaks. Tourism has been one of the sectors most reliant on government measures such as the furlough scheme.

Taken together, the support of Her Majesty’s Government has helped to ensure that the majority of the sector will be there to welcome visitors once again as our economy recovers. We are pleased that more and more of the industry is reopening as we move through the road map to recovery. We recognise that the delay in proceeding to step 4 is hugely disappointing to the sector. We have always said that we would be driven by data and not dates. On this basis, and from the desire to reduce hospitalisations and deaths, we took the difficult decision to pause for four weeks, but we have committed some additional measures which will support parts of the sector such as accommodation and events venues. There is no longer a maximum of 30 attendees at weddings and civil partnership ceremonies, provided that social distancing is observed. Out-of-school settings can organise residential visits for children in groups of up to 30, an increase from the previous limit of six people or two households. As the noble Lord, Lord Mann, said, we want to get people, including young people, back enjoying adventures again.

We know, too, that the continued restrictions on international travel are difficult for the sector to endure. A number of noble Lords raised this, including my noble friend Lady Foster. Of course, we want people to be able to travel freely abroad as well as to welcome international tourists back to the UK as soon as it is safe to do so, but our top priority has always remained the protection of public health.

The noble Baroness, Lady Doocey, and a number of others asked about visas for those visiting the UK. The vast majority of visitors do not require a visa to enter, and that includes those from our largest tourism markets, such as the United States, Australia and the European Union. Since 2019, visitors from the EU, Australia, the US, New Zealand, Singapore and South Korea can also use the e-passport gates for a smooth passenger journey. The 2025 UK Border Strategy will deliver a world-class border that will make travellers’ journeys even smoother and more secure.

The noble Lord, Lord Addington, and the noble Viscount, Lord Thurso, asked about skills and staff shortages and pointed out the importance of having a well-trained and welcoming workforce in the sector. We recognise that further efforts will be needed to ensure that the industry is employing more UK nationals in year-round quality jobs and that the workforce is adequately and appropriately skilled. We will work closely with the industry-led Hospitality and Tourism Skills Board on a co-ordinated approach towards the recruitment, retention and training of that workforce. Significant work is already under way—not least the national skills fund, a £2.5 billion investment in helping people gain the skills they need to improve their job prospects and support the economy.

As a number of noble Lords referred to, the Government have published their Tourism Recovery Plan, which sets out how we will help the sector not only to promote tourism and help it recover quickly but to return more resilient, innovative, sustainable and productive. The noble Baroness, Lady Doocey, mentioned some of our specific aims, such as recovering domestic overnight trip volume and spend to 2019 levels by the end of 2022, and inbound visitor numbers and spend by the end of 2023. That was not fast enough to satisfy the noble Lord, Lord Bilimoria, but both are at least a year faster than independent forecasts predict. Other aims of the Tourism Recovery Plan are to ensure that the sector’s recovery benefits every part of the United Kingdom, with visitors staying longer, growing accommodation occupancy rates in the off season and high levels of investment in tourism products and transport infrastructure; to build back better with a more innovative and resilient industry, enhancing the visitor experience and employing more UK nationals in year-round quality jobs; to ensure that the sector contributes to the enhancement and conservation of the country’s cultural, natural and historic heritage, minimises damage to the environment and is accessible to all; and to return the UK swiftly to its position as a leading global destination for hosting business events.

In the short term, these objectives will be achieved by reopening the sector safely from 19 July and providing businesses with the support they need to return to profitability. For instance, the Government have allocated at least £19 million to domestic and international marketing activity, with a £5.5 million domestic campaign already under way. Measures such as the VAT cut for tourism and hospitality and the continuation of business rate relief for eligible properties will continue to support businesses with cash flow, and new proposals in the plan, such as the introduction of a domestic tourism rail product and a voucher scheme run by the National Lottery, will help stimulate demand. On the point about VAT, a number of noble Lords enticed me to make representations to Her Majesty’s Treasury. I point out that we have already extended the cut in VAT for tourism and hospitality activities to 5% until the end of September. To help businesses manage the transition back to the standard rate, a 12.5% rate will then apply for a further six months. This is, of course, UK-wide and is valued at £5 billion of help for tourism businesses across the UK.

We will also make the most of the set-piece events coming up next year. The noble Baroness, Lady Wheatcroft, mentioned Her Majesty the Queen’s Platinum Jubilee, and there will also be Festival UK and the Commonwealth Games, which will all act as major domestic and international draws.

In the medium to long term, we also need to focus on building back better. The plan helps us to do that by laying out significant levels of UK-wide investment, which is already under way, as well as new support which is due to come in over subsequent years, such as the £4.8 billion levelling-up fund. The plan will be delivered in close partnership with the sector and the devolved Administrations across the UK and will engage the whole of government. Mechanisms are being put in place to revisit the plan at regular intervals, including a new inter-ministerial group for tourism, chaired by my right honourable friend the Secretary of State for Digital, Culture, Media and Sport and supported by the Minister for Tourism.

The plan also covers points which were raised by noble Lords in the debate. The noble Lord, Lord Campbell- Savours, and others talked about the impact on housing of holiday lets. The tourism recovery plan includes a commitment to consult on the introduction of a tourist accommodation registration scheme in England, which will give us better data on the current situation and help to inform future policy-making. In response to points raised by the noble Baroness, Lady Young of Old Scone, and the noble Viscount, Lord Thurso, it also includes a commitment to a specific sustainable tourism plan in the run-up to COP 26. So the plan represents an important piece of work in the sector’s recovery from the pandemic.

Like other noble Lords, I am running out of time. I will, of course, consult the official record to make sure that all the points which were raised by noble Lords and all the questions that were posed get the answers they deserve. Like all noble Lords who have spoken today, I certainly recognise the importance of promoting the UK’s world-leading tourism sector, especially as we bounce back from Covid-19, and the Government have plans in place to do just that. We do not underestimate the challenges of the past 15 months or the long road to recovery which still lies ahead of us, but I share other noble Lords’ conviction that we can and will recover and, indeed, that we can emerge stronger than ever.

Photo of Baroness Doocey Baroness Doocey Democratiaid Rhyddfrydol 6:42, 24 Mehefin 2021

My Lords, I thank all noble Lords who have spoken in the debate. Despite the very difficult time constraints, it has been a very interesting and wide-ranging debate that has highlighted a lot of very important issues. I also thank the Minister for his time. I am sure I speak for most, if not all, noble Lords who have spoken today when I say that I look forward to a time when Governments of all colours take tourism sufficiently seriously to appoint a dedicated, Cabinet-level Tourism Minister who will be the sole voice for tourism—because only then will this absolutely brilliant industry realise its full potential.

Motion agreed.

House adjourned at 6.43 pm.