The Rt. Hon. Sir John Major KG CH

Prime Minister of Great Britain and Northern Ireland 1990-1997

1993Prime Minister (1990-1997)

Mr Major’s Speech to the British Hospitality Industry – 14 July 1993

Below is the text of Mr Major’s speech to the British Hospitality Industry, given at the Hyatt Carlton Tower Hotel in London on Wednesday 14th July 1993.


Since I became Prime Minister I’ve visited 33 different countries. I have become an expert – on airports, hotels, convention centres…. Occasionally, I’ve been let out to see some of the wonders of other countries.

Millions of people from those other countries do rather better – when they make the reverse trip. They come here year after year – and stay at our hotels. Last year a record 18 million of them visited – and this year the figure will be higher.

Why do they do so?

We in this country often undersell ourselves. But in what we have to offer our visitors, few countries can compare. Typically we are often our worst enemy. Self-deprecating jokes about our climate and the services we offer may have a becoming ring of modesty, but it does nothing for British industry. Frankly it’s time we started talking ourselves up, not talking ourselves down. Throughout the UK, we have an immense range of attractions to offer – our national museums and galleries; live theatres with reputations unrivalled worldwide; a substantial history and heritage running through our buildings and monuments; a huge range of sport to watch and to play; and a vast range of breathtakingly beautiful scenery – our lakes, our mountains, our waterways – inland and coastal holiday resorts. All these attract visitors to the UK. In particular I was struck by recent opinion poll evidence which suggests that our heritage – in its broadest sense – is the main attraction bringing tourists here. Your association ensures that visitors can expect a welcome second to none.

Indeed, in a sense your industry is part of our heritage. Our historic inns and hotels are a living illustration of Britain past and present. From timbered coaching inns to grand country mansions, many are themselves tourist attractions. Many retain their ancient charms – though the best have wisely added the advantage of modern plumbing, good food and – although I am myself not so sure this is an advantage – early morning newspapers.

I am very conscious that tourism – of which the hospitality industry is a vital part – is one of our most significant and successful industries. Experts might differ on what is included in the tourism sector and what is not, but estimates suggest that 1 1/2 million people are employed in the industry and 25 billion pounds are earned by it. Those are substantial and very striking figures. No Government could ignore an industry of such significance – and we certainly don’t wish to.

That was one of the reasons behind the creation of the Department of National Heritage – the first new Whitehall Department for 29 years. I was determined to see the Department set up to bring together a range of interests given only subsidiary attention in other Departments. Now those interests have a strong voice around the Cabinet table, a voice that promotes tourism, heritage, sports, the arts, our Royal Palaces and Parks – all things that attract visitors to this country. Almost all the Department’s 1 billion pounds annual expenditure is helping directly or indirectly to promote your industry – a substantial sum. Government support for tourism extends far beyond the work of the Tourist Board – excellent and important though that work is.

The impact of the new Department is already being felt in Parliament. Only last week we had the fourth debate on tourism in the last six months. Two in the House of Commons and two in the House of Lords. I wonder when that last happened. I believe this demonstrates that we are putting tourism higher up the political agenda – because of the increasing importance of the industry and I can promise you it’s going to stay high up on the agenda.

Having said that I am conscious that expenditure on heritage and related matters has often had an uphill battle against the demands of health, education and defence. One of the reasons I was so keen to establish the National Lottery was to generate additional resources for these areas. At least four out of the five areas the Lottery will support – the arts, sport, the heritage and the Millennium Fund – will be in areas of our national life which will encourage tourism. Even very conservative estimates of the resources likely to be raised by the lottery suggest that each of these areas could benefit from up to 75 million pounds a year – I suspect in reality the figures will be far, far higher.

The obligation on the Government to support the tourist industry does not stop at the Department of National Heritage. Across many Government Departments there is a responsibility to ensure that the framework is right to allow the industry to thrive.

Over the last year or so the economic climate has been difficult – here, as elsewhere. Much of your industry has faced extremely tough times. The recession abroad, coupled with the fall off in international travel following the Gulf War, reduced the number of visitors from overseas. I have never understood why trouble in Baghdad means fewer visitors to London, but apparently it does. Perhaps we should sponsor international geography lessons.

The effects of the recession on our economy, cut into the domestic market. People spent less on tourist-related activities.

But today all the indications are that we are witnessing a recovery. The exchange rate is encouraging overseas visitors to return. Falling interest rates and falling unemployment mean more money once more in the pockets of British people to pass through the tills of your industry.

The recovery is in its infancy, but it is growing daily. Yesterday we announced the largest increase in manufacturing output for over four years. Today we have learned that headline inflation fell to 1.2%, the lowest level for thirty years. The figures taken together show that we are in sight of our long term goal: growth without inflation. Evidence in your own industry is building up – visits from overseas in the first four months of this year up 6% on last; expenditure up 13%. As the economic climate comes good, it will be even more important to get the business climate right. If not, those with money to spend will take it elsewhere.

There is probably no area where the Government has more ability to damage the business climate than in the field of regulation. I don’t suggest that all regulation is bad – nor would you. But reality suggests that Governments find making new regulations far easier than cutting out old, bad and defunct ones. It is easy to see why that is – and it is equally easy to see the damage it causes. I believe we must look again at the level of regulation in your industry and in other industries. Some perhaps will always be necessary, but wherever possible we must remove unnecessary red tape from industry and commerce. This will not be an easy task – it will take time. Removing regulation from Whitehall is like wrestling with a greasy pig. But I intend progress to be made and I expect a large deregulation Bill to form part of the next Parliamentary session.

Many of you will be aware of the Task Forces set up by the Department of Trade and Industry to identify the necessary deregulation. Each Department has a Minister charged with the task of ensuring we succeed – in the Department of National Heritage it is lain Sproat. This is particularly appropriate as, before he became the Minister, he was Chairman of the Backbench Committee on Deregulation – so he is certainly approaching this area of his responsibilities with enthusiasm. I know the Association has been working hard to convey the views or the industry. I am very grateful for that – we want to hear your views on what needs to be done. Then we will strive to do it.

The deregulation initiative is part of our strategy to improve the efficiency of industry. In the public sector, a key part in our strategy for improved efficiency is the principle of market testing and contacting out. Here, too, your industry has a key role to play. In vast areas of the public sector catering-related services are now provided more efficiently than ever as a result of your members’ efforts. This is obviously good news for your industry – but it is also good news for the consumers of these services, and for the taxpayer at large.

I believe that we are fortunate in having one of the most successful hospitality industries in the world. Excellence must continue to be our watchword. The natural attractions of the UK will continue to bring people here in their millions. It is the warmth of the welcome from your members which will keep them here longer and encourage them to return – again and again. That must be in all our interests.