§ Mr. Deputy Speaker (Sir Robert Grant-Ferris)
Before I call the right hon. Member for Kettering (Sir G. de Freitas) I should inform the House that Mr. Speaker has made some adjustments to the times for debating the various subjects. The adjustment has been posted in the usual place. This debate which we begin now should end at two o'clock, and the remaining debates will last about 35 minutes each.
§ 1.8 p.m.
§ Sir Geoffrey de Freitas (Kettering)
I am raising today not the problem of too many tourists but the problem of too many tourists in too few places. After all, there are more than 50 million of us in this island and never at any time are there more than half a million tourists. However, those of us who work or live in central London, Edinburgh, Oxford, Cambridge, Stratford-on-Avon, and so on—the great resorts—often feel that there are too many tourists. Central London particularly has this feeling, and we know that nine out of ten of the visitors to this country spend some time in London.
I face this problem. I work in central London and my home is in Cambridge. When I find difficulty in crossing the road even to come to the House because of the swarms of tourists I am tempted to feel as the citizens of Florence, for example, feel, that enough is enough, and that this corner of the island is beginning to sink under the weight of the visitors.
In London today, as a result of Government intervention over the last few years, there is enough hotel accommodation for tourists with money. I shall come in a moment to the problem of the young tourists without money. There are at this moment many vacant rooms in the expensive hotels. Just as the problem of accommodation in London was solved by Government intervention, so Government intervention is needed to solve the problem which arises very occasionally—but it does arise—of bad treatment and discourtesy in hotels. I think that I am right in saying that Britain is the only country in Western Europe where the Government stand aside and allow tourists very occasionally—but do allow them from time to time—tobe victimised by hoteliers. Even a year or so ago the head of our 1758 tourist organisation could be heard denouncing a proposal for classifying and registering hotels as "bureaucratic nonsense". That age is over and there are modern minds in charge of the British Tourist Authority.
A year ago it was reported in the Financial Times that a German and his wife went to a hotel in Victoria and were told at the reception desk that they could not stay unless they paid for three nights in advance and that that was the law of England. They paid, but when they went upstairs they found that their accommodation was totally unsatisfactory. They were refused a refund. There is no system at present of hotel registration, and, therefore, there is no way in which we could have a discipline on such hoteliers.
I want the Government to work with the BTA in having a register of all accommodation with classifications. I should like the Government to go further and to have powers of removal of people's names from the register for behaviour such as that I have outlined.
According to a calculation made in The Times, it would cost only £3 per year for each hotelier to compile a register of prices and a voluntary system of classification. I want the Government to work with the BTA in compiling a register of all hotels, guest houses and so on, together with classification on accommodation and such things as facilities for meals, and particular amenities such as outstanding architecture or the fact that the hotel is near good fishing and so on. Above all, I want a central pool of accurate information and the requirement that every visitor is provided with written notification of the cost of his room and services when he checks in.
One of the biggest tasks before the Government is to encourage the BTA to spread the tourists over the country as a whole. I have emphasised that I consider not that we have too many tourists but that we have them in too few places, particularly concentrated in London and the other well known tourist centres. There are welcome signs that the BTA and the national and regional boards are succeeding in this, but more information must be given to visitors about the provinces.
I want to mention one particular city which does not occur to many people as 1759 being the centre of a tourist area. I have no particular connection with the city of Sheffield. It is certainly not every one's idea of a holiday centre. Yet modem clean air regulations make Sheffield a most pleasant city. Because of the shape and size of our island, 26 of the most beautiful large houses in England are within 25 miles of the centre of Sheffield, and the country surrounding Sheffield is as lovely as that anywhere in Britain.
It would not be appropriate to use my time to give a catalogue of unfamiliar tourist centres, so I shall concentrate on a particular area that I know well. My constituency is in the heart of rural England, right in the centre of the country, in Northamptonshire. It is certainly not a tourist area, but in my constituency there are 68 villages, each one with a church which seems to be more beautiful than the church in the preceding village. We have Rockingham Castle, which stands in a lovely position on a hill, and we have countryside as fine as anywhere in England. We have the unusual offer of a garden city, Corby, which is also one of the leading steel towns of Europe.
My constituency falls in the East Midlands, and like the region generally, as a result of Government intervention, accommodation for tourists has increased rapidly there over the last few years. The number of new hotels built in the East Midlands has been twice that of the average number built in relation to the population of the other regions. But there is one figure which leads me to my next point. Between July, 1971, and March, 1972, in most weeks these hotels in the East Midlands region were only half full. My next point, which obviously follows from that, is on the importance of spreading not only the area of tourism but also the season.
Let us remember that people do not come to Britain for sunshine and to lie on beaches sipping cool drinks. If they did they would need their heads examined. They come to see Britain, which is a country in the north-west of Europe. It can be argued that we have already spread our season. For example there were more visitors to Britain in January this year than there were in June ten years ago. In January, February and March of this year half of theatre audiences were from 1760 overseas. But more must be done. After all, so much of Britain is at its best in winter. Our theatres, shops and restaurants are not out of doors. The tourists do not come for the purpose of sitting at out-of-door cafes.
Because of our language and history we have certain unique obligations which we must discharge, whether or not we like it. For example, the United States of America has inherited from us the English common law. What could be more appropriate than that every few years the American Bar Association should wish to hold its annual conference in London? What indeed could be more appropriate than that the authorities of our Palace of Westminster should allow that association's principal ceremony to be held in Westminster Hall, which for centuries has been the home of our courts of law. But the members come in July, 12,000 of them counting wives, children and followers. The Government with their powers over hospitality—and they are hospitable to these visitors—must in future say "No, it must be October or November, or not at all." I am sure that the BTA would welcome such a lead.
I now mention something that is not immediately apparent to the citizens of London. I have had criticism of so many tourists coming here. Apart from the benefits to this country of the export trade, invisible and visible, Londoners owe to the tourists the existence of many theatres, resturants and shops. I am saying only "many" of them. I have seen calculations which would make it correct to say "most" of them, but I do not go as far as that.
I said that I would refer to young tourists. According to the last edition of Time Out, the BTA estimates that nearly 2 million of Britain's visitors between the ages of 16 and 24 will visit London, whether or not we like it. There are practical advantages to Britain in having these young people, of course. There are commercial advantages because in 10, 20 or 30 years they will come with their wives, husbands and children and spend money. But there are even greater advantages. These young people will get a better understanding of our institutions and our language.
It is impossible to over-emphasise the rôle of our language today. We know 1761 about North America, but not many people realise what is happening in Europe. I have presided over many conferences and meetings on the Continent of Europe, where there are only two languages at official functions, English and French. It is striking how many of the young people, if they have to speak one of the two official languages, choose to speak in English rather than in French. For example, if an Italian or a Turk is of the older generation and has grey hair or a bald head, he will probably speak in French. But if he does not have grey hair or a bald head, he will almost certainly speak in English. We have to consider this and the opportunity it gives this country to project its way of life.
Time Out, in the article to which I have referred, also mentions the problem of housing for young people in London and says that the number of beds on the London tourist register costing under £1.50 per night is only 11,000. Voluntary organisations do great work. I saw a picture in The Guardian yesterday of a camp run by Christian Action on Hackney Marches. I know about the Young Men's Christian Association. I also know of the work of the Youth Hostels Association, and, having joined in 1931, am one of its oldest members. The fact remains that more needs to be done, and only the Government can give a lead.
Incidentally, I commend Time Out for printing a list of accommodation suitable and available for young visitors. Many of the young visitors are scruffy, most of them are over-hairy, and they have attracted the most hostile criticism. However, we must accept them. This is what happens today. I am told by the experts that the phrase is that this is a form of international social tourism. It is not a very attractive term, but that is what it is. It is increasing rapidly.
For any of us who can look ahead 50 years—not many of us can—I am told that the calculations of the International Bureau of Social Tourism are that in this period youth travel will increase 10 times as much as ordinary tourism.
What are we to do? I have suggested that the Government can take action. I want to put the matter in perspective. At a travel function not long ago the Duke of Edinburgh used these words: 1762It is no good talking about international friendship unless ordinary people are prepared to encourage it … Only travel abroad can break down the mediaeval mentality which fosters vendetta and suspicion.We have much to offer young people. First, we look out on the world: we are a former imperial power, and we have the habit of looking out. We are a European country. We have an unusual diversity of English, Scots, Welsh and Irish. Some countries have greater painters—not many. Some countries have greater musicians—not many. Some countries have great dramatists, but none has any greater. Some countries have great languages, but none has any greater. Some countries have tolerance and a spirit of live and let live, but in none are they more deeply ingrained than here in Britain.
I want people to come here and see us. I want the Government to do what they can to encourage people to come here and travel widely in Britain, and to come at different times of the year. In this decade of this century a friendly greeting to a foreigner in a pub costs less than a battleship and may well be much more effective.
§ 1.23 p.m.
§ Mr. W. R. Rees-Davies (Isle of Thanet)
I have been very interested in the disjointed but nevertheless attractive speech of the right hon. Member for Kettering (Sir G. de Freitas). At one stage I refrained from intervening though I felt impelled to do so.
I commend to the right hon. Member some points with regard to the different areas of Britain. After all, we have an English tourist board which is an effective board. It has set up a number of area boards. I know a little of the work which is being done in the East Midlands area. One encouragement which the right hon. Gentleman can give there is to ensure that all the local hoteliers and caterers are effective members of the area organisation and play a full part. The Act which set up the Tourist Board was introduced by a Labour Government, although the proposals with which I am concerned were moved by Conservative Members, so that it is very much an all-party concern.
There could be a great deal of promotion of attractive projects in the East Midlands to fill the hotels there in the 1763 off-peak six months if the area board, in association with the British Tourist Authority, which deals with overseas visitors, were to promote projects which would be attractive to overseas visitors out of season. I have in mind the various historic castles, buildings, museums and parks, as well as any attractive modern industrial project. It is that type of thing which will enable us to succeed in attracting many more foreign visitors from the Metropolis into the provinces.
We do not treat British tourists in Britain sufficiently fairly. Our own people should come first. After all, five million of us may go on holiday overseas, but more than six times that number take their holidays at home. I want to see a greatly increased standard of amenity and improved accommodation at home. There should be an immediate major programme to train the staff in this country for the catering which is necessary.
It is too ludicrous for words that British waiters have to take Italian names because in some way it is thought more attractive to be an Italian waiter than a British waiter. This must cease. It is ludicrous that, for example, employees at the Dorchester, Grosvenor House and the Savoy should use false names because they believe that there is something inherently attractive about foreign catering employees.
About six months ago, in response to my question as to what was the best thing which could be done, Max Joseph said to me, "Billy, if you can find 20,000 Italian waiters, that will make our staff position effective in hotels throughout Britain. That is the greatest need, for there is considerable job opportunity in the catering industry". I said, "Max, I am not prepared to do that. What I am prepared to do is to advocate immediately that there should be 20,000 to 30,000 more good English waiters." Those extra waiters need not be English-born. Some of the best waiters are Pakistanis. Some of the best barmen may be West Indians, Welsh, Irish, Scottish or English.
I want to see an immediate use of our training colleges in the expansion of the training programme. The courses at present are part time. Therefore, they are not advanced courses. They can be carried out by technical training colleges 1764 without the Government's authority merely on the decision of the boards of governors. This was confirmed to me today by a Minister at the Department of Education and Science.
This means that we can act quickly to set up courses of about 14 weeks duration for the training of waiters, barmen and others who are necessary to fill the 93,000 vacancies in the catering industry. Then hotels and other establishments in the Provinces would be able to recruit the waiters and other staffs they need and do their recruiting to a large extent from the existing pool of unemployed.
We would also get rid of the absurd notion that there is something infra dig—I must use a foreign phrase for it—about being a waiter. There is nothing infra dig about being a waiter. My own technical training college trains superb catering staff, many of whom spend part of their training at Buckingham Palace. I am sure that none of those young trainees feels that he is entering into the community to do a job which is not worthwhile.
There is a vast increase in the number of hotel places being created in London, the East Midlands and the Midlands generally. However, this is not so in the South-East, nor along that part of the coast represented by my hon. Friend the Member for Folkestone and Hythe (Mr. Costain). The main reason is the one which the right hon. Member for Kettering has just given, namely that we do not feel sure that we can get the accommodation filled all the year round. There is thus not the demand to build because there is not the certainty of being able to meet the demand. But the first essential has already been fulfilled by the English Tourist Board. The Government have accepted the report, and I understand that it is to be introduced shortly. The first essential is to find out the nature and extent of the accommodation which we have in this country, and to classify it. Thereafter we should see how it can best be deployed.
I strike one note of warning. Some accommodation in this country at present is becoming over-priced for what it is worth. Certainly it is true to say that the accommodation, though not the food, is much more highly priced in the United Kingdom than it is in France. The price of food is another matter.
1765 We not only need to ensure that the accommodation is properly classified; we need also to see that the area boards, the English Tourist Board and the British Tourist Authority, with the active co-operation of the hoteliers, the caterers and their associations, ensure that the travel agents have full details of the accommodation available. This will in turn involve setting up suitable places in this country where people can find out what accommodation is available. This has been done effectively at the port of entry at Dover. It is also being well done in Grosvenor Gardens, London, and at Victoria Station. We need to have this facility throughout the country, so that travel agents and visitors who are travelling independently know where to look.
This accommodation will become more widespread and better if it is accompanied by proper staff training as a matter of urgency. I think we can give an impetus to the improvement of our amenities which will serve not only our own tourists within Britain but those who come to our shores.
§ Sir G. de Freitas
The hon. Gentleman referred to the fact that my speech was disjointed. May I say that it was disjointed because I left out large sections of it in order to give the hon. Gentleman an opportunity to speak.
§ Mr. Rees-Davies
If I may say so, I did not intend my remark as a criticism. I thought the right hon. Gentleman made an attractive speech. What I meant was that it did not follow one particular theme. It was disjointed in the sense that he covered a number of different subjects. I entirely accept what the right hon. Gentleman said.
§ 1.33 p.m.
§ Miss Joan Hall (Keighley)
I am afraid that my speech, too, will be disjointed because I shall have to throw two-thirds of it away. I prefer to deliver one-third properly rather than three-thirds badly.
I am grateful to the right hon. Member for Kettering (Sir G. de Freitas) for initiating this debate, which is of great importance. I hope that in the autumn we shall have another opportunity to debate the matter in greater detail.
I agree with my hon. Friend the Member for the Isle of Thanet (Mr. Rees- 1766 Davies) that training is required for those who wish to work in the catering industry. I am one of the few people in this House who have experience as a waitress, and I can assure my hon. Friend that of prime importance is one's attitude to the job. We can train people until we are blue in the face, but if there is not the right attitude we are wasting our time. It is not part of the British character to desire to serve people. There seems to be a great dislike of saying "Yes, Sir" and "No, Sir", as though one belittled oneself in using those words. I think waiting is a career of great interest, and with a future, if only people will adopt the right attitude of mind towards the persons whom they are serving.
Tourism has built up rapidly. I worked with the old British Travel Holidays Association in 1955. In those days we had the great hope that we would get 1 million tourists in this country. It is believed that in 1972 over 7 million foreign visitors will have come to this country, building up in 1980 to about 18 million overseas visitors. However, approximately 70 per cent. of those visitors come only to London. As the right hon. Member for Kettering said, this upsets the normal living habits, standards and way of life of the people who live in London and particularly in the centre of London.
I think it is important to mention that tourists are abused by a very small section of people, who fleece them in a number of ways. It is said, and I am sure quite accurately, that for visitors to Britain "top of the pops" are the friendly and hospitable people in this country. But there is this abuse of over-charging, particularly in the area of Westminster. This is done by unlicensed street traders. They are vultures of the worst order. I was speaking to a Swiss girl last week who, on coming out of the Tate Gallery, wished to buy an ice-cream and was asked 20p for a small cornet. She had the courage to refuse, but many tourists who argue the toss about the cost are shouted at and abused, and naturally they do not like to be shown up; in addition, they do not have a good command of English, and they usually pay up.
There are many worse cases than this incident. I was talking to the local authority people in Westminster yesterday. They told me of a case of a £5 1767 note which was given for two ice creams and 5p was given in change. It was impossible for the purchaser to persuade the vendor to give any more. There are incredible cases of abuse by unlicensed street traders in the area of Westminster where the vast majority of tourists come to see the Abbey, the Houses of Parliament and so on.
On the question of fining these unlicensed street traders, most of them do not have a fixed address. They usually stay at doss houses, and when they are tracked to a certain doss house they are not known. If it is possible to take one of these traders to court, having ascertained his address, there is no general public statute under which such a person can be charged. He can be charged only under a local LCC statute of 1947, as amended in 1967. The penalty for a first offence is a fine of £20, which is nothing to these people. They are quite prepared to pay the fine, and the next day they are back fleecing the tourists.
I should like the Minister to say whether he has in mind any suggestion whereby offences of this nature can be more heavily penalised. But the true answer does not lie in penalties. I believe that street traders should by law have to display the prices of their products. Notable offenders are to be found in the ice cream and hot dog trade. Most reputable street traders, who are licensed, display their prices—for example, fruit and vegetable stalls. If this could be enforced, the abuse would stop immediately, and so would the ill will that is created for this country among overseas people who will not come here again because of an experience they had years previously when perhaps they were overcharged for an ice cream. If this abuse could be cleared up, we would have a much happier future.
There are two other points which I wanted to mention but I will not deal with them in detail. One concerned the question of getting tourists out of London. People who are connected with the tourist industry are concerned only with hotels in London. They do not want to know about north of Potters Bar. They still seem to think that we are all "wogs" north of Potters Bar. They do not want 1768 to know about the assets which exist out of London. There is very little incentive for the pubs and guest houses to improve their premises. Although people come to my constituency to see where "Wuthering Heights" was written, they do not want "Wuthering Heights" conditions in their bedroom, bathroom or dining room.
§ 1.40 p.m.
§ Mr. A. P. Costain (Folkestone and Hythe)
No one who has represented a seaside constituency for 13 years, as I have, and attended every meeting on the subject can fail to appreciate the problems here. A number of them have already been raised by the right hon. Member for Kettering (Sir G. de Freitas). We are very grateful to him for the interest which he takes in tourism, an interest which, unfortunately, the Labour Party does not seem to share. One has only to think of the small attendance of right hon. and hon. Members opposite at such debates as this to realise that they do not take the interest which they should, and we are the more grateful to the right hon. Gentleman for raising the matter now and giving us an opportunity to debate it.
My hon. Friend the Member for the Isle of Thanet (Mr. Rees-Davies) made some telling points about training, and I endorse what he said. It is ironical that in Kent now—particularly in Folkestone, where we have one of the highest unemployment rates for some years—there are a great many vacancies in the hotel and catering trade. This is the pattern throughout the country. It seems an extraordinary facet of the British character that people think that serving in restaurants or hotels is not in keeping with what they feel they ought to do; yet, when all is said and done, we have a reputation throughout the world as good hosts. We are good hosts. We welcome guests. But, for some reason or other, the hotel and catering trade does not attract a sufficient number of people who realise the great prospects for them in it.
I pay a special tribute to what the tourist boards have done in this matter. They have realised that more needs to be done, but I do not believe that it will be done unless the hotel and catering trade itself understands the problem 1769 and takes action on its own account, too. Our hotels and catering establishments have not done enough in the past, and they have not had the great reputation which they should, and can, have.
One has only to see the improvement in the food served now in the ordinary English pub to realise that there is an interest in good cooking and good service. We complain about our weather, but I have always found that a good hotel, well run, with good service and good food will attract people, regardless of the weather. People like the other amenities which we can offer. In our seaside towns now, we are developing many attractive amenities.
The hotel industry must understand that it is old-fashioned. It must realise that better accommodation for staff must be offered. It must offer more attractive hours for staff. Also, there must be better uniforms for staff. The old-fashioned idea that a waiter should wear an uncomfortable stiff shirt and tail coat if he is to be a good waiter is thoroughly out of date. It is often easier to find staff to serve in some of the more modern bars and clubs and on ships because a more attractive uniform is woru. In the same way, with a more attractive uniform, there could be a great improvement in the number of waitresses. In this very building, a more attractive uniform would, I am sure, give far greater encouragement to waitresses. All these things must be taken into account.
I hope that the Minister will tell us that the Government will do all it can to encourage the hotel industry to modernise its ideas towards its staff, the accommodation which it provides for staff, and the uniforms which are worn.
§ 1.43 p.m.
§ The Under-Secretary of State for Trade and Industry (Mr. Anthony Grant)
This has been a most helpful debate, and the contributions from all hon. Members who have spoken have been extremely useful. Before coming to the main subject, perhaps I may pick up the points raised by my hon. Friends the Members for the Isle of Thanet (Mr. Rees-Davies) and Folkestone and Hythe (Mr. Costain), who drew attention to the need to encourage the proper training of staff, with particular reference to the work of waiters, who are so important in this business.
1770 Facilities for hotel and catering education in England and Wales are on a fairly substantial scale and are increasing. In November, 1970, there were nearly 25,000 students in attendance at non-advanced courses at grant-aided establishments of further education. I am advised that 4,000 attended courses for barmen and waiters, and that courses for these latter trades are now provided at 135 colleges. The proposal to extend the colleges' normal provision in the way suggested by my hon. Friend the Member for the Isle of Thanet calls for consideration by the principals and governors concerned in the light of such evidence of demand as may be produced. They need to be satisfied that sufficient students—say, 12 or 15—would wish to attend so as to make such a course a viable proposition. I understand, however, that the principal in his own technical college in Thanet, for example, has said that he would be prepared to start a course and that the authorities have no objection. I hope that it will be successful, because I consider that both he and my hon. Friend the Member for Folkestone and Hythe were on a powerful point in this respect.
My hon. Friend the Member for Keighley (Miss Joan Hall) described certain deplorable practices which, she said, are occurring, particularly in London, and which, I have no doubt, would be very damaging to the whole concept of tourism and the impression which we give to overseas visitors. I have to tell her that ministerial responsibility for unlicensed street traders rests with my right hon. Friend the Home Secretary, but I assure her that I shall draw to his attention the points which she made, which were of concern to us all.
I have listened to the debate with great interest, and I consider that the right hon. Member for Kettering (Sir G. de Freitas) has done a considerable service in reminding us of the many benefits which tourism in the broadest sense brings to this country. There is a danger that we are beginning to take the economic benefits for granted, and we should not do that. The record figures achieved last year were not achieved without a great deal of effort by many sectors of the industry and by our tourist organisations. Government help in the form of financial support towards both promotional work and the development of facilities, especially accommodation, also 1771 played its part; and these efforts have been successful.
We have been successful in attracting more holidaymakers from other countries—they accounted for about half of the 7 million visits paid to this country last year—and we have been successful in attracting more business and conference visitors, people who play an important part in our economic life, though I entirely take the point made by the right hon. Gentleman that one must look carefully at the time at which these people choose to come to this country.
We have been successful in earning more foreign currency from tourism. Earnings from tourism in 1971 fell not far short of £500 million, and this takes no account of fares paid to British carriers, or of the major purchases which may be made by visitors while they are here. We have been successful also in retaining the interest of our own holiday-makers in taking holidays here.
The right hon. Gentleman's reminder of the importance of tourism is most timely. At this time of year, some people are liable to forget the valuable contribution which tourism makes to our export earnings and, instead, to grumble rather about the congestion which sometimes arises. No one—least of all our visitors, I imagine—will deny that there is congestion at certain times of the year. The problem is not unique to this country. People with children—I am one—generally take their holidays when the schools have closed, and most of us want to get away from the office, from the House, or from the kitchen sink when the weather is fine. This, naturally, creates certain problems. But we should not let the matter get out of perspective.
As my hon. Friend the Member for Thanet reminded us, the number of foreign holiday-makers is still relatively small in relation to the 35 million of our own citizens who take their holidays in this country. The problem of congestion affects only a limited number of places—some of our most popular holiday resorts and, of course, specific points in London.
One of these points is precisely here in Westminster, where we have only to see the number of visitors who are attracted 1772 —I hesitate to say by our eloquence—to this place—and I was intrigued to discover in the course of preparing for the debate that no fewer than 650,000 visitors, not all from overseas, visited the Palace of Westminster and no fewer than 196,000 actually came to the Gallery in only 184 sitting days. That is an indication of the sort of thing that attracts visitors, not only from abroad, but from other parts of the country. It is a fact of life, and we have to recognise it and take advantage of it.
I must dispel any idea that there is a shortage of accommodation in London. There is evidence of spare accommodation in all categories. Suggestions have been made particularly of difficulties with accommodation in the medium price brackets. While I am unable to comment on individual cases—and we will take note of what the right hon. Gentleman has said—the London Tourist Board has had no difficulty this year in finding hotel accommodation in the £2 to £4 a night bracket for the increasing number of visitors who apply to the board for that kind of accommodation.
I entirely endorse what the right hon. Gentleman said about encouraging young visitors. I like young visitors to come to this country and it is a thoroughly satisfactory development for the future. This year there has been an ample supply of very cheap accommodation for young visitors. The right hon. Gentleman mentioned an article on this subject that appeared in one of the Press media. I can only say that the writer did not check his facts, for this year the London Tourist Board has made special arrangements to co-ordinate efforts in the supply of this type of accommodation, and, even more important, visitors have been able to get information at the point of entry, whether coming by sea or air, about the facilities offered by the London Tourist Board for finding accommodation. Great efforts were made in this connection last year and the position this year has been improved and we shall continue to endeavour to improve it. This has been the result of an improvement in the information services sponsored by the English Tourist Board, and it is very conscious of that.
The right hon. Gentleman mentioned the registration and classification of 1773 hotels. We are familiar with this problem, and I commend especially the hard work of the English Tourist Board in this respect. Its proposals raise a number of issues which I hope to discuss with it and other boards, the BTA and organisations representing suppliers and users of tourist accommodation, and I hope that those discussions will take place in the not too distant future.
Reference has been made to the future growth of tourism and what could happen if the number of visitors to the country increased in the next 10 years as rapidly as since 1961. The problems are certainly formidable, but I have no doubt that they can be and are being solved. People enjoy more and longer holidays, and tourists everywhere are prepared to spend at least a part of their holiday entitlement outside the peak summer months.
A great deal of our promotional effort has been directed to this end and with increasing success. Some 50,000 new hotel bedrooms will have been provided by 31st March, 1973, outside the Greater London area under the hotel development incentive scheme. Page 46 of the report of the English Tourist Board for 1971–72, which has just been laid before the House, shows the tremendous spread of the new accommodation now coming on the market in England alone. The Hotel and Catering Economic Development Council is studying the future needs for hotel accommodation, and we hope that it will make its report later in the year and that its results will help to deal with future accommodation.
The Government's policy of assisting the development of tourism in the regions will also make a major contribution to assisting spreading visitors more evenly and so avoiding problems of overcrowding; which must be a major theme for both the Government and tourist boards. Increased promotion and the supply of new accommodation in the regions will attract tourists to the regions, including many of the old resort areas, and this will bring much needed income to some of our less prosperous areas and is, therefore, consistent with the Government's regional policy.
It takes time to develop the tourism infra-structure over a wide area of the country. It takes time to develop the marketing techniques essential to a 1774 properly planned development. But we are making progress and there is already evidence of a better spread of visitors in both time and place. The BTA estimates that there has been a noticeable drop in the proportion of visitors who visit London only. It is now thought to be about a third of all overseas visitors. There is encouraging information from the English Tourist Board about average bed occupancies in May of this year, now 61 per cent. as against 57 per cent. last year, to some extent an indication of the increase in off-peak holidaying by the public.
Let us not forget that London plays a key rôle as a springboard to all parts of the country. London is a tourist centre inextricably linked with the promotion of tourism throughout the country, as it is also an entry point to other parts of the country. It may be said to be a bottleneck, but one does not help the liquid to fill the bottle by putting a cork in the bottle, and I have heard that suggested.
I do not for a moment underestimate the difficulties of local populations and the environmental problems that arise when too many people converge on a limited area, and the national tourist boards are conscious of the need to preserve the environment and the way of life of local populations, which, after all, are what make the country worth visiting, and regional boards, through their membership, will also ensure that the interests of those who live in the tourist areas will be taken into account at every stage, not only in London but in other parts of the country.
We must recognise that the problems we are facing are the problems of success and not of failure. Although its contribution to the balance of payments is undoubtedly important, there is far more to tourism than that. As the right hon. Gentleman said so eloquently, it contributes to understanding between nations and peoples. I agree that the best advertisement that this country can make and the best encouragement it can offer to tourism is the friendly welcome of the people of Britain. I believe that we are equipped to deal with the problems that arise from what I emphasise to be success and not failure. We can ensure that tourism plays an increasing rôle not only in the economy, in terms of the balance of payments, but, especially 1775 having regard to our pending entry into the European Economic Community, in increasing understanding among nations.