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Michael Hirst OBE on the government’s tourism sector deal

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Michael Hirst OBE, chair of the Events Industry Board and Business Visits and Events Partnership, explores what the new Tourism Sector Deal means for the business events sector.

In June, Prime Minister Theresa May announced the UK’s first ever Tourism Sector Deal, which will help continue to support the country’s position as a key player in the global tourism sector. Not only will the consumer tourism industry benefit from this exciting and long awaited deal but, the business events sector will also benefit tremendously.

Currently the tourism industry is worth £68bn to the UK economy. Securing the Tourism Sector Deal is a huge boost for the tourism and hospitality sector as it develops to support the predicted influx of new overseas visitors coming to the UK. The investment and plans under this new deal will benefit and help to grow every region of the UK and will also see conference centres across the country benefit from an investment of £250,000, which will improve broadband connectivity for business visitors.

Organisations within the travel sector can gain essential knowledge and insights with the creation of a new Tourism Data Hub, which will change the way bookings data is used by the sector. Experts predict that by 2025 the number of overseas visitors coming to the UK is expected to grow by 23 per cent so this hub will become a very useful tool for businesses. The Sector Deal also sets out an ambition for being the most accessible destination for those with disabilities.

The government has also published its International Business Events Action Plan, which outlines its commitment and support of the business events industry in attracting, growing and creating business events to bring greater numbers of business travellers to the UK.

Within the Sector Deal, business events are seen as a major route to increased productivity within the sector by looking to fill spare capacity across the whole of the UK and reduce seasonality. The introduction of Tourism Zones will provide incentives for additional business event facilities. Through VisitBritain, the Business Event Growth Fund will continue to support new bids for international events and applications for funds to enable more international visitors to be attracted to existing events.

A range of soft power initiatives, including letters of support, use of public buildings for receptions and ministerial endorsements will be used to help win more international events to Britain. Arrangements for special facilities in relation to visas and welcome at ports of entry are also part of the Action Plan.

It is also encouraging to see that the government is committing to investing in new generations to help them carve out a career within the tourism and hospitality industries, with the creation of 10,000 new apprenticeships each year within the sector. Through the creation of these apprenticeships the skills gap will start to bridge.

The business events sector is creating its own response to future skills need through its own Event Management Apprenticeship programme and a Talent Taskforce set up be the Events Industry Board is reviewing how best to provide career opportunities to fill skill gaps.

At the same time, under the auspices of the Events Industry Board, another taskforce is looking at infrastructure provision, venue capacity and occupancy to determine what levels of additional investment may be necessary to accommodate future demand.

The Tourism Sector Deal and the International Business Events Action Plan are a fantastic leap forward for the tourism and hospitality industries. The plans provide a much-needed boost to the sector and showcase the government’s understanding of the importance of the tourism, hospitality and business events to the UK economy.

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