Abta’s chief executive says the same industry slowdown seen in March is repeating itself as the new Brexit date approaches.
“The Thomas Cook story has been the focus of attention over the past two weeks. But the other October story hasn’t gone away, and its drama continues to unfold, and gather pace,” said Mark Tanzer at the Travel Convention in Tokyo.
The UK is due to leave the EU on 31 October.
“If ever there was a case where the narrative has been at the extremes, it is the politics and media coverage of Brexit,” said Tanzer.
“It’s either a brave new world of its own, where glory and riches await, or a post-industrial wasteland of ruined businesses and ruined lives. We know it divides the country, and divides opinion within our industry, in fact within this audience.
“But we need to find our way back to the middle ground, because that is the place where consumer confidence is built, and the place where our future prosperity lies.”
Tanzer added Abta had been “studiously neutral” as to Brexit: good or bad.
“What we have been vocal about, to government, is the need to avoid a no-deal Brexit, with the uncertainty and disruption that will surely follow.
“As we stand here today, a no-deal Brexit is still one of the possibilities just days away, and we are having to tell members, and members of the public, to prepare for it.
“Not only is the threat of a no-deal exit costly in terms of preparation, but it is also very damaging to consumer confidence.
“In the run-up to the March deadline, we saw an industry slowdown, and the same pattern is repeating itself as we approach another cliff edge.”
Tanzer concluded: “I have no idea what the political outcome of Brexit will be… but I do know that afterwards we need to return to a new normal, where the tried-and-trusted processes and procedures of parliament are restored, and not subject to constant legal and media challenge.”
It came as delegates were warned a general election was becoming increasingly likely as the government moves towards a potential Brexit extension.
Peter Foster, Europe editor at The Telegraph, said if an extension was agreed a general election would probably be “inevitable”.
If so, he said to be aware that winter elections tend to be “unpredictable”. Foster also cautioned it would likely be “one of the nastiest and most divisive elections of modern times”.
“And if Boris Johnson was to win a majority – and the polls suggest he will – what will he do with that? Would he have any choice but to go through with a no-deal Brexit?” Foster added.
Despite this, he said the real outcome of a general election would most likely be a hung parliament.
Yes the numbers [currently] look great [for the Conservatives] but they haven’t factored in the constant pressure to deliver Brexit, do or die.
“What no one knows is how much that disappointment will turbo charge the Brexit vote. We’ve seen how volatile the opinion polls are – if I had to bet, my money would be on there being a hung parliament.”
In terms of what this would mean for travel, Foster insisted “the sky will not fall – people will still travel. But the pound in their pocket may not be worth as much as they would like.”