House of Lords debates value of tourism to UK economy

07 February 2011

Lord Wigley, Baroness Wheatcroft, Lord Palmer of Childs Hill, Lord Stoneham of Droxford and Lord Risby made their maiden speeches in the House of Lords on Tuesday 27 January in a debate on tourism

Viscount Younger of Leckie tabled the debate on the value of tourism to the UK economy.

Lord Wigley

Cultural tourism to Wales was worth £6 billion a year and generated almost 10 per cent of jobs Lord Wigley, Plaid Cymru life Peer, said in a speech focused on that country. Tourism was ‘a major plank of economic policy that had ‘the enthusiastic support of the Welsh Government.’

Wales's historic castles were the top UK attraction, Lord Wigley said, citing a VisitBritain survey of 10,000 potential overseas visitors. Cooperation with UK agencies could maximise the benefit from such visitors. He spoke of the cooperation between public bodies Wales and the UK that brought sculptures from the Dazu world heritage site in China to a Cardiff exhibition. ‘This exciting development has been made possible by the cooperation between the Government of Wales, our National Museum and the Chongqing Culture Bureau through the British Council’s Connections through Culture programme in China. In mentioning China, we must be aware of how the demographics of tourism are changing, with an increasing number of potential visitors with disposable income coming from China and other developing countries,’ he said.

In closing, Lord Wigley said, ‘I hope that in attacking the international markets, the diversity of the tourism product within the UK can be used as a positive feature on which to build.’

Baroness Wheatcroft

Baroness Wheatcroft said tourism has a vital role to play as the UK seeks to regenerate its economy. To thrive it needed to be nurtured – which was ‘a job for the private sector’ rather than government – but tourism could ‘suffer from the short-termism that afflicts private sector investment today.’

Developing tourist attractions such as a theme park or hotel complex requires long-term investment. This was ‘miles away from the short-term horizons that dominate much of today’s investment industry,’ she said. ‘Too much of the financial world has moved a long way from the concept of money being invested to build businesses and create jobs. The financial crisis had many causes, but at least some of the blame must lie with investors.’ They were not interested in ‘the concept of long-term ownership in building a business. That attitude, I am afraid, characterises much of what now masquerades under the label of investment,’ she added.

There was a ‘need to rekindle the appetite among investors for backing real businesses, not merely trading in stocks,’ Baroness Wheatcroft said. ‘A first step would be to encourage those whose money is in pension funds and savings plans to take a real interest in the way in which their cash is employed. Building successful businesses with long-term futures in many sectors, including the tourism sector, is in their best interests.’

Baroness Wheatcroft also called for the UK to set its clocks ‘on the same time as most of Europe’ to boost tourism income. Holidaymakers tended not to be early risers, she said. The potential return from ‘just turning back the clocks looked like a sound investment’ and could ‘bolster spending by another £3.5 billion a year.’

Lord Palmer of Childs Hill

Lord Palmer of Childs Hill spoke of his interest in urban tourism as a councillor for the London Borough of Barnet, which he said was ‘not alone in having more to offer tourists than at first meets the eye,’ a situation that ‘probably applies to many towns and boroughs throughout Britain, which, if they look, will find sights and facilities to promote tourism.’

With the Olympic Games, the UK was at the start of a decade of major international sporting events hosted across Britain, Lord Palmer said: ‘Our travel, hospitality and tourism industries have a wonderful opportunity to boost tourism, show the country's great attractions and increase and enhance Britain's popularity and reputation as a five-star tourist destination. We need to encourage everyone to enjoy seeing as much of our country as possible and to travel widely throughout our urban and rural landscapes, across the great diversity of interest and enjoyment that our country can provide.’

Lord Palmer said that the business rates system failed to support the development of tourism and government could help. ‘Cultural tourism is Britain's fifth largest industry, our third largest export earner and worth about £115 billion a year,’ he said. ‘This is good, but it could be made even better and more versatile.’

Lord Stoneham of Droxford

Tourism is one of the UK’s biggest business sectors and had great economic potential for the country, Lord Stoneham of Droxford. Yet, in competitive global market the UK could not complacently rely on its heritage, culture and countryside: ‘Tourism needs renewal and investment. It will be an important outlet of jobs over the coming decade.’

Lord Stoneham said tourism and hospitality were the sectors in which most young people gained their first experience of work in the UK, and had an important role to play in enhancing young people’s skills and building their confidence. The Government could help with initiatives for employment training and work experience for those finding it difficult to enter the labour market.

It is essential that the Government set a stable and encouraging environment for tourism to develop, he said. ‘At a time when funds will be short, though, we should be looking again at a costless initiative to boost the tourism industry.’ He also called for the extension of British Summer Time back on the political agenda. ‘That would directly benefit tourism in this country,’ he said.

Lord Marks of Henley-on-Thames

Lord Marks of Henley-on-Thames discussed the 2012 London Olympics and Paralympics in the context of tourism. There were lessons to be learned from the Athens Olympics, he said. The Athens Games provided valuable experiences to the ‘veritable army of young people’ who gave advice and help to visitors. ‘This made a profound difference. There are no doubt many whose experience of the Games has built up their confidence and helped them in later life at a difficult time for Greece,’ Lord Marks said.

However, while the transport infrastructure built for the Games in Athens survived and gave a substantial boost to the city’s economy, the ‘wonderful sports venues now lie forlorn and derelict, covered in graffiti and strewn with rubbish, maintained, or rather undermaintained, at a public cost of tens of millions of euros annually.’ It was vital to keep ‘the promise of a long-term legacy’ made in the UK bid for the Games. ‘I hope that when the Olympic Park Legacy Company meets again to consider the rival bids for the Olympic stadium early next month it will look to enhance the future of athletics in this country and to take advantage of the regeneration in east London that the Olympics will bring about. That will be good both for the future of sport and for the future of tourism in Britain,’ he urged.

Lord Marks was also of the view that extending BST would assist the tourist industry in the UK: ‘The one-hour move proposed would have profound economic and environmental benefits at virtually no financial cost.’ he said.

Lord Risby

The point about the UK’s tourist offer is that it has ‘an astonishing variety of places to visit and activities in which to share,’ Lord Risby said. London has an incomparable cultural life with opera, ballet, music and galleries and theatre – ‘which really is the jewel in the crown.’ There was ‘something of the Heineken effect with the tourism industry, in that it spreads to all parts of the United Kingdom.’ In ‘tourist terms’, a number of events lie ahead for the UK: the royal wedding, the Diamond Jubilee, the Olympics and the Commonwealth Games. ‘Tourism contributes 8.7 per cent of our GDP, and that will undoubtedly be boosted by those events,’ he said.

Employing 1.5 million people, tourism is the UK’s fifth largest industry, Lord Risby continued. ‘What is really significant is that it cannot be out-sourced or offshored. It is ours. What we are seeing is a better level of co-operation between government, tourists boards and the private sector. The real importance of tourism is understood for all its difficulties and challenges.’

What the UK has to offer is unique. He said: ‘It is vital that more people know about it. It is in our national economic interest that that should be the case.’

Further information

The term ‘maiden speech’ refers to the first time a new Member gives a speech in the House of the Lords. A maiden speech usually takes place during a general debate and is uncontroversial.

Image: Parliamentary copyright

More news on: Parliament, government and politics, Parliament, House of Lords news, Members of the Lords, Lords news

Share this page