Speaking on a panel at the British Hospitality Association (BHA) Hospitality and Tourism Summit yesterday (30 June), Gowers argued that the country needed to remain ‘open for business for tourism’.
He said: “There is a danger of us sleepwalking in to real danger if [the hospitality industry] doesn’t stand up and be counted.
“If the result leads to it being more difficult for people to visit this country then we have a problem as an industry. As business people we need to take a lead on this issue. If people can’t get in to the country then the infrastructure and level of service are all irrelevant.”
He argued that the UK needed to appear more ‘welcoming’ to travellers in order for the UK hospitality industry to be more competitive internationally.
“There is little point in us pressing as an industry for an extension to the Schengen arrangement, which helps Chinese tourists come to Britain, if we are going to find that by the end of 2017 there are more restrictions on free movement,” Gowers said.
David Cameron has pledged to hold a referendum by 2017, though the vote could be held earlier if the Prime Minister succeeds in negotiating renewed terms of Britain's membership.
Speaking at a later panel at the BHA event, Coley J Brennan, principal at hospitality investment firm KSL Capital Partners, predicted that the referendum would do little to damage the UK’s growing domestic tourism industry.
“It won’t impact consumer behaviour in the long term,” he said.
EU regulations have historically been controversial to the hospitality sector. In March this year over 100 chefs signed an open letter criticising the 'bureacratic nightmare' of the newly introduced EU allergen rules.