Shadow tourism minister Anne Milton has slammed the Government for not doing enough to support the UK's tourism industry.
The Conservative MP for Guildford, who took up her role last November, hit out at Labour for not backing the sector in a wide-ranging interview with Caterer.
"The sector feels ignored and that it's a low priority for Government," she said. "It needs a stronger voice for other Government departments to realise its impact on he economy."
As part of the Conservative Tourism Review, due to be published in September, Milton revealed she would consider creating a new Department for Tourism, separate from the Department for Culture, Media and Sport.
"It has to be considered," she said. "It's a hugely important industry and Government needs to be aware of its importance, especially in rural and seaside areas and recognise that it is affected by all Government departments."
Milton added that England's Regional Development Agencies (RDAs) could also be reformed, perhaps by replacing them with a single body such as VisitEngland.
"I'm no lover of anything regional," she said, "The RDAs are confusing and patchy and we really could do better. We need to look at the role they play."
Reiterating the Tory opposition to bed tax proposals, Milton added: "The domestic tourism industry includes a huge number of small businesses that work on the edge with tight margins and a bed tax could be a step too far for them."
Bob Cotton, chief executive of the British Hospitality Association, gave a guarded welcome to the comments.
"For the first time in 10 years of opposition, the Tories are looking at forming a coherent approach to the tourism industry," he said. "But it's not just about getting a specialised minister for the sector, which could just be window dressing, it's about genuinely moving the tourism and leisure industry up the political agenda. We want our industry to be seen as core to the UK."
Milton's comments came after Tourism Minister Shaun Woodward seemed to dash industry hopes for extra funding to promote UK tourism. He instead questioned whether VisitBritain's current £35.5m marketing budget could be spent more efficiently.
By Emily Manson
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