The Government announced this week that it plans to start trials of a scheme to stamp out shabby hotels and restaurants.
At a tourism summit on Tuesday (26 November), tourism minister Kim Howells said that pilot studies will start in spring 2003, when some local authorities will be given new responsibilities to ensure hotels, restaurants and guesthouses offer adequate facilities and meet basic quality standards.
The pilot authorities, which have yet to be named, will be expected to take a harder line on making sure establishments are not selling customers short.
The scheme, entitled Fit for Purpose, is intended to give local authorities responsibility to ensure hotels, restaurants and guesthouses keep to all the regulations currently in place.
"This is not a heavy-handed approach, but it will enable substandard hotels and their restaurants to improve by giving them the support they need," said Howells.
The scheme was devised following a slump in tourism last year after the events of 11 September and the impact of foot-and-mouth disease, when a Government report concluded that one of the key areas for improvement was in the quality of accommodation on offer.
While Fit for Purpose could be viewed as a step in the direction of a national registration scheme, Bob Cotton, chief executive of the British Hospitality Association, urged the Government not to go that far.
"We do not need a national registration scheme. What this is about is harmonising existing regulations," he said.
"We do not expect every establishment to offer five-star standards; but there are too many which provide poor value for their category, yet they still attract unsuspecting overseas and domestic visitors - and then disappoint in key areas," Cotton told a conference in Torquay, Devon, last week.
by Nic Paton and Christina Golding