As the sun continues to shine, people across the UK are planning day trips, beach days, weekends away, and longer summer getaways. The hot weather reminds us all over again how many brilliant places there are to visit in our local areas, and further afield. It’s due to these destinations and attractions that the UK’s tourism industry is world-beating. This warm weather may not last forever, but the UK’s warm welcome is here all year round.
In recent moths I have been travelling across the UK holding discussions to help develop Labour’s tourism policy. Tourism is at the heart of many of our communities, and we need to make sure those communities are reaping the rewards. Tourism is the fastest growing sector in terms of employment, reaching almost 9.5% of UK jobs in 2016. Just three museums, the Victoria and Albert, the Science Museum, and the Natural History Museum, attract more visitors per year than the entire city of Venice.
But it becomes a problem if visitors are too concentrated in London. We need to make sure that the economic benefits are better shared across the country.
The UK Government should be doing more. Local Authority budgets have been drastically slashed since 2010, so it comes as no surprise that local tourism budgets have suffered. Likewise, as lottery revenue falls there isn’t as much money available for the restoration and maintenance of some of our heritage landmark buildings. The tourism industry is an important economic driver and employer, but all too often politicians and policy makers don’t give it the credit it deserves.
That’s why I decided to invest some time travelling around the country listening to tourism voices on how to develop and deepen Labour’s tourism policy. It’s right that we’re proud of the National Museums and landmarks that attract tourists from all over to London, but with the help and support of the tourism sector, I’ve been looking at how the industry is working outside of the capital, including the hugely important contribution of domestic tourism. Never underestimate the importance of the staycation.
I’ve held roundtable discussions in Scarborough, Manchester, Belfast and Exeter to learn about the work being done in different kinds of destinations, and to see what the next Labour Government could do to help. It has been a pleasure spending some time visiting the waterfronts, cathedrals, theatres, sea-sides and meeting the people that make the UK such a great place to visit.
As expected, each unique location had their own specific issues to raise. Some were concerned about the length of the tourist season, others wanted more power to take decisions on a more local level. As ever Business Rates revaluation is a concern for many. For most, the potential impact of Brexit on staff and skills is a real and pressing worry, and in Belfast there is the added concern about the future border between the UK and EU in Ireland. Of course Belfast has benefitted from the ‘Setjetting’ phenomenon – visitors attracted by film and TV locations (in this case Game of Thrones).
But it was particularly striking how much these very different destinations had in common. Across the country access to funding and finance is a constant concern, and local economies rely on domestic visitors and on people who come to visit family and friends. More needs to be done to support the domestic market, and to promote careers in the tourism and hospitality industry to young people in schools and adults looking for retraining.
Some interesting questions have emerged for Labour. Should we be doing more to support social tourism? This would provide more opportunities for a break for families most in need. Should local areas be free to introduce a tourism levy where business and Local Government agree? Should there be a resilience fund to help areas where visitor numbers are affected by tragic events like terrorism attacks? How should we regulate the new “disrupters” like accommodation providers Airbnb or Booking.com?
It is sometimes said that Labour does not regard careers in tourism and hospitality as “proper” jobs but that is not the case. We want to make sure that workers get quality training, fair pay and rights at work in an industry where that has sometimes been an issue in the past, and that young people can grasp the opportunities for career development. In an era where the future of work will be affected by developments like AI, tourism and hospitality is a sector that will always need great people to support its visitors and guests.
Over the coming period, we will be continuing our discussions and our thinking about what a Labour Government could do to support our tourism sector. The key links in the DCMS brief between tourism, heritage, culture and the arts, and the new Digital platforms are playing a bigger part than before. Labour understands these links, and we will work to spread the opportunities they represent to all parts of the country.