Ufi Ibrahim, CEO of The British Hospitality Association, talks with Sydney PauldenUfi Ibrahim, CEO of The British Hospitality Association, is proud to tell me that it has around 40,000 members. That however, is just a fraction of the number of people in the UK who earn their living in this industry.
‘We are the sector with the biggest number of employees’, she states and that fact underpins a major objective in her mission. She is working towards gaining proper recognition of the role that hospitality plays in the country’s economy. ‘To listen to politicians’, she suggests, ‘you wouldn’t imagine that hospitality is a bigger employer than banking, manufacturing or engineering. We embrace hotels, restaurants, visitor attractions, conference venues. I sum it up as “UK tourism on the ground”. That is everything in hospitality bar the airlines.’
The BHA was founded in 1906, but five years ago Ufi was invited to become its head in order to create a climate of change. She has had a big impact, but still -has a lot more to do. One of the tools she has initiated is the annual Hospitality & Tourism Summit. The fourth is to take place on 30th June 2015 at Novotel West conference hotel in Hammersmith, West London. Last year there were 600 attendees. This year the delegates will number 700.
‘We have to grow’, says Ufi, obviously with bigger and bigger targets in mind for future years. ‘Upwards and onwards’, she remarks.
‘I see it’, she says, ‘as the Davos of the hospitality industry. This is where the people in the sector come face to face with policymakers; with Government and municipal leaders. These are the people who must take account of our industry when they make their plans. And’, she emphasises, ‘everyone in this business should think about coming along, because it will give them an opportunity to hear what is being thought up for the future and also the chance to make their own views known and influence those future decisions. ‘Government and other policymakers must be urged to keep the interests of the hospitality sector at heart’.
Ufi stresses that the hospitality industry is very fragmented, with so many businesses and of such different sizes, but that that makes the sector all the more valuable to the country as a whole. It also makes it all the more imperative that the members of the industry come together to present a united front. ‘Hospitality takes in’, she points out, ‘the 2012 London Olympics and the Queen’s Diamond Jubilee, as well as UK families out for the day or groups of tourists coming from around the world. We are the Visitor Economy and, very possibly because of the lack of reliable and comprehensive statistics, we have been under-rated.
‘Last year, ready for our Summit last June, the Tourism Council was launched. This is a high-powered joint body aiming to put things right. This is how policymakers and members of the hospitality industry can together think in terms of how to benefit the UK through our industry’.
Ufi is a great believer in events where people can gather and network.
‘There are so many conferences’, she says, ‘that people might wonder why they should attend another one. I see the Hospitality and Tourism Summit as providing many benefits to an attendee. Just one business card exchanged can produce a tangible benefit. One conversation can lead to connections with new people leading to future opportunities. Any one new idea can be an inspiration for a significant change.’