Britain will need a bigger travel sector delegation in Brussels if it is to exert the same level of influence it currently does on the industry, delegates heard.
The UK travel trade has seen a year of unprecedented regulatory change from the continent, including the new Payment Services Directive (PSD2), the General Data Protection Regulation and the new Package Travel Directive.
Abta’s director of financial protection and financial services John de Vial told the conference while the UK would be able to “stay at the table” post-Brexit as an associate member of ECTAA, the European Travel Agents and Tour Operators Association, it would not have “the same voting rights or influence” going forward.
“ECTAA will continue to be very important to us, whatever happens with Europe,” said de Vial. “I’m told the UK delegation to Brussels will actually increase in size post-Brexit rather than reduce because you just have to work that much harder when you’re not around the table. I think our global participation in associations is likely to increase.”
de Vial said while it has only been five months since implementation of the UK’s new Package Travel Regulations (PTRs) in July, the shake-up had resulted in some interesting trends in terms of how businesses were choosing to operate under the new regime.
He said despite the new Atol regulations, which require operators selling in the UK to be registered here and adopt a British financial protection model, overseas Abta members were sticking with Abta to facilitate some of their administrative requirements.
He added Abta had been working closely with Aito on the issue of “third country” tour operators, those based outside the European Economic Area, who now face more barriers to selling in the UK.
“This is an area where we both see a lot of difficulties with other regulated tour operators,” said de Vial. “But in fairness to the good suppliers in that market, we’ve got 29 who are members and that’s £1.1bn turnover coming through the UK regulatory system from people outside of Europe.”
On the broader issue of financial protection in travel post-PTRs but pre-Brexit, de Vial added: “At the end of any [Brexit] transition period, whether that’s in two years time or four years time, what’s almost certainly going to go is mutual recognition.
“So people in this room who want to continue to target sales in other member states are probably going to have to go back to getting involved in those systems. We need to work out how the schemes inter-relate with each other, where the gaps are and where the overlaps are.
“I think, for better or worse, these institutions are going to become more important to us once we’re out and we don’t have the same influence because we’re going to have to work that much harder to interface with them.”