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What to expect from the tourism sector deal

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What to expect from the tourism sector deal

Hospitality is about to get a well-deserved and much-needed shot in the arm, according to Theresa May’s announcement of the multi-stranded tourism sector deal. Emma Lake and Katherine Price look at what it aims to offer the industry

The new, “transformational” sector deal for tourism and hospitality includes plans for a skills board, 10,000 new apprenticeships, 130,000 more hotel rooms and support for selected ‘tourism zones’.

Importantly, the deal also formally recognises the sector’s importance to the economy as a whole and its status as a major employer.

Announcing the deal, prime minister Theresa May said: “I am pleased to announce the UK’s first ever tourism sector deal, ensuring that we continue to innovate, boost connectivity and economic productivity, expand career pathways and break down barriers for visitors with disabilities.

“This deal recognises the important role tourism plays, and will continue to play, in showcasing what our great country has to offer.”

UKHospitality chief executive Kate Nicholls responded: “We’ve got explicit government endorsement as a sector for future economic growth and a career of choice and I don’t think we had that level of support from government before. That endorsement of us will mean that people pay more attention to us across government in terms of the impact that policies have on the sector and the need for the sector to be supported.”

Kate Nicholls
Kate Nicholls

A number of proposals to support and promote the sector are detailed within the plan, which is aimed at improving recruitment, attracting business and leisure tourists and promoting data sharing to facilitate growth.

However, Nicholls stressed that to maximise their potential, the plan requires operators and industry bodies to contribute to the measures. She said: “This is the galvanising call for action. The industry needs to stop being so fragmented and work collaboratively and with other stakeholders in order to improve our own situation.”

Tourism Zones

The sector deal outlines the creation of up to five pilot Tourism Zones initially, which will receive government support to enhance attractions, extend peak seasons and invest in skills.

Support will include targeted digital skills training for small and medium enterprises, as well as practical guidance in management and leadership through the Be the Business programme.

The government said it had also received a commitment from larger businesses to offer training and support to smaller enterprises within the zones.

The pilot scheme will aim to drive up visitor numbers, with local authorities invited to take part in a bidding process run by the British Tourist Authority in December, with the successful areas being announced in March 2020.

The plan is for the areas selected to reflect the diversity of the country, including rural, coastal and urban destinations, with winning bids likely to include plans to extend the tourism season outside of the summer months, invest in the local workforce, increase accessibility and enhance attractions.

Nicholls added: “The tourism zones are designed to put tourism in the economic plans at a local level and to provide funding within those tourism zones to boost tourism businesses.

“Critically, it’s to boost those shoulder periods. London is busy most of the year-round, but some of the smaller places where tourism is not the largest economic sector and is not the top employer may fall away – it’s designed to help those areas.”

Hospitality skills board

The deal also includes the creation of a Hospitality and Tourism Skills Board, chaired by former Travelodge chief executive Grant Hearn, which will work with the Tourism Industry Council. Further members are expected to be announced in the coming weeks.

The board will oversee a significant increase in the number of approved apprenticeship starts to a total of 30,000 a year by 2025 – a 10,000-a-year increase on current numbers – as well as leading a mentoring programme for 10,000 hospitality employees every year.

“We will play our part in terms of making sure we can drive as many apprenticeships as we can,” said Karan Khanna, managing director of UK and Ireland at InterContinental Hotels Group (IHG). “At the same time, we will be looking to the government to support us with the right incentives and opportunities.”

The board will also lead an employer-funded £1m retention and recruitment campaign to work in a “different and more proactive way” with, for example, schools, colleges, universities, older workers, JobCentrePlus, returners to work and charities. Its long-term tasks will include targets for reducing employee churn and measuring the employment prospects of participants in the mentoring scheme.

Speaking to The Caterer, Hearn said he was particularly keen to get young, up-and-coming industry professionals involved, potentially in an advisory board capacity, to help steer the board when it comes to attracting new, fresh talent, as well as regional businesses.

“We need big boards in this kind of scenario,” he said. “You need lots of input… you want lots of representation around the table of different parts of hospitality and tourism and you want different parts of the country represented.

“When we start looking at programme roll-outs, we will need people on the ground in local markets, so we will be looking for lots of people who are keen to get involved, and people should be keen to get involved. This is really important.”

While he doesn’t necessarily think the figures will meet the anticipated industry staffing shortfall in the coming years, he said the deal creates “the necessary runway to get there”.

UKHospitality has also committed the sector to increasing the percentage of the workforce receiving in-work training to 80% by 2021 from the 62% reported in the 2019 Employee Skills Survey.

The government has committed to engage with the industry during its post-16 qualifications review to ensure the sector has an opportunity to feed into future policy development. An annual survey by UKHospitality and the British Beer and Pub Association will review workforce needs and monitor progress.

Khanna said it will be an “industry-wide effort” to hit these targets, with the next phase of the deal “working with the government to turn what is effectively a very strong intent to give the hospitality sector the place it deserves relative to the investment we make in the UK… into concrete actions, steps that get us to the targets we are setting right now.”

Tourism data hub

Data has been described as the fourth industrial revolution and the sector deal looks to ensure that this time the industry will be ready to ride the wave.

A Tourism Data Hub is proposed through the British Tourist Authority to provide the latest market research.

The sector plan states that online travel agents, including Expedia and TripAdvisor, booking platforms, such as Airbnb, and credit card companies are signed up to share their research and market findings.

Events Action Plan

In conjunction with the sector deal, the government has outlined plans for an International Business Events Action Plan, which will look to attract more business travellers to the UK.

In 2017, business trips made up almost a quarter of all international visits and the plan will look at ways to grow this further with a focus on attracting major conferences and exhibitions.

Two priority areas have already been identified, in skills and infrastructure, and are being considered by a board which will make recommendations later this year.

Hotel rooms

The target mentioned in the documents of 130,000 hotel rooms by 2025, 75% of which would be outside of London and which represents an increase of 21% in the UK’s accommodation offering, is a figure VisitBritain and the Tourism Industry Council have set collaboratively with operators. The figures take into account the growing tourism demands of the UK, operator pipeline and where operators see potential for additional supply.

Disabled visitors

The government aims to make the UK “the most accessible tourism destination in Europe by 2025”, with a target of increasing the number of international disabled visitors by a third. The industry and the British Tourist Authority will increase publicity about accessible travel and provide information about accessibility in the UK through a new website.

The paper also references plans to convene a UK Accessibility Tourism conference with key government officials, charities and tourism stakeholders.

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