Kate Simon: Please don't trouble the minister about tourism

Should there be a minister for outbound tourism? With George Osborne taking the axe to essential public services, the notion of creating a new ministerial post of this kind may seem fickle.

Yet, travel and tourism is the fifth largest sector of the UK economy, a point surely recognised by the fact that we have a tourism minister, a post now held by John Penrose, Conservative MP for Weston-super-Mare.

The problem is that the minister's remit is confined to inbound and domestic issues, even though the outbound industry plays a significant role within the sector, not least in providing lots of jobs, from aviation to tour operating and travel agencies.

Luke Pollard, head of public affairs at Abta, the travel industry body, bemoans the fact that no one government department is charged with taking responsibility for outbound tourism. He believes there's a need for a principal port of call.

"Currently, Abta works with eight government departments on the different issues that it covers. Abta members sell both outbound and domestic holidays," says Mr Pollard. "We would hope that a tourism minister and sponsoring department would have the civil servants and support to represent and defend domestic, inbound and outbound sectors, while maintaining close links to departments with economic responsibility."

Abta isn't alone in wanting a minister who will deal with outbound issues. The independent UK charity Tourism Concern also favours the idea, but for different reasons. It thinks the appointment is crucial if serious work is to be done to protect human rights from the worst excesses of tourism.

The charity wants a minister who will actively promote respect for and protection of human rights within the sector, including the overseas activities of British businesses and their supply chains. It says tourism can have a positive impact but not when that's at the cost of local people's human rights.

"Tourism is one of the largest service industries in the world, in which UK companies, including tour operators and hotel groups as well as British tourists themselves, play a sizeable and significant role," says the director of Tourism Concern, Tricia Barnett. "Despite this, the tourism portfolio in the UK is fragmented across at least five government ministries. None of these explicitly recognises or seeks to redress the negative impacts that tourism can have on the lives of people in destination countries, particularly within the developing world.

"For, while tourism has the potential to create jobs and revenue, it can also lead to exploitation, such as when poor communities are forced from their land to make way for new hotels, or local people are forced to work with poor pay and conditions."

The issue of human rights is an uncomfortable one for the industry to embrace, tougher than the environmental challenge that it's only begun address. It would take a very bold minister to tackle this thorny subject head on. And with the aid budget ring-fenced and cuts to ministerial jobs on the way, it's unlikely the Lib-Con coalition government will extend the powers of Mr Penrose let alone appoint a new minister.

Got a travel issue to raise? Email us at sundaytravel@independent.co.uk

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