Hugh Robertson has been promoted to the role of Minister for Sport and Tourism within the Department for Culture, Media and Sport (DCMS) and will now be the main contact in Government for the hospitality and tourism industries following the departure of John Penrose.
Penrose, who was yesterday praised for being a 'great supporter' of the hospitality sector, had been one of the longest serving Ministers to hold the tourism brief but decided to stand down after the Prime Minister chose to trim the size of the DCMS given the impending conclusion of London 2012.
Although no direct successor has been appointed, a Government spokesperson confirmed Robertson had been promoted from his role as a junior minister in charge of sport and the Olympics to take on Penrose's tourism responsibilities.
Hospitality and tourism industry bodies had expressed concern that there would no longer be a dedicated Minister for Tourism and Heritage but today welcomed the promotion of the Conservative MP for Faversham and Mid Kent.
"The BHA is pleased that tourism is now included in Hugh Robertson's brief and we look forward to picking up with him on all the issues that we have been discussing with the DCMS," a spokesperson for the BHA told BigHospitality.
The organisation has already requested a meeting with Robertson who will now face a full desk of topics of concern to the hospitality and tourism industries including:
- Red tape and regulation - A 'Star Chamber' appointed by Penrose is set to report soon on areas where more regulation can be cut to aid growth in the industry.
- VAT - Despite Penrose pointing to a lack of available funds and not enough proof of the potential benefits , the industry continues to lobby for a cut in VAT to boost trade and employment.
- Visas - At the inaugural BHA Summit in June several industry figures lined up to slam the Government visa policy which it said was deterring potential high-spend visitors.
Robertson will not take on all of Penrose's former brief which also included responsibility for heritage and architecture.
Including his existing jobs in charge of sport and the Olympics legacy, he will take charge of tourism, gambling and licensing, the National Lottery and ceremonial duties. The size of his portfolio and the lack of a dedicated tourism minister is still a concern for the UK travel trade association ABTA.
"The Prime Minister has repeatedly said that he sees tourism as a key industry in the rebuilding and rebalancing of the UK economy and if this is to be achieved, it is vital that there is clear leadership in place so that the tourism legacy from the Olympics is fully maximised," Mark Tanzer, ABTA chief executive, said.
"Our chairman, John McEwan, has written to the Prime Minister to outline ABTA’s serious concerns about Penrose’s departure without a direct replacement. The letter seeks Cameron’s personal assurance that the reshuffle does not constitute a downgrading of the tourism portfolio within Government and calls for the appointment of a dedicated Tourism Minister," he added.