Tourism & Heritage Minister John Penrose attended the first part of the summit and delivered one of the initial keynote addresses during the event at the InterContinental London hotel on Park Lane, promising that his Government 'gets it' when it comes to the hospitality industry.
Work better together
Although the issue of the competitiveness of the UK hospitality industry in relation to VAT was raised both by BHA chief executive Ufi Ibrahim and several speakers it was not an issue Penrose addressed in his speech.
However opening the summit Richard Solomons, InterContinental Hotels Group (IHG) chief executive, encouraged hospitality industry professionals to join with peers in the tourism, transport, sport and culture sectors to work with Government rather than simply voicing disparate complaints.
"We need proper recognition for what hospitality can deliver. We do need Government to hear from us with one voice about how we can drive more wealth creation, more jobs and more revenues into the UK. Hospitality should be a top priority," he said.
"Let’s not view visas and VAT as obstacles to growth but rather areas where Government can come on side and improve things, giving us levers to pull to enable growth. The Minister has taken time to be with us today not to hear us complain but to understand how we can work better together. So I ask you to truly roll up your sleeves and take part in open and optimistic discussions about solutions. We need to win over the hearts and minds of Government so they can really get behind us and we can do the rest."
Addressing the gathered audience last Friday, Penrose acknowledged the importance of the hospitality industry in delivering employment and financially efficient and sustainable growth.
After Ibrahim had introduced the Minister as one of the people to hold his particular governmental brief for the longest amount of time, Penrose claimed the current Government was on-side with the industry. However he admitted other countries were now upping their game which left the sector with a challenge. While he indicated support for the issues of tourist visas, as covered by BigHospitality last week, Penrose did not tackle the contentious issue of VAT.
"There are an enormous amount of things that Governments can do but there is only a limited amount that Government can do on its own. This has to be a partnership with Government as a support act," he said.
While speakers throughout the summit lined up to echo the comments that the hospitality industry needed to partner with others to effectively lobby decision makers, there was criticism for the Government.
Sandie Dawe, VisitBritain chief executive, expressed surprise that there was not more movement from the Government towards the industry when it seemed the Prime Minister was receptive.
Nick Varney, Merlin Entertainments chief executive, said he did not believe the Government even knew about the VAT disparity compared to European counterparts before it was flagged up recently and said the industry needed a Minister in the Department for Business, Innovation and Skills as opposed to Culture, Media and Sport.
Wrapping up a panel discussion, Angela Brav, IHG European chief executive, was asked what she would do if she was the PM wanting to help hospitality. "I would have shown up for this conference and shown my support for this industry," she said.