Tourism minister Margaret HodgeOn the eve of the UNWTO Summit at World Travel Market on climate change, UK tourism minister Margaret Hodge speaks exclusively to Travel Weekly about the travel industry’s efforts to reduce its carbon footprint.

Leading tourism figures have described Government policy on the environment as “incoherent”. Do you sympathise?

It is not for the Government to deny people the right to travel or deny the industry the opportunity to respond to demand. We need to reflect people’s desire to travel and the opportunities this brings, but also minimise the impact of aviation growth.

Are you satisfied with the travel industry’s efforts to reduce its contribution to global warming?

The industry is doing a lot, but more can be done. Aircraft technology is improving, airports are taking measures to minimise emissions, and some parts of the industry are offering carbon-offsetting schemes.

Would you describe carbon offsetting as the answer to climate change or a tool used to spread awareness?

Offsetting is not the only answer and is just one tool in combatting climate change. It is up to all of us to reduce energy use.

Offsetting can help people to appreciate their impact on the environment. This is essential if we are to meet the Government’s carbon reduction targets.

Is an increase in environmental taxes on travel inevitable?

Air Passenger Duty has played a valuable role in signalling the environmental costs of travel to passengers and we will replace APD with a per-aircraft duty in 2009.

This will create a better correlation with the distance travelled and encourage more airlines to fly at full capacity.

Are you in favour of a room tax on tourists to contribute to local government spending on infrastructure?

This is not a good idea. The industry would be hit hard, and tourism brings important benefits to local communities in terms of jobs and money.

What do you say to the charge that the Government fails to recognise the economic importance of tourism when setting policy?

I disagree. This is an £85 billion-a-year economic sector. We make sure tourism’s importance is accounted for in our policies and in policymaking across Whitehall.

We’ve made sure local authorities have planning guidance that allows tourism businesses to develop, while protecting the environments that attract visitors.

The Government is investing £500 million a year in training those who work in the hospitality sector. It is these initiatives that will help us to nurture and develop tourism. 

Why are you cutting VisitBritain’s budget?

There is no denying this spending round has involved some hard choices. For the Department of Culture, Media and Sport it meant deciding how we can best support all of our sectors, and best prepare for 2012, while getting good value for the taxpayer’s investment.

No one is questioning the importance of tourism, or the professionalism of VisitBritain as a marketing organisation. But we’ve decided we have to redirect some resources into other areas. These areas – particularly the Cultural Olympiad and continued free access to national museums – are important in encouraging both domestic and inbound tourism.

We have asked VisitBritain to undertake a strategic review. We want to tackle the duplication between what Government spends on marketing and what local authorities, the Regional Development Agencies and devolved administrations spend. We want to ensure VisitBritain focuses its efforts on new and expanding markets.