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Tourism investors say working with government is like “dancing with a gorilla”

Written by editor

Private sector entrepreneurs who invest millions in travel have asked tourism ministers at WTM London – the event where ideas arrive – to cut red tape and help them support new business ventures.

Speaking at the UNWTO and WTM Ministers’ Summit, a panel of technology investors told the politicians that they want a ‘framework for innovation’.

Alexis Bonte – who is Venture Partner at investment firm Atomico and Chief Executive and Co-Founder of games company eRepubliks Lab – said: “Working with government is like dancing with a gorilla. Make it more efficient.”

He said if governments “flip flop”, then investors don’t know what the rules and regulations are, so they are less likely to put money into new technology firms.

Lio Chen – Managing Director at Travel & Hospitality Center of Innovation in the venture capital firm Plug and Play – used the example of the General Data Protection Regulation (GDPR) which came into force earlier this year in Europe.

“It’s a great thing in the long run but in the short term it left investors with butterflies in their stomach,” he cautioned.

He asked ministers to incentivise the top five corporations in their country to work with start-ups and foster innovation.

Katherine Grass, Venture Partner, Thayer Ventures, told ministers: “It needs to be easy for start-ups to grow and expand – if rules change too quickly, investors will hesitate to invest.”

Danish investor Morten Lund, Founder and Chief Executive of Poshtel, added: “I want a framework for innovation…what is hard is when the political wind changes too fast.”

He also urged ministers to boost sustainability and help tackle the world’s problems such as rising carbon emissions.

Michael Ellis MP, the UK’s Tourism Minister, agreed there are some lessons that politicians can learn from the business sector but added: “Some things need regulation. They [investors] want a hands-off approach but the public expect things to happen in certain way.

“It’s a question of balance, and it’s a challenge to get that right, especially in technology.”

He said venture capitalists sometimes avoid dealing with governments, saying: “If there was more mutual trust, things might move more smoothly.”

The minister added: “Technology can help to get people out to explore the wider countryside, such as our Discover England Fund, which promotes areas outside London, and we’re getting millions of visitors.”

He also said he liked Chen’s idea of encouraging larger technology companies to engage with start-ups to boost ideas, new people and investment.

Dr Mario Hardy, Chief Executive of the Pacific Asia Travel Association, agreed, saying: “Young start-ups need more support from government.”

However, he said few countries in Asia have the right ecosystem to help, and thought that governments can be slow to adapt to innovations.

Moderated by Richard Quest of CNN International, the debate also considered the challenges and opportunities faced by the tourism industry in Africa – although the investors on the private sector panel admitted none of them had yet invested in African ventures.

Quest rounded off the summit by asking ministers to mention the tourism highlight of their particular country.

The final word went to Ellis, as the minister of the country hosting WTM London, who said: “Visit the UK and you visit the world.”

This was the 12th ministers’ summit at WTM London and Simon Press, Senior Exhibition Director of WTM London, said the event has led the agenda over the years, highlighting issues such as overtourism; the impact of sporting events on tourism; destination branding; safe and seamless travel; and responsible tourism.

This year has tackled the topic of technology – reflecting the new Travel Forward event, which is co-located with WTM London. The summit also has a different format, with a panel of private sector leaders, followed by a panel of ministers.

“WTM is the event where ideas have arrived over the past four decades. We bring the public and private sector together in a unique format, and hope it will deliver real change in the industry,” said Press.

“The overall picture is extremely positive, and if tourism is to grow, then technology will play a key role.

“We have a packed room for this summit, which demonstrates the importance of the topic.”

eTN is a media partner for WTM.