Conference News March 2019 - Page 36

36 Big Interview TAKING ON THE CHALLENGE Martin Fullard speaks to Joss Croft, the new CEO at travel trade association UKinbound, about tourists, tax, and Brexit Kinbound’s primary focus is the wider tourism industry as a whole, but as we know, leisure and business tourism are both intrinsically linked. In order to remain competitive, both branches of the industry need to work together. With uncertain times ahead, the best way the UK can keep its rivals in check is to offer visitors the best experience possible. Joss Croft certainly has a lot on his plate. As if Brexit wasn’t enough, the spectre of tourism taxes in Scotland provides another hurdle to overcome. Croft is a tall, imposing figure, and certainly seems like the right man for the job. I sit down with him at UKinbound’s annual convention in Glasgow. How is the mood among your members? Generally, the mood is good. We’ve just published the results of our business barometer, which we do every quarter, and we’ve seen confidence grow from a record low of 40% to a much healthier 60%. We’re seeing some markets perform very well, notably the US market [for inbound tourism to the UK], we have a strong economy, and no elections are planned this year – which can impact. The US market is, for some regions, the most important market, particularly in Scotland. It’s the most important in terms of spend and third most important in terms of numbers. The long-haul market in general is positive, mainly the US and China, because Brexit doesn’t matter, not just the impact, but because a lot of people from those destinations don’t even know about it. Bookings are holding up at the moment, but there remains concern for the European market post 29-March. Is the face of the tourism industry as we know it about to undergo a huge change? Tourism taxation, such as the one currently being discussed in Edinburgh, will bring about a fundamental change because it’s not how the industry operates at the moment. The UK is already one of the most heavily tourist taxed destinations in the world, only Denmark has a higher rate of VAT on accommodation than the UK within the EU. But even in Denmark tourists don’t suffer the air duty that UK tourists do. Any type of taxation will be bad news in many ways. It makes us less competitive; potential visitors have choices on where they go so we can’t rest on our laurels. We could price ourselves out, not to mention the burden it would place on the existing infrastructure. We would like to encourage the Scottish government not to proceed with this. However, it does at least provide us an opportunity to have input on how the money raised is spent. A level playing field would have to be ensured as certain parts of the accommodation sector, the so-called sharing economy, don’t have to register or comply with health and safety, so they wouldn’t be paying the tax, and would undermine registered providers. That will put us at a disadvantage, surely? We’ve already seen from World Travel & Tourim Council’s (WTTC) competitiveness study and the UK is 135th out of 136 on price competitiveness. Thank goodness we’re still such an attractive destination to the rest of the world. Record numbers are coming, and we have a superb brand. But yes, it’s going to be tough for a while. What does the UK do well: where are our strengths and what brings people here? A lot of visitors to the UK come for the heritage and culture: no one does heritage and culture quite like us. On