JULY 10 - THE Government is not doing enough to support the tourism industry, with only four years to go before the London Olympics, according to a Parliamentary Committee report published today.
Employing over 1.4 million people and generating an estimated annual £85 billion for the economy, the industry needs more help, said the Culture, Media and Sport Committee.
"Tourism is one of the UK's most important industries and yet it has been consistently sidelined by the Government, if not ignored," said Committee chairman John Whittingdale.
A report published earlier this week by the European Tour Operators Association claimed that cities that hosted the Olympics actually saw it damage its tourism market, not boost it, a claim denied by the leading agencies in Britain.
But over the last 25 years the UK's global market tourism share has fallen from 6.5 to 3.8 per cent and the Committee report questioned the Government's decision to cut by £9 million the budget for VisitBritain -- the organisation that promotes UK tourism destinations overseas.
"Its most recent decision to cut the budget of VisitBritain by nearly 20 percent seems extraordinary," added Whittingdale, who was worried the cut came so close to the London Olympics.
"To do so in the run-up to the Olympic Games, which represent a huge opportunity for British tourism, is simply inexplicable," he said in a statement.
"This is a huge missed opportunity which the Government urgently needs to put right."
The Committee also expressed its concern that Heathrow -- the world's busiest airport -- seemed to act as a deterrent to tourists.
"The current reputation and passenger experience of Heathrow acts as a significant disincentive to many people considering visiting the UK", said the report.
"Over 500 million pounds is spent by the public sector alone on skills development in the tourism industry, yet customer service, management and craft skills are too often lacking."
In March, passengers had to endure Heathrow's disastrous Terminal 5 opening, when hundreds of flights were axed and thousands of pieces of baggage misplaced.
The Committee added that the 2012 Games "present a chance to showcase London and the UK on the world stage, and in particular to emerging markets such as China, Russia and India".
It was "not too late to realise fully the tourism benefits of the Games, but a greater investment from the Government is necessary", it said.
Tourism leaders have been lobbying for nearly two years now for the Government to invest more in the industry during the build-up to the Olympics.
The Committee report said: "Its most recent decision to cut the budget of Visit Britain by nearly 20 per cent seems extraordinary.
"To do so in the run-up to the Olympic Games, which represent a huge opportunity for British tourism, is simply inexplicable.
"This is a huge missed opportunity which the government urgently needs to put right."
Liberal Democrat Culture spokesman Don Foster said: "This is a damning indictment of the Government's approach to tourism since 1997.
"Lack of investment in the industry has led to Britain's share of the global tourism market falling."
But a spokesman for the Department for Culture, Media and Sport (DCMS) said: "DCMS will give careful consideration to the committee's detailed report, and will respond fully in due course.
"The Government is already delivering for the tourism industry.
"As well as doubling the dedicated national funding for tourism over the last 10 years, we're putting £500 million a year into improving the industry's skills base, and we've just put in place a major regeneration scheme for our seaside towns.
"Public funding for tourism in the UK continues across the board with £350 million invested in 2006/07, but it is up to everyone involved in the public and private sectors to make our investment work smarter by working in partnership together."
Visit London, the capital’s official visitor organisation, urged the Government to address its recommendations.
Visit London chief executive James Bidwell said: “Tourism is worth £16.6 billion each year to the British capital and supports 250,000 full time jobs.
"Tourism is also one of the largest industries in Britain and the Government needs to take the sector seriously.
"Cutting tourism funding, which is criticised extensively in the Committee’s report, is short-sighted and places London and the UK at a competitive disadvantage to other destinations.”
Visit London also condemned the Government’s lack of funding to ensure the legacy of the 2012 Olympic and Paralympic Games.
Bidwell said: “The forecast incremental tourism benefit of the Games is £2.2 billion for London and £2.9 billion for the UK.
“With just four years until London 2012, the Government has no funding in place to ensure that the tourism sector can leverage this once in a life opportunity for the visitor economy.
"The post-Games legacy depends on our ability to showcase London and Britain to the world and this cannot be done without appropriate funding.
"The Government seems to have a tourism blind spot on how to maximise the Olympic opportunity.”