Embrace technology, coupled with an enthusiastic welcome, to ensure the growth of UK hospitality
Welcome. Come on in.
That is UK hospitality, and there is quite a lot of it. In, fact around 10 per cent of our GDP is stumped up by that sector. The leisure and hospitality industry plays a significant role in the UK economy and – as a sector – is the 4th largest employer in the UK. The figures speak for
themselves: 300,000 new jobs in the last five years and £117 billion in revenue terms.
It is big business and – happily- it is growing. In 2016, spending on leisure services grew by 7.8 per cent, according to the most recent Family Expenditure Survey. In fact, the average UK family commits 22 per cent of its weekly budget to leisure spending. And that is not to mention the overseas visitors flooding in on the back of an adjusted sterling.
However, how do we increase the sector for the benefit of us all?I propose a focus on technology, marketing and inclusion but, above all, a commitment to, and a focus on, people. We must be brave about the future, proud of our past and determined to extend a meaningful, genuine and universal welcome.
Technology is transforming the leisure and hospitality industry as it is so many others. The various technologies of the Fourth Industrial Revolution – robotics, artificial intelligence, big data and internet of things – will continue to revolutionise the way that we interact with the world. Indeed, how the hospitality industry adapts to the opportunities, as well as to the challenges, will be key to future economic success. It is hard now to imagine travelling without Google maps, flight booking platforms, review blogs and networked hospitality businesses such as Airbnb. The UK must embrace the opportunities of the revolution, and innovate and adapt.
Hospitality is not just for Visit Britain and the Home Nation partners, though they do admirable work as does the British Hospitality Association. It is beholden upon all of us to be ambassadors for Britain and our specific part of it. Look at what London 2012 did for our reputation abroad, not least the extraordinary opening ceremony, the ultimate postcard to the world. Post-games research found that following the 2012 Olympic and Paralympic Games, perceptions of Britain’s strengths in terms of both heritage and culture had improved, and that there was an index change of 120 per cent in those likely to visit in the next three years.
Inclusion in terms of hospitality means offering a truly universal welcome. Another significant lesson from the 2012 London games was the value of ensuring accessible infrastructure: hotel rooms, transportation, venues, public realm, websites and so on. When accessibility and inclusion are prioritised, the boost in revenues for the sector will be more than material.
When it comes to European Union tourists, we must maintain that principle of inclusion and retain freedom of movement. Just as it would be madness for the EU to reintroduce tourist visas for Britons, so it would be for us to do that to our friends from the EU.
Similarly, when it comes to people power, we need a clear, coherent and consistent immigration policy across all categories of employment. I make as wholehearted a welcome to the barista as the barrister. It is simply about need. If we have the positions, then we need and should want people from Europe and beyond to come and be part of the British hospitality opportunity.
Overall, the outlook is largely positive. The sector is forecast to grow to £257 billion by 2025, which is a particularly positive figure in the light of economic issues and political uncertainty. Spending on leisure services is forecast to continue expanding by four percent every year to 2021.
So to politicians and policy-makers, promotors and PR people, event organisers and entrepreneurs: we must continue to push the places and make a fuss about the festivals, but we must also be clever about technology, expansive in our marketing and ensure that people are firmly at the heart of our hospitality, with an enthusiastic welcome for all