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The BBC's Reeta Chakrabarti
"Pity criticism at a sensitive time can lead to an almighty row"
 real 56k

Friday, 13 July, 2001, 15:12 GMT 16:12 UK
Tourism minister attacked over hotel comments
Lambs
Foot-and-mouth has impacted heavily on tourism
The UK's new tourism minister Kim Howells has come under fire from British hoteliers for saying that they were ripping off their customers and paying slave wages.

Dr Howells, who also said he preferred guest houses in Berlin, was accused of being insensitive to an industry still blighted by the effects of foot-and-mouth.


It is bad timing and insensitive when we are trying to promote Britain for the good of the country and the industry

Bob Cotton
And he was attacked by shadow culture secretary Peter Ainsworth who branded the comments "disgraceful".

Dr Howells, interviewed by Caterer and Hotelkeeper magazine, said: "I'm very suspicious when people say what's wrong with our industry is entirely due to foot-and-mouth - I don't think it is, actually."

He argued that tourism was a low-wage, low-skill economy, and "any business paying slave wages to its employees shouldn't be in business".

But Bob Cotton, chief executive of the British Hospitality Association, said the comments were inappropriate as the industry tried to attract tourists back to the countryside in the wake of the foot-and-mouth epidemic.

Kim Howells
Mr Howell's remarks were greeted with anger
"It is bad timing and insensitive when we are trying to promote Britain for the good of the country and the industry," he said.

Mr Cotton contrasted the government's decision to commit 14.4m in emergency funding to the industry with Dr Howell's remarks.

He estimated the London tourist industry, which is currently suffering the knock-on effects of foot-and-mouth, could be 2 billion down this year.

Dr Howells, previously competition and consumer affairs minister, wants to see an end to single-room supplements and "rip-off" telephone call charges, said the magazine.

And he expressed irritation at shoddy furnishings and old-fashioned paintings on hotel walls.

"Very often they suffer from a blight of sameness and compare very badly with some places that I've been to - for example, Berlin, which is transforming itself," the minister said.

'Disgraceful'

For the Conservatives, Peter Ainsworth said: "It is disgraceful that the government should make such insensitive comments when the estimated decline in the domestic and overseas markets could reach billions of pounds.

"Do they realise people's livelihoods are at stake? Do they think these comments won't be read in America?"

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See also:

06 Jul 01 | UK
Tourism figures offer hope
05 Apr 01 | UK Politics
Tourism 'devastated' by crisis
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