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Easter is upon us and the General Election just weeks away; new beginnings are all around, says Ufi Ibrahim, CEO of the British Hospitality Association

With Easter upon us the BHA, like other hospitality businesses and organisations, is turning its attention to the future. We’re now a matter of weeks away from the general election and historically hospitality and tourism has been conspicuous by its absence from the manifestos of the main political parties.  What’s more, this is described as the most important election for a generation with experts anticipating that no party will win an overall majority and the expectation that the events of May 7th could change the political landscape forever.

While hospitality and tourism accounts for 1 in every 10 jobs in the UK, it is a truth well known that this industry could drive a step change in the growth and generation of jobs if MPs focused on the fact that hospitality and tourism lies at the heart of our economy. All political parties should include hospitality and tourism at the centre of their economic growth plans, and in their party manifestos they should set out a commitment to boost the competitiveness of this important industry. The UK hospitality and tourism industry has suffered uncompetitive VAT rates, a strain on aviation capacity and uncompetitive visa regimes for far too long. It is time for a new government to put an end to the current rate of UK VAT at 20% – double that of the rest of Europe. The UK is one of only three countries not to take advantage of a reduced VAT rate in Europe. This means that visitors choosing a holiday to visit the Royal Crescent in Bath or exploring the Lake District, for example, would pay almost three times as much VAT compared to a French or German break, and twice as much as a holiday in the Republic of Ireland, Italy and Spain.

While our local hospitality and tourism businesses continue to innovate and strive to strengthen their products and services, and thereby local economies across the UK, past governments and many local enterprise partnerships have failed to support the 3 million employees and their families dependent on our industry for their livelihoods. Just as the governments of competing destinations such as Spain – which recently set a Zero VAT rate on inbound conferences, meetings and events – act to improve their national industry, the incoming government must too rise to their responsibility to invest in UK business, 3 million employees and the local communities they serve.

Looking to the future the BHA is working tirelessly and ambitiously to champion the Hospitality and Tourism industry on behalf of its members. We plan to unite more than 40,00 businesses to build our collaborative efforts to ensure that post May 7th 2015, the members of our collective associations will target every MP across the country to convey the urgency with which government action is demanded to help to unlock our industry’s potential for growth. As well as lobbying for change, our industry needs to be the very best at acting upon government legislation so that we can continue to be upheld as a positive example for other sectors to learn from. A core BHA goal is to actively support businesses, in particular SMEs, to tackle and practically deliver on areas of legislation and policy such as apprenticeships, allergens, health and fire safety.  Equally, providing specialist support is key for the BHA membership.  It’s only through collaboration, commercial expertise, and grassroots action that our sector will achieve the status and recognition it so rightly deserves from Government.

Read more about the British Hospitality Association here.