OPINION: Serious shortages in hospitality could impact UK tourism

We may all have to more barbecues if the frazzled UK hospitality industry doesn't attract more staff, says Andy Newman

We may all have to turn to barbecues if the frazzled UK hospitality industry doesn't attract more staff, says Andy Newman - Credit: Getty Images/iStockphoto

Just ten days after Midsummer’s Day, we enter July, start of the summer holiday season.

With a depressing inevitability, I am sitting in a jumper as I write this, looking out of the window at a grey, drab day, and wondering whether turning the central heating on in the middle of summer is an extravagance or a necessity.

With typical British straight-faced optimism, tomorrow marks the start of National Barbecue Week, an event which is actually ten days long, presumably to increase the chances of there being at least one day during the period which is vaguely sunny enough to justify getting the outdoor grill fired up.

I won’t bore you once again with my antipathy towards barbecues. If you want to stand in the howling wind burning terrible food when you have a perfectly functional kitchen indoors, then be my guest. Just try not to let the rain extinguish the flames.

Equally optimistic are the organisers of Ice Cream Month, which starts today. Now I’ll happily eat ice cream all year round, and I’m not quite sure that the stuff needs a whole month of promotion to persuade us to eat it, but good luck to them anyway.

These are just two of the many food awareness campaigns which have been crowbarred into July.

Next Wednesday sees World Chocolate Day (again, do we really need persuading?), the 13th is International French Fry Day (likewise), and the 16th is National Cherry Day.

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All of this points to the fact that July is the start of the summer holidays, and this year will be a summer like no other. With the rest of Europe and much of the world deciding – quite understandably – that they don’t want Brits coming to spread their Delta variant amongst their considerably less infected populations, holiday this year is almost certainly going to mean staycation.

That leads me to two pieces of advice. When packing, you will need more warm and waterproof clothing than you would otherwise pack; and you’d better have deep pockets, because holidaying in the UK is always considerably more expensive that you think it is going to be, or indeed it should be.

It’s no coincidence that the holiday season coincides with so many marketing initiatives designed to promote various foodstuffs. The two go hand in hand. Which is why, given the importance of the tourist industry to the economy of Norfolk and Suffolk, we should be very worried about the serious recruitment problem that our hospitality businesses are currently facing.

I was chatting with one of our tourism chiefs earlier this week, and she was at pains to point out just how central food and drink is to our tourism offer.

It is striking, she said, just how big a part eating and drinking plays in almost everybody’s holiday plans, whether it’s a day trip to the coast, a short town or city break, or a longer stay in the country.

So the fact that many of our local pubs, cafes and restaurants are having to restrict capacity even beyond that required by Covid restrictions, simply because they can’t get the staff to cook and serve, should be very concerning.

The problem has several causes, but it’s undeniable that the main one is Brexit.

When we said to the nearly 200,000 EU nationals who work in hospitality that we didn’t really want them in our country anymore, it wasn’t really surprising that they went home and didn’t come back.

And now we won’t let those who do want to come here and work to support our tourism industry in, because they don’t earn the arbitrary £30,000 per year which the government has decided somehow makes a foreign worker useful.

Maybe that’s why they are running National Barbecue Week. They know that the only way to overcome the chronic shortage of chefs is to get underqualified and often incompetent home cooks to prepare their own food.

It’s so much easier than acknowledging the value of hospitality workers and making an exception to the £30,000 rule, as they have done for other key workers.

And if the UK’s tourism industry – the nation’s biggest employer – suffers, well that’s just tough.

Anyway, happy holidays.