It is a pleasure to serve under your chairmanship, Mr Robertson.
I congratulate my hon. Friend Steve Double on securing this debate. I know he works tirelessly on behalf of the tourism industry in Cornwall and, in his APPG role, of tourism right across the country, as well as of the broader hospitality sector, which was the subject of a debate here in Westminster Hall only yesterday, which he also participated in. I also thank other hon. Members who have contributed today; they are all consistent advocates for the tourism and hospitality industry, and I have had conversations with many of them previously.
Indeed, as my hon. Friend said, because of the advocacy for the sector in this place by the hon. Members who are present today and many more, the voice of the tourism sector has never been stronger in Parliament. That can only be a good thing, because today’s debate demonstrates the vital importance of the tourism industry to the UK economy and underlines just how strongly it is missed in these stretches of enforced covid closures.
I will start by echoing the contributions made by hon. Members about the economic contribution of the domestic tourism industry, and then talk in more general terms about what the Government are doing to support the sector. The tourism industry contributes well over £70 billion to the UK economy, and prior to this pandemic it employed 1.6 million people directly and more than 3 million—perhaps as many as 4 million—people indirectly.
In 2019, 41 million visitors travelled to the UK from overseas, creating many business opportunities and of course generating many jobs in every corner of the country in the process. And domestically, British residents took 99 million trips in England for leisure or business purposes, spending the best part of £20 billion. Indeed, buoyed by the positive momentum of previous years and Government interventions, including the tourism sector deal, the Discover England fund and other initiatives, we were looking forward to having a really booming domestic tourism industry as we entered 2020, but of course covid had different plans.
None the less, the Government acted quickly, straightaway from March last year onwards, and I appreciate the recognition of the Government interventions that has been expressed today. That action included introducing a variety of measures that particularly helped the sector; even though many of them were all-economy measures, they were particularly adopted by the tourism sector. They included the furlough scheme, the self-employed support scheme and a variety of loan schemes. Of course, on top of that there were the retail, hospitality and leisure grants, and the business rates holidays.
When the sector did open in July, we helped it further with a variety of initiatives, including tourism promotion campaigns and, of course, the VAT cut, as has been mentioned. And in the spirit of the “Enjoy Summer Safely” and the “Escape the Everyday” campaigns, I was delighted to be able to visit my hon. Friend the Member for St Austell and Newquay in his constituency. In fact, I managed to get around all six constituencies in Cornwall, and I very much appreciated hearing from a number of local stakeholders and businesses who were very clear, honest and frank about what they needed; I always appreciate such communication from the sector. I visited some really iconic and truly global destinations, such as the Eden Project. Also, alongside all the marketing work, VisitBritain introduced a “We’re Good To Go” standard last year and over 41,000 businesses signed up for it, showcasing the hard work that venues put into reopening in a secure way.
However, although the summer may have gone well for some—I understand that particularly in the south-west there were good average daily rates and good occupancy rates—that was by no means consistent across the board. In particular, our city centres and other urban areas are still struggling with incredibly low occupancy rates.
So, covid forced us to adapt our approach in the late summer and autumn of last year, but unfortunately we had to introduce more restrictions later in the autumn. I know that those restrictions, which hampered domestic tourism considerably, have placed further strain on businesses.
However, the Government acted, and will continue to act, to help to mitigate those pressures. In response to November’s national lockdown and the local measures that were introduced at that time, the Chancellor provided further support for businesses and individuals, including extending various Government-backed loans, the furlough scheme and the self-employed scheme, and in particular the Government introduced new local restriction grants.
In light of the new national restrictions, last week the Chancellor announced one-off top-up grants for retail, hospitality and leisure businesses, which are worth up to £9,000 per property, to help businesses through to the spring, plus a further £594 million discretionary fund to support other impacted businesses. My hon. Friend mentioned those entities, businesses and sub-sectors that have perhaps fallen through the cracks. I encourage all of them to apply for these discretionary funds. There was an existing discretionary grant fund, which has been topped up recently. I also encourage—indeed, I implore—local authorities to be particularly sympathetic to those sub-sectors within the hospitality, leisure and tourism sectors that hitherto have not been able to access such grants. Supporting them is precisely what these grants are for.