The chief executive of Whitbread, Alan Parker, has backed the UK tourism industry’s ability to reap the benefits of the 2012 London Olympics, lauding the sector as “fantastic” in comparison with 30 years ago.
The Government has predicted that the 2012 Games will generate £2.1b in benefits for the tourism industry, but concerns have been raised over the forecast after it emerged that hotels in Beijing were cutting their rates by as much as 30% after the tourist influx for this summer’s Olympics was much slower than expected.
But, in an interview with Caterer, Parker spoke of his wholehearted confidence in the capital – home to 22 Whitbread-owned Premier Inn hotels – to deliver a “fabulous” Olympics.
“Tourism is a great success in this country. It has come a long way over the years,” he said. “There are 32 million tourist arrivals in the UK today compared with five million 30 years ago. We’ve created a lot of jobs and a lot of value for shareholders in tourism companies. I do think London is a world-class city. I don’t think I’ve ever seen it better than it is today – cleaner or better-run.”
But Parker warned that the Government must change its attitude to tourism as an industry that doesn’t need much support. “I think this is the wrong attitude to take. The key is to support success rather than try to prop up failure,” he said. “The Government should take tourism more seriously than it does.”
It needs to pump in only “relatively small sums of money” by its standard to support the industry, Parker said. “But I don’t think the Olympic debate is finished yet. Post the Beijing handover I think there will be a new urgency and focus from the Government on putting some money behind the whole thing,” he added.
By Gemma Sharkey
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