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Nick Varney, CEO Merlin Entertainments takes role as a new BHA Chairman

Nick Varney, Chief Executive Officer for Merlin Entertainments plc (‘Merlin’) will take over the role of Chairman of the British Hospitality Association (BHA) when incumbent Alan Parker CBE steps down on 1st January 2015.

In his new role, Varney will join the BHA Board of Directors, working with Chief Executive Officer Ufi Ibrahim and the executive team in the important lead up to the General Election and the new political environment that will follow. Already leading the Cut Tourism VAT Campaign which strives for the UK to be more competitive in Europe with a lower tourism tax, Varney’s immediate priority will be to make all political parties aware of the importance of the hospitality and tourism sector both in economic terms and as a key employer, particularly for 16-24 year olds;* highlighting the key issues the industry is looking for any new Administration to address.

Nick has worked in the visitor attractions industry for 22 years, and led the management buyout from Vardon plc in 1999 to form Merlin Entertainments.   In the 15 years since, under his leadership, the company has grown from a small UK based business with a handful of SEA LIFE and Dungeon attractions in the UK and Germany, to a multi-billion pound publicly quoted company with over 100 attractions as well as a growing number of hotels, operating in 23 countries and across four continents, and Europe’s No 1 and the world’s No 2 operator.

Commenting on his new role Nick Varney said: “I am delighted to take up the role of the Chair of the BHA at a time when it is so important that the industry voice is heard at a political level.   The BHA is to be congratulated on the excellent work done to date to build relationships and raise the profile of the key issues which affect all our businesses; and I would like to take this opportunity to thank everyone, but particularly Alan and Ufi, for what has been achieved so far”.  

“Now with a General Election imminent we have a very short window of time to build on this, and to make sure that the economic and social importance of the hospitality and tourism sector is understood by all political parties; and that our issues are on their agenda for the future.  

“I see the key challenges here as:

  • Price competitiveness.  UK VAT at 20% means we are not operating on a level playing field with the rest of the world
  • Emerging Markets.   The UK is failing to gain our fair share of business and visitors from new markets like China and Russia due to short sighted visa policies
  • The need for enlightened employment legislation that does not jeopardise industry growth/ jobs
  • The development of a robust skills agenda to ensure we are able to identify and recruit the right people to realise the sector growth potential
  • The need for a more efficient planning process, which encourages rather than restricts further development

“All of which would result both in increased revenue for the Exchequer, and the creation of new jobs, particularly for young people, and one assumes therefore priorities for all parties, whatever their colour! “  

Alan Parker CBE, incumbent President and Chairman of the British Hospitality Association said: “During my time as Chairman for the BHA we’ve worked tirelessly to raise the profile of hospitality and tourism to Government, and we’re starting to see real recognition for this inspirational industry. Nick’s appointment as Chairman will introduce a new dimension and direction to the BHA’s work and I wish him a very warm welcome to the role.”

Ufi Ibrahim, Chief Executive Officer of the BHA said: “Alan Parker has been a true ambassador for the hospitality industry and on behalf of all the BHA members and partners I’d like to thank him for his tireless support and enthusiasm as well as welcoming Nick Varney as his successor. We are delighted to welcome Nick as the BHA’s new Chairman. In the build up to the general election there’s a big task ahead of us to ensure that hospitality and tourism achieve high priority status on the Government’s agenda. Nick’s reputation for results-driven success precedes him, and his experience and expertise will be invaluable to guide and shape our focus as we evolve.”

Alan Parker will retain his role as President of the British Hospitality Association