The Notebook is a column where interesting people say interesting things. Today, it’s hotel industry giant Sir Rocco Forte, chairman of Rocco Forte Hotels
My hotels in Italy, Germany and Belgium are booming. But occupancy in London is not what it was last year nor what we saw pre-pandemic.
Official statistics bear this out, showing that inbound visits to the UK were down seven per cent in October to December last year, compared with the same period in 2019, and that trend has continued in the current year.
To my mind, there is one clear factor driving this. It is the hated ‘tourist tax’ introduced by Rishi Sunak when he was Chancellor.
Shopping has traditionally been one of the most popular reasons cited for visiting the UK. Certainly, many of my guests, particularly those from the US, China and the Middle East, have always liked to visit our brilliant shopping districts. Indeed, British business used to make £3.5bn in tax-free sales to tourists every year.
This wasn’t just a boon to London, but other major cities and out-of-town shopping villages – or indeed anywhere tourists went and spent their money.
Now tax-free shopping has been scrapped in the UK but is still available in every country in the EU. Effectively, we have suddenly started charging 20 per cent more than other countries do for exactly the same goods. Paris, Milan and Berlin can’t believe their luck!
How frustrating to see that a great British brand like Mulberry has just closed the doors of one of its flagship stores as a direct result.
I have organised an open letter to the Chancellor signed by hundreds of business chiefs from across the retail, hospitality and tourism sectors calling for a rethink. Dozens of senior MPs – including two former chancellors – have also backed the campaign.
The government should be doing everything it can to stimulate growth at a difficult time for the economy. It should start by restoring tax-free shopping. Keeping the tourist tax in place is an appalling own goal for the UK.
Journos are jealous of Bozza
There is a visceral hatred of Boris Johnson amongst the Remainer contingent and in parts of the media. The latter stems, I suspect, from the fact that many journalists are jealous of his success. Boris, of course, started his career as a scribbler but went on to achieve more than most.
As prime minister, he delivered Brexit with a parliament that was trying to stop him and won a huge election victory. He has not helped himself, but he has been treated disgracefully by the establishment and his party. He will be back.
Counteracting climate hysteria
I am enjoying the book Not Zero, by Ross Clark. It’s not anti-climate change at all, but it seeks to debunk the mad rush to reach net zero targets. Clark argues that the hysterical language we hear about climate change is self-defeating.
He notes that while there is good evidence that average global temperatures have risen by just over 1C over the past 150 years, the claims that we are headed soon for an ‘unliveable Earth’ are irresponsible.
There is certainly no point in bankrupting ourselves, particularly when a third of the world’s greenhouse gas emissions come from China and just one per cent from the UK. The book is a must-read for anybody interested in the climate debate – and everyone in government too.
Hip, hip, hooray
“I don’t feel I am trying to cling on. I just want to play. I love it.” The words of Andy Murray, who has clawed his way back into the world’s top 40 at the age of 36 with a metal hip.
Murray recently won two singles titles on grass, his first since his 2016 Wimbledon win. His delightful family were there to see his triumph, the first time his four children have watched him lift a trophy.
Murray has become a byword for resilience and determination and I wish him all the best for Wimbledon.
Got your back? Not so sure…
Rishi Sunak recently declared in a meeting with business leaders: “I’ve got your back.”
Is this true? He has overseen an increase in National Insurance which is a tax on jobs. While George Osborne cut corporation tax at every budget, Sunak has just hiked it from 19p in the pound to 25p – something that will cost businesses £20bn a year.
He instituted a windfall tax on energy companies which discouraged investment. He has retained the surcharge on banks’ profits. He is destroying the rental market with regulations on landlords.
Nothing has been done to seize the opportunities of Brexit by deregulating to boost the City. Companies would now rather be listed in New York than London. We are now facing an imminent recession which his chancellor says is okay. We need a properly pro-enterprise government.