Championing Hospitality for Positive Action and Change

In the latest episode of the new season of Accor’s podcast, Heart of Hospitality, Duncan O’Rourke, host and CEO Accor Northern Europe, speaks to Kate Nicholls, CEO UKHospitality. They discuss UKHospitality’s role championing the hospitality sector in the UK and lobbying the Government for positive action and change, including the impact a VAT cut and greater training flexibility would have on the sector.

They explore Kate’s passion for education, opportunity and development and why it’s important to offer hands-on lived experience to Generation Z to nurture the seed of passion in the younger generation at an early age.

Through her role as CEO UKHospitality, Kate Nicholls has become the leading voice representing the UK hospitality sector, advocating and lobbying for over 740 companies operating around 100,000 venues across the UK, including accommodation, F&B, events, and attraction & leisure sectors. In 2021 her efforts were recognised in the New Year Honours list and she was awarded an OBE for services to the hospitality sector, especially during the pandemic.

“Like so many people in the sector, I’d never thought about a career in hospitality, and I fell into it. It’s such a fantastic place to work,” said Kate. “There’s so much camaraderie and it’s such a collaborative industry. In other sectors businesses don’t collaborate. We are hugely supportive, collaborative and cooperative as a sector, and I think that’s what got us through COVID – we came together to be able to support each other through it and have nobody left behind.”

She added: “COVID gave us a very literal demonstration of what happens when you don’t support Hospitality and Tourism, when you don’t look at it sensibly. Because literally the light and life turned off from our town and city centres. The economy went backwards. And you could see that throughout the two years of COVID every time hospitality switched back on and started up again, the economy grew.”

The hospitality leaders discuss the incredible impact of hospitality sector, which in the UK accounts for approximately 4.5m people, or 1 in 10 working people. “We bring people together like no other industry. All of our hospitality businesses within the UK are at the heart of their communities. Fundamentally, we’re a people business, so people are at the heart of what we do. We’re about experience and giving customers great experience, and giving the communities in which we exist, great experience.”

The leaders exchanged on the global staffing crisis, the recently launched UKH Workforce Strategy, the creativity and resilience of hospitality and the opportunities it affords the emerging workforce of Gen Z. “There’s no other sector of the economy which will allow you to have delegated authority at such a young age and allow you to expand your horizons and grow to be a manager within less than two years. The sky’s the limit, but also, no other sector of the economy gives you that camaraderie and fun while you’re at work.”

Duncan and Kate celebrate the rising salaries and greater opportunities to work for your passion but call for greater support for hospitality as a job of choice in schools and amongst parents, citing the tale of a 16 year-old passionate about baking and a fan of Bake-Off and Master Chef who was discouraged from entering hospitality where she could have earned £60,000 a year as a pastry chef in London and work for her passion.

As the conversation turns to government, Duncan references the global under-representation of the hospitality and tourism sector in government and asks Kate what the UK Government could do to have the most significant impact on the sector: “On the workforce point, I think at the moment, it is about giving us greater flexibility on the Apprenticeship Levy, that’s a tax on jobs at the moment, and it’s a tax on training, and we can’t use it in the way that we know we need to really boost or upskill our people.”

She adds “My biggest ask of government would be to tackle the perfect storm of the cost of doing business increase and cost of living squeeze and the need for business to invest in recruitment and training. So the biggest thing they could do is to cut VAT. That would help business have the headroom, it would boost demand, and it would help our sector as a whole.”

Kate champions the power skills of hospitality, citing her core hospitality skills as the core strength of lobbying and political acumen: “Essentially, lobbying is about human relationships, it’s about people. These are natural hospitality skills. It’s why I always think hospitality is a great place to start in your career because they are transferable skills.”

The importance of collaboration, support and representation drives Kate. Commenting on her position as not only the CEO of UKH but a female CEO, Kate said: “I always like to think of myself as just a CEO, however, I am conscious of using my position as a female CEO to be a role model. I do believe fundamentally, you can’t be what you can’t see, so I strive to be visible for the sector as a whole and women in the sector specifically. My motto, given to me years ago by a former colleague, is lift as you climb. So as we go further up, we don’t pull up the ladder behind us, we increase the number of areas for people to climb up behind us.”

Commenting on the episode, Duncan O’Rourke, Heart of Hospitality host and CEO Accor Northern Europe said: “The representation of hospitality and tourism within government is crucial. Hospitality accounts for 10% of global GDP and 1 in 10 jobs and it is the beating heart of local and global communities. Unlikely many sectors, hospitality is a meritocracy and social elevator, a place for the emotionally intelligent and the business-minded. Hospitality positively impacts every person in the world and offers those that work in it the chance to explore the world and its people – what other sector can say all this? Governmental support is disproportionate to the economic and social impact of the sector.”

The Heart of Hospitality podcast is part of a pan-European industry platform of the same name, built to tell stories of the sector and its people. Accor is inviting stories from across the industry to be shared via #HeartOfHospitality

To listen to the full episode, visit or find the podcast on Spotify and other leading Podcast platforms.

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