Trade associations have written to the chancellor to request an urgent change to the Coronavirus Business Rates Relief Scheme to ensure thousands of UK tourism businesses are not left unsupported.

The Tourism Alliance has coordinated the letter to the chancellor of the exchequer on behalf of eight inbound and domestic tourism, English language teaching and transport trade associations as well as the Local Government Association.

It follows an interpretation of the guidance for the rate relief scheme which has seen many tourism businesses excluded. Guidance from the ministry of housing, communities and local government has said that any business which is not in premises which customers enter to make a purchase does not quality for help under the scheme.

The letter states that this interpretation of the government’s scheme is “both arbitrary and counter to the chancellor’s repeated statements that all businesses in the leisure sector are eligible for support”.

The letter adds: “Failing to support these businesses puts at risk many thousands of businesses that generate a large percentage of the £25 billion per annum that the UK earns from inbound tourism.”

On March 17, chancellor Rishi Sunak specifically extended the funding support to hospitality and leisure businesses. At the time he said: “Every single shop, pub, theatre, music venue and restaurant, and any other business in the retail, hospitality or leisure sector, will pay no business rates whatsoever for 12 months, and if they have a rateable value of less than £51,000, they will now get a cash grant as well.”

Kurt Janson, of the Tourism Alliance, said: “It is hard to see how these businesses do not qualify as part of the leisure sector in government eyes. If this is not a lack of understanding, it is a false economy: these businesses generate so much income and so many jobs for local communities that it will be devastating if they are forced under through lack of support.”

Tom Jenkins, chief executive of the European Tourism Association (Etoa), representing 1,200 organisations, said without funding inbound tourism businesses would collapse.

He said: “Spending by international visitors is a vital component in the UK service economy. Without them, shops, restaurants, theatres and attractions cease to be viable.

“Those companies that sell the UK throughout the world are vital export businesses. Over years they have invested in global distribution networks centred on expertise based in the UK. These export companies now face a total loss of business in 2020. For the UK to recover in 2021 they must be allowed to survive. With assistance they have a chance; without this, tens of billions of future income will disappear.”

Joss Croft, chief executive, UKInbound, said the travel and hospitality industry in the UK had been hit hardest and fastest due to the Covid-19 pandemic.

He believes the domestic tourism and hospitality sector will take the longest to recover, especially businesses entirely reliant on international tourism.

He added: “It is perhaps not widely understood in central or local government that although they don’t deal directly with the public, many tourism businesses such as tour operators, destination management companies and coach operators are a vital part of the industry supply chain who have also seen current and future business dry up completely overnight.

“Many are now desperate for further financial support in order to survive and rate relief and grants will go a long way to helping these businesses remain viable.”

More: Coronavirus: Travel businesses ‘face ruin’, warns Etoa boss

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