David Cameron has pledged to make Britain one of the top five tourist destinations in the world.
The Prime Minister said the income generated from the £115 billion-a-year tourism sector was "fundamental" to rebuilding the UK's shattered economy.
In a speech at the Serpentine Gallery in London, he accused the former Labour government of neglecting the industry.
He said it was now essential to take the opportunity offered by a decade of major sporting events in the UK - starting with the 2012 London Olympics - to restore its fortunes.
"For too long tourism has been looked down on as a second class service sector. That's just wrong," he said.
"Tourism is a fiercely competitive market, requiring skills, talent, enterprise and a government that backs Britain. It's fundamental to the rebuilding and rebalancing of our economy.
"It's one of the best and fastest ways of generating the jobs we need so badly in this country. And it's absolutely crucial to us making the most of the Olympics and indeed a whole decade of great international sport across Britain."
Mr Cameron said that between 2008 and and 2009, the UK had fallen from sixth to 11th place in the World Economic Forum's travel and tourism competitiveness ratings.
If it was now to take advantage of the "huge economic opportunity" that was opening up and break into the top five, it needed to improve its international competitiveness, he said.
"We must not let these opportunities slip through our grasp. But quite frankly, right now, we're just not doing enough to make the most of our tourism," he added.