Our traditional hotels are 'absolutely appalling', says tourism minister

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The Independent Travel

For politicians returning from this year's winter sun holiday, the need to book a hotel room for next autumn's party conference season must already be weighing heavily on the mind.

Yesterday, Kim Howells, the Tourism minister, spelt out the feelings of many of his colleagues when he described the traditional British seaside hotel as "absolutely appalling".

The years spent attending party conferences in Blackpool and Brighton in a damp room with an en-suite dripping tap appear to have brought Mr Howells to the end of his tether. "I am one of those people who have to go to political conventions in seaside resorts and, quite frankly, some of the accommodation is absolutely appalling," he told BBC Radio 4.

With millions of families preparing to book their holidays over the next few weeks, his criticism could not have come at a worse time for an industry that is already struggling from the effects of 11 September, foot-and-mouth disease and the strong pound.

But Mr Howells had no doubt that the British tourism industry was to blame for its own demise. "All too often it has thrown in the towel to the Floridas, to the Spains, when it came to properly packaging good, high-quality products. That has been the problem for a very long time," he said.

This summer, Tony Blair tried to set an example by taking his family for a brief stay in the West Country, but spoilt the effect somewhat by choosing Mexico and France for their main holiday. This week he and his wife went on holiday to Egypt. In a more conciliatory note, Mr Howells said he believed the tourism industry was now at least aware of the problems."What we have got to do is make sure that we have got a product and a system for allowing people to take holidays in this country which will make them come back," he said.

Mike Smith, of Ivyoak Ltd, which owns five hotels in Blackpool, responded: "He doesn't know what he is talking about. Blackpool is much better than Spain apart from the weather. But our food is much better.

"Hotels in Blackpool are good value, you get good rooms, civil service and everybody is friendly. We get an awful lot of rebookings which shows the guests like us."