“Post referendum weaker pound boosts UK inbound tourist spending” reads a headline on the homepage of Travel Weekly UK this week. “Massive Brexit boost to tourism in UK sees 3 MILLION new tourists on way“, splashed the Express, doubtlessly aware of the irony, all the more so considering 70% of London’s hospitality workers are migrants.
Much less coverage, however, has been given to this week’s release of Unethical London, a report by the union Unite into the working conditions for many people in London’s booming hotel sector. The report’s opening page lays out its purpose, in the words of representatives of the union’s London Hotel Workers’ Branch. They state: “This is our story. It is not an academic report or an in depth study. It is what we experience day to day. It is how we feel. It is how we are treated. It is how we are disrespected and disregarded.”
According to Unethical London, tourism was booming in the UK capital long before any Brexit bounce. Some 65 million tourists visited the city in 2015, with average room prices up 7.3% to £160 per night. It writes that London occupancy is at its highest this decade at 84%, rising 1% in 2015 and 0.3% in 2016. And the revenue available per room is £122, with growth rising steadily for the seventh consecutive year, up 2.3% in 2015.
On the other hand, claims the report, 68% of hospitality workers are paid less than the London Living Wage. In terms of room cleaning, it writes, most major chains outsource their housekeeping departments, invoicing by the room rather than the hour, with the average payment by hotel to contract cleaning agencies in housekeeping departments being £3.88 per room. A room attendant will be expected to clean approximately three rooms per hour on £7.20 per hour – that’s a labour cost of £2.40 per cleaned room.
The report concludes with a comparison to the situation in the city that most compares with London in terms of tourist popularity – New York. In New York, workers are either directly employed or on permanent contracts. In London, most are subcontracted or on zero-hours contracts. In New York, they work a 35 hour week. London opted out of a 48-hour limit. And in New York, they are guaranteed 8 days six pay at full pay per year. Whereas in London, they receive no payment for their first three days off sick.
In one of the few articles so far to cover Unite’s new report, the Guardian further contrasted the London hotel sector with that of New York, explaining that in the American city hotels with fair policies on wages and conditions are able to display a kitemark to distinguish them from the competition. “Not too difficult for TripAdvisor et al to add to its criteria?” asked the Guardian. “It works for fair trade, so why not for many of the millions labouring in hotel and tourism?”
Why not indeed. The UK capital’s global image is at a sensitive time in the wake of the vote for Brexit. It’s why London’s new mayor Sadiq Khan has launched the #LondonIsOpen campaign, promoting the fact that: “Many people from all over the globe live and work here, contributing to every aspect of life in our city.”
For tourists looking for a cheap deal, London is clearly #open. Yet in today’s world of hashtag campaigns, social media marketing and online reputation management, those working for greater transparency and accountability can also ensure that “#Open means open” under their terms too.