Destination Coventry’s inaugural Annual Tourism Conference

The hospitality, tourism and leisure sector has to tackle two major issues as the industry continues to emerge from the Covid pandemic, a major conference has heard.

Around 100 leaders from across the sector attended Destination Coventry’s inaugural Annual Tourism Conference at the Manufacturing Technology Centre (MTC) and heard from a range of industry speakers and panellists.

The event – hosted by Mash Media editorial director Martin Fullard – looked at a series of topics affecting the sector with a particular focus on recruitment and skills challenges and sustainable tourism.

A panel on recruitment and skills challenges, chaired by Fleur Sexton DL – CEO and co-founder of training company PET-Xi, analysed many of the issues facing businesses around hiring and retaining staff and how organisations were tackling those head on.

She cited her own example – Metropolis Restaurant in Coventry – that was devised as Coventry’s only training restaurant and opened to give people struggling to get into employment experience of working in hospitality and offer opportunities to go on to find jobs in the industry.

She said: “For too long the only focus was on qualifications and not skills. We wanted to help change that emphasis and give people the experience they needed to see if this was a career that was right of them.

“It’s worked incredibly well and that’s because of the collaboration that exists in Coventry and Warwickshire. Coventry City Council, the business community and other organisations have really supported us because they could see the issue we are solving.
“That level of collaboration has to exist if we are to come up with innovative solutions to what, if we are being honest, is an age-old problem, made worse by Brexit.

“The panel session really highlighted some of the issues we have all faced since Covid but it was great to be able to showcase some of the solutions too. We have to change perceptions of the industry and by working together we can do that.”

Destination Coventry launched in 2021 and includes established brands Visit Coventry and Conference Coventry and Warwickshire. Since launching, it has been working with stakeholders across the hospitality, leisure and tourism sector to support the industry’s needs.

A second panel, led by Guy Bigwood – chief changemaker and CEO of GDS Movement, heard how conference and events organisers are starting to make sustainability a key criteria for choosing a venue and destination.

He said: “We need to start to move beyond sustainability, and use events and visitors to help regenerate Coventry. How can we collaborate more to use tourism to be a powerful catalyst in service to the local environment, economies and communities.”

Councillor Jim O’Boyle cabinet member for jobs, regeneration and climate change, said: “I have long believed that the private sector is best placed to deliver tourism and conferencing, so I was delighted to be able to initiate the process that saw Destination Coventry set up. We have created a vision for the future of the city that is aspirational and practical, and recognises the importance of partnership. Coventry is an innovative city and tourism has a key role to play in skills development and job creation and it was clear to me that everyone at the event recognised that and was keen to play their part.”

Paul Jones, managing director of Destination Coventry, said: “It was great to host our first tourism conference and to use the time we had with so many great leaders from across the region and beyond to look at major issues facing the industry.

“The message I took away was that recruitment and skills, and sustainability are going to dominate our thinking for the foreseeable future but that Coventry and Warwickshire’s commitment to collaboration and innovation put us in a prime position to solve some of these big challenges.”