British Hospitality Association (BHA) chief executive Ufi Ibrahim and Travelodge chief executive Peter Gowers were among the speakers addressing an audience of MPs, parliamentary candidates and NGOs at the event, which focused on the growth potential of ‘unexploited sectors’ in the UK economy.
Gowers said that a ‘broad-based economic recovery’ – which delivers social mobility and raises living standards for all – would be dependent on growth in all sectors, not just those requiring a high level of academic skill.
He underlined the importance of tourism to job creation, with the sector creating a third of all new jobs since 2010 and Travelodge alone helping 3,000 unemployed people back into work through its partnership with the Job Centre since 2007.
“One in ten people in the UK work in travel and tourism, and a lot of people in this room today look surprised by this. This is a £127 billion sector that provides fantastic career opportunities and what we need is a government who celebrate the role tourism can play and stands up for the industry,” he said.
“We need to move beyond ‘Downton Abbey Britain’ and become a society where you can serve and yet not be a servant.”
Gowers also argued that tourism offers excellent career progression, and called on the government to do more to encourage lifelong learning in sectors currently below the ‘national radar’
In response, Nick Boles MP, minister of State for Skills and Equalities, acknowledged the role that tourism plays in the economy, and said it was a ‘huge priority’ for the government.
He argued that the industry should play a role in highlighting opportunities, because it was ‘more in touch than politicians about what employees need’, but agreed that more needed to be done to improve access to lifelong learning.
The debate then turned to international competitiveness, with BHA chief executive Ufi Ibrahim warning the objectives put forward by Prime Minister David Cameron were at risk of being missed without further government action.
Dr Gerard Lyons, chief economic advisor to the Mayor of London also took to the stage to argue the importance of tackling business taxes, regulation and transport to help tourism businesses succeed, while Baroness Neville-Rolfe DBE CMG, Parliamentary Under Secretary of State for Business, Innovation and Skills, called for the government to adopt a 'long-term vision' on infrastructure.