Only 25 months since the last U.K. general election, the country will be at it again on 8 June, but do not expect hotels and tourism to be on page one of the political parties’ manifestoes.
Upon arriving home from a vacation in Iceland (walking around the wonderfully named mountain of Öxnadalsheiði, where there is no WiFi connection), I was surprised to see my country, the United Kingdom, in the midst of a general election campaign, with the vote being on 8 June.
Did we not just have one? It was boring, I remember. Then we had, in my mind, an annoying referendum on membership in the European Union, which voters decided not to continue.
Most of the hotel industry was against leaving the European Union, most likely due to the global nature of our business and the need to staff our hotels with suitable employees, who all seem to come from outside the U.K.
So, anyway, here we go again. (I should add that the ruling party in the U.K. can elect to have a general election any time it wants. This time, it appears quite obvious, Prime Minister Theresa May wants to shore up legitimacy going into discussions on what it means for the U.K. to leave the EU, and to have a fuller hand in trade-deal negotiations. May was elected PM only by her own political party, not by voters, following the post-referendum resignation of her predecessor, David Cameron.)
What should hoteliers be thinking about, if their political bias is wholly dependent on likely affects to the hotel industry?
There are several major issues, and they go back to Brexit on the whole. To make things more confusing, the main opposition party, Labour, appears lukewarm about continued membership in the EU, too. Only the Liberal Democrats party is fundamentally behind remaining, and the LibDems were decimated during the last election.
Again, I write this for the benefit of non-Brits.
Findings from The Recruitment & Employment Confederation indicate that the U.K. has seen the sharpest fall in 16 months in the number of available candidates for job positions. The group worries this will become more acute as the U.K. gets closer to the leaving the European Union.
Hoteliers in the U.K. will likely have more intense struggles to find able employees, although the much-praised apprenticeship scheme introduced last month might address the issue to some degree.
A huge argument is brewing over the rights of EU citizens living and working in the U.K., as well as U.K. citizens living and working in the EU. Both feel their status is being used as a political chess pawn.
The British Hospitality Association is a vocal supporter of having EU employees’ rights recognized, and it also wants visa-free travel from the EU, arguing that mainland Europeans should not have further excuses for not wanting to use the wonderful services of the U.K. hotel industry.
Sadly, the competing political parties are not likely to prioritize the BHA’s other long-held campaign to have value-added/sales tax reduced to 5% from 20% on hotels and attractions so it can again be competitive with mainland Europe.
Food and beverage
Issues and concerns about F&B also come back to Brexit, or at least the economic jitters we have seen since the referendum. A report in The Independent newspaper said food prices in March (the last data available) rose at their fastest pace in more than three years. And there is no intelligence I have seen that suggests imported champagne, caviar, chorizo and camembert will get any cheaper in real terms if the pound sterling remains at its current rate and perhaps tariffs are added to trade deals on an exit of the EU’s Common Agricultural Policy.
The manifestoes of the principal parties are to be released soon, although the Labour Party one somehow was leaked on 11 April.
Chances are none of the above will feature much in any of them, with the clamor being all on Brexit, albeit without much additional flavor as to what Brexit means.
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