Nigel Huddleston MP, co-chair of the APPG for the visitor economy, called the debate at the request of the British Hospitality Association and the Campaign to Cut Tourism VAT.
Mr Huddleston opened the debate with praise for the diversity and resilience of the UK’s tourism industry.
He stressed the importance of differentiating between the domestic, inbound and outbound tourism, and argued that it was wrong to assume that Brexit and a weak pound would significantly bolster the domestic and inbound sectors.
Given that more than 60% of overseas holiday visitors and in excess of 70% of business visitors to the UK last year were from the EU, Mr Huddleston strongly warned against any additional burdens or restrictions on travel.
Furthermore, although the weak pound has made the UK comparatively more affordable, he added that the UK remains an expensive place to visit and suffers as a result in the global tourism market.
The question of cutting VAT on tourism was raised by multiple MPs in the debate such as Caroline Lucas MP, Margaret Ritchie MP and Rebecca Pow MP.
Each MP cited various reasons why such a cut would be beneficial to their constituency, with Margaret Ritchie MP citing the difficulty of businesses in her Northern Ireland constituency competing with firms south of the border, where the VAT rate is 9%, less than half of the UK rate of 20%.
The theme of migration was highly prevalent in the debate.
The vital contribution of EU workers to the tourism industry were praised by MPs from all parties and participants wanted reassurances from the Government that EU nationals are welcome and have the right to remain in their jobs. James Heappey MP raised concerns that a lack of migrant workers would be a challenge for the industry and praised also the diversity of linguistic skills that the EU migrant workforce has brought to the UK.
Various MPs, including Deidre Brock MP and Sheryll Murray MP also argued the case for further developing the UK’s inbound tourism market by extending to other nations the simplified visa system that was made available to Chinese visitors
John Nicolson of the SNP raised worries that events post-Brexit were creating a perception that Britain was becoming more insular. Kevin Brennan raised similar worries, saying that even the Government’s use of language in post-Brexit messaging has damaged Britain’s blue-chip brand. Corri Wilson MP highlighted concern that still, nobody knows what Brexit actually means.
Tracey Crouch MP, the Minister for Tourism reassured attendees at the end of the debate that all the specific issues raised are all being considered by her department and that she wanted to maintain her productive dialogue with the industry.