Robert Kerr: We need less red tape to make most of tourism

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VISITSCOTLAND Expo 2013, the flagship event for the travel trade, takes place in Glasgow this week, when more than 250 exhibitors from across Scotland will showcase the best the country has to offer.

Hospitality and tourism is Scotland’s second largest employer, contributing £11 billion to the economy and employing more than 220,000 people in about 20,000 businesses. But if the sector is to prosper, it needs more help from the government rather than being hindered by unnecessary administrative burdens.

While there have been helpful interventions of late – such as the Chancellor’s scrapping of the alcohol duty escalator on beer and Scottish Government proposals for a minimum price on alcohol sold in supermarkets – all too often these initiatives are counteracted by measures that hinder our hospitality and tourism sectors.

Examples of plans that would act against the interests of the public, the hospitality sector and tourists are the proposed changes to liquor laws to give new powers to the police around football matches; restrictions on hoteliers’ ability to offer all-inclusive food and drink packages and proposals to allow local authorities to apply blanket conditions to licensed premises across a geographic area.

More helpful would be a reduction in the rate of air passenger duty (instead, the Chancellor announced in his Budget that it would increase at the highest level of inflation for two years) together with slashing VAT on visitor accommodation from 20 to 5 per cent to attract tourists and give the local economy the boost it so desperately needs.

Not only is a reduced rate of VAT for tourism an effective way to create jobs, it also enables hoteliers to pass on the benefit directly to their customers.

Scotland is preparing to welcome the world in 2014, when it hosts the second Year of Homecoming, the Commonwealth Games and the Ryder Cup. If we are to maximise the economic opportunities such events present, then we need more help from our governments rather than hindrance.

• Robert Kerr, chairman of French Duncan Chartered Accountants, is Scottish Accountant of the Year.