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My hon. Friend, who has always been extremely well informed about the real needs of the tourism and hospitality industry, makes some most important points. I am well aware of the significance of the hospitality industry and the relevance of tourism in Harrogate. He is right to warn the House and others of the extremely damaging effect that the Labour party's policies would have on an industry of such importance to the future employment and wealth of our country.
My hon. Friend the Member for Harrogate (Mr. Banks) will agree that success is about not only a flexible labour market—although we must give that priority—but the quality of the tourism product. "Competing with the best" agreed to take forward work on the accommodation sector. It is vital that the visitor's experience is favourable. Levels of dissatisfaction with accommodation have been unacceptably high. We have addressed that in a number of ways and a great deal has been achieved. We began by carrying out a major piece of research into what consumers want from hotels, basing it on an exercise of benchmarking small hotels against their peers. The guidance that we drew up as a result aimed to help smaller accommodation providers to compare their business with the best performers and thus find ways in which to improve. It was widely welcomed and has been used throughout the industry.
The chairman of the BTA and the ETB, David Quarmby, said:
The Department of National Heritage's benchmarking exercise for small hotels is beginning to penetrate this very fragmented industry and helping to raise standards.
Our research on hotels also informed the work that the ETB has carried out to improve the classification schemes for tourist accommodation. At present, too many visitors—about one in four in some surveys—are dissatisfied with their accommodation. It is vital that customers are able to distinguish accommodation that meets their needs in advance of purchase. Only then will there be real incentives for improvement, as the best hotels will be adequately rewarded in the marketplace for their excellence.
David Quarmby has already devoted considerable personal effort to that complex task. Work has progressed a long way since he took up his post in June, especially through negotiations with other interested organisations. He hopes to consult the industry about his proposals in the new year, but recognises that there is much to be done in the next few weeks to achieve that target.
The most significant influence on experience and guests' reports of their stay is not the physical facilities but the way in which people are treated by staff. Today, the Henley Centre for Forecasting commented again on the importance of service and training for service.
Tourism is fundamentally a people industry. We launched a major investigation into the industry's human resource practices, using Coopers and Lybrand for advice, and published the results at the end of last month. Some firms are failing to make best use of their people, which is affecting their competitive performance, but the best ones successfully create a distinctive service culture throughout their organisations, and satisfied customers return again and again.
We have been indebted to the help provided by the recent appointment of Peter Moore, of Center Parcs, to the English tourist board. He echoed much of the comment that we have received when he said:
I am greatly encouraged to see the focus of attention turn to this vitally important aspect of the quality of the tourism product.
We are drawing up an action plan to take forward the initiative with a group of experts from the industry and people from the world of education and training so that we can ensure that we develop the service culture to match and surpass any in the world.
In a sense, everything that we do is to increase the competitiveness of the industry by helping it to become more aware of what customers want and to find ways of delivering it more efficiently. An important further area has been the downward trend in domestic holidays. The trend towards overseas holidays is well established all over the world, and a consequence of increasing prosperity and easier access to overseas travel. I do not conclude from that, however, that the decline of the domestic holiday is inevitable.
Many hon. Members are aware of the great importance of the domestic market to jobs and opportunities in their constituencies. For that reason, I have asked the English tourist board, in collaboration with my Department, to conduct a major research project to discover what steps need to be taken to increase the appeal of holidays in Britain to the British. The research is under way and I expect to see its findings in the new year. It is good news for British holiday resorts and destinations.
I have been impressed on my visits— whether to Margate, Worthing, Eastbourne, Southport, Blackpool or the many resorts on the Isle of Wight—by the way in which the domestic holiday market is trying to improve its quality to ensure that it takes the opportunities available to it. The further research will help it in directing its services and promoting its marketing.
In all our work, we have been working closely with the industry. I have established an advisory forum of leading industry figures to help take forward our plans; we have a number of secondees from the industry working in the Department; we work closely with the CBI tourism action group and with local authority associations on planning matters; and, of course, a new chairman of the tourist boards was appointed earlier in the year.
It is not simply enough for Britain's tourism to be a world-class product; we need to be sure that we communicate the fact effectively to potential customers. I have spoken of the British Tourist Authority's excellent work. A great deal of research by it and others makes it clear that London is crucial to our efforts to attract overseas visitors.
I am not sure how many hon. Members will be familiar with the Ministry of Sound. It is not to be found in Vacher'sor the Civil Service Year Book.It is one of the world's most popular dance clubs, and it is here in London. We are witnessing the growing recognition that London is the place to be. It is fun, fashionable, exciting, prosperous and successful. Retailing is excellent and eating out, as Sir Terence Conran said only the other day in Le Monde, is said to be superior to that in Paris. In the recent edition of Newsweek magazine, London was described as
the coolest city on the planet
Such comments provide a huge opportunity for all in the tourism and hospitality industry.
London has a great deal more to offer. People are drawn here by our wonderful heritage buildings, museums, galleries, palaces and pageantry. There is also a vast amount of investment in the future. The national lottery has helped to fund new developments at the Tate at Bankside, the redevelopment of Sadler's Wells and the £30 million development of the British museum. Above all, the millennium exhibition in Greenwich—I was pleased that the right hon. Member for Copeland recognised this—will provide Britain with an unprecedented opportunity to bring millions of visitors from all round the world to create a wonderful legacy for the city and, indeed, the whole of Britain.