How can we harness the power of hospitality to revitalise post-Brexit Britain?
In the wake of Brexit, its hard to ignore the tough challenges facing hospitality. But is the sector perfectly positioned to lead the way in helping reshape and rebuild the UK economy?
In the wake of Brexit, its hard to ignore the tough challenges facing hospitality. Yet, its show of resilience over the past past few years could mean there are unique opportunities too. As an industry, we may even be perfectly positioned to lead the way in helping reshape and rebuild the UK economy.
The UK's economy – the world's sixth-largest by nominal Gross Domestic Product (GDP) – is home to a diverse and dynamic economy. Sectors including Financial Services, Manufacturing, Professional Services, through to Technology and Digital, Creative, through to Healthcare and Life Sciences, are all recognised for making significant contributions to the UK's GDP. Tourism and Hospitality, however, often get less credit for its contribution. This overlooks the fact that the hospitality industry alone contributes a healthy 4% into our GDP, provides employment to 10% of the UK workforce, and is host to over 30 million international visitors each year.
The UK Economy and the Vital Role of Hospitality
So, how come hospitality doesn't get the same recognition, arguably even respect, as professions like Construction or Life Sciences? Indeed, one of the recurring themes across the whole of the first series of our podcast series, Recipes for Success, is that of hospitality being a career choice of last resort; something one falls into if they’ve failed at everything else, or do as a stop gap onto something or somewhere else.
Fortunately, I believe we're at a tipping point. Hospitality is gradually beginning to be recognised as a career of first choice, something we already see established in other countries such as France and Italy on the Continent, or the US where industry veterans, who have been content in making career out of being service staff, greet you and take your experience as a customer and the service they offer very seriously. However, despite sensing a change in the headwinds here in the UK, there is still some way to go to shifting our mindset and truly valuing hospitality as more of a career of choice and not a fallback.
Government's Role: Cultivating Diversity and Innovation
The government has an important role to play, and with it a unique opportunity to help empower our vital sector. We saw during the pandemic a political will along with some packages to support the sector, but this all came to a halt once lockdowns were eased doing little to invest in the long-term health of hospitality. Critical government interventions could include reducing taxes and business rates, providing grants, as well as investment support in infrastructure.
The sector could also benefit significantly from two additional areas of support: immigration and innovation.
Robust immigration policies are vital to help foster a full and diverse workforce – such diversity not only enriches our industry but broader society too. Diversity is a spice that gives our hospitality sector its unique flavour and strength. We need immigration policies that facilitate the entry of both skilled and unskilled workers into the hospitality industry, both enabling the sector to meet its staffing needs as well as maintain its rich diversity.
Next, we must encourage an environment of innovation and entrepreneurship. Policies should reward brave entrepreneurs willing to take risks and build new ventures. Discrete short-term measures like abolishing the entrepreneurs' £10m lifetime tax allowance isn't the answer. Instead, let's reduce red tape and support businesses to grow and balance out the risk/reward for the individuals taking the big risks. Surely, the long-term benefits of a thriving entrepreneurial ecosystem will far outweigh the short-term cost?
Broadening the Impact: Food, Services, and Society
A thriving hospitality industry is more than the sum of its core function; I firmly believe that the long term benefits of this investment could benefit our children and their children for generations to come.
Food and services education must become core subjects at all levels of our education system; including recognised training that young people are inspired to take up. And we could even go further. By integrating food and services education into core subjects in the school curriculum, we can create a society that once again understands nutrition along with those critical ‘soft’ people skills that are not taught in schools today.
The impact could be profound. Armed with a renewed knowledge and appreciation for food and nutrition, we would build healthier communities as such initiatives would have a ripple effect on the wider health and behaviour across society. Understanding the intricacies of serving other people, we would nurture a society that cares about each other, and sees true value and pride in cleanliness, community as well as sustainability. Surely such skills will only make the UK a more congenial place to live and visit?
Putting the hospitality industry at the centre of post-Brexit Britain is more than just an economic decision. It’s a sector that serves others, that is passionate about delivering great experiences and understanding what makes people tick; made even more potent by a clear commitment to diversity, innovation, health, and community. It is now time to acknowledge the hospitality industry's incredible resilience and endurance in the face of challenges and begin to appreciate its potential for future growth. With a view of the bigger picture, supported by effective policies and the right mindset, I am confident that our hospitality industry will not only meet the challenges of post-Brexit Britain but will become the cornerstone of what we stand for; flourishing whilst enriching both our economy and society in the process.
So, let's raise a toast to our hospitality industry and the essential role it plays in the prosperity and vibrancy of the UK. Here's to the future. Cheers!
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