Dozens of British tourism businesses are at "grave risk" of collapse if government fails to amend its "arbitrary advice" to local councils on eligibility for financial support, UKinbound has warned.
The trade association says many of its tour operator and destination management company (DMO) members have been denied business rates relief and grants by their local authorities because the Ministry of Housing, Communities and Local Government (MCHLG) does not consider these businesses part of the leisure industry.
This is despite the chancellor and the Treasury repeatedly stating all businesses in the leisure sector are eligible for support.
In April, the Local Government Association (LGA) updated its guidance to highlight some of the types of business that it considered to be part of the leisure industry, going beyond those explicitly outlined by HMCLG.
However, according to UKinbound, that guidance was "reluctantly withdrawn" following an intervention by MHCLG.
UKinbound chief executive Joss Croft raised the issue during a TTG Face To Face, during which he said HMCLG’s view was based on the fact consumers don’t necessarily visit premises to make a purchase from a tour operator or DMO.
"UKinbound is urging MHCLG to address this lack of understanding as to how leisure businesses operate," said the association, which has written to MHCLG urging the department to amend its guidance to local authorities on business rates relief so it "properly reflects the government’s intention to provide support for all leisure businesses".
“This arbitrary decision to instruct local councils to exclude certain tourism businesses from vital financial support is not only confusing and frustrating for all involved, it also shows a lack of understanding of how our industry operates," said Croft.
"For example, a travel agent that sells a customer a ticket for a tour is eligible for support, but the tour operator that actually takes the customer on the tour is not."
Croft said failing to support these businesses risked a large percentage of the revenue the UK earns from inbound tourism, which ran to £28.4 million last year.
“Furthermore, all local authorities benefit from a strong visitor economy; losing key businesses will significantly impact on their budgets, including their ability to raise income to reinvest in local public services," said Croft.
“My members are grateful for all the support the government has put in place for the tourism industry to date, such as the job retention scheme and financial loans. Many are now thankfully preparing to reopen their businesses in the coming weeks.
"However, tour operator members, who rely almost 100% on international visitors for their income, are now facing the likelihood of earning no income over the peak summer months due to uncertainty over international travel restrictions and UK quarantine measures, which will add further to their financial problems.
“We are therefore asking government to amend the guidance to local authorities on business rates relief and grants as quickly as possible so it fully reflects the government’s intention to provide support for all leisure businesses.”