HC Deb 01 July 1996 vol 280 cc544-5
12. Sir Michael Neubert

To ask the Secretary of State for National Heritage what recent discussions she has had with the British Tourist Authority about promoting Britain as a holiday destination. [33669]

Mrs. Virginia Bottomley

I met the new chairman of the BTA shortly after his appointment, along with staff of the BTA, and discussed the current plan for promoting Britain. We are giving high priority to developing the fast-growing markets of the far east.

Sir Michael Neubert

Does my right hon. Friend agree that these small, overcrowded islands with their unique concentration of culture and historical heritage will need to look not to numbers of visitors alone but to the high-spending, more lucrative, long-haul market? What success are we having in attracting tourists from the far east and what plans are there to increase their number?

Mrs. Bottomley

I recognise the force of my hon. Friend's arguments. The recent visit that I led to Japan with 30 tourist organisations was extremely successful. In Japan, it is well understood that the amount raised from visitors to Britain is larger than that from any other sector—more than £550 million last year. Recognising the economic significance of the tourist industry is of great importance. I commended the close working of the British Council—there is enormous interest in British cultural activities overseas—with the BTA. When the three work together, there is huge potential for Britain, particularly in those markets where at present only a small fraction of the population have even a passport.

Mr. Pike

Does the Secretary of State recognise the importance of developing tourism in the regions—the north-west and Lancashire in particular? Will her Department continue to give the support that the Minister for Sport has given to regional airports such as Manchester airport, so that people can fly directly to those airports and need not go via London airport?

Mrs. Bottomley

The hon. Gentleman is absolutely right. Some 50 per cent. of visitors do come to London first, but most—and a growing number—also want to spend time outside the capital. One of the successes of Euro 96 was the fact that many visitors were able to see the magnificent cities that we have all over the country. I shall certainly continue to press the case for more direct routes.

I should remind the hon. Gentleman, however, that the real threat to the tourist industry comes from the Labour party's proposals. Only today, the Employment Policy Institute told us again that the tourist and hospitality industry would be hardest hit by a minimum wage, and only last week a report from BDO Hospitality Consulting said the same—as have many others. It is time that Labour listened.