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Outgoing UK Prime Minister Theresa May announced the country’s first-ever tourism sector deal Thursday, giving a broad backing to the industry in the form of training, infrastructure, and data collection schemes.
The deal has been in the works for some time, as industry players have been keen to shore up support for the industry in the wake of Britain’s decision to leave the European Union. In 2018, the United Kingdom welcomed 38 million visitors.
No funding details for the initiative were released. The effort is significant in that it is the first time the tourism industry has directly negotiated with the government for sector-wide deal.
“As one of the most visited countries in the world, the UK is a world leader in international tourism and it is crucial that we remain globally competitive to meet growing demands,” May said. “That’s why today 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.”
Neither the government’s nor destination marketing organization VisitBritain’s announcement mentioned the B word (Brexit). However it’s fair to say that it’s an issue that’s top of mind for the industry, as uncertainty over how the country will leave the bloc means travel companies don’t know what preparations they need to put in place.
Though tourism is in the enviable position of not needing a trade deal post-Brexit — and an aviation agreement has already been secured in the event of no deal — there is no doubt that inbound and outbound traveler flows are highly dependent on the strength of the pound. The announcement’s timing, one could surmise, might have something to do with an outgoing prime minister keen to leave something of a positive legacy in the waning days of her tenure.
The plan has clear priorities, which the industry collectively lobbied for and negotiated with the government’s Department for Digital, Culture, Media & Sport in creation of the deal. The first is a new Tourism Data Hub, which will collect and update data on visitor preferences to assist in targeting international visitors. To support job growth, the plan will create 30,000 apprenticeships per year by 2025 and provide mentorship to 10,000 industry employees. To account for the nine million more annual visitors the United Kingdom expects to welcome by 2025, 130,000 hotel rooms will be built, with 75 percent of those outside of London.
Five new “tourism zones” will offer cross-sector support to regions who want to boost their visitor numbers, particularly off season. Similarly, the plan also adds support for business events and conferences — including improved broadband connectivity — which will encourage off-season visits. Lastly, it outlines the government’s ambitions to improve internal infrastructure to help tourists get around and become the world’s most accessible destination for differently-abled visitors, something the private sector persistently overlooks, as outlined by Mobility Mojo’s CEO at Skift Forum Europe in April.
The industry is unsurprisingly pleased. Simon Vincent, European president at Hilton, called it “an important vote of confidence in the UK tourism industry” and Jeremy Sanders, Oyo’s head of UK, said the deal would be a boon to smaller, independent players who are coming up in the country’s “sophisticated and challenging” market.
The British Tourism Authority — which encompasses both VisitBritain and VisitEngland — celebrates its 50th anniversary this year, and will project manage the deal’s implementation.