While the message from panellists taking part in the “Travel leaders speak: UK travel markets – what to expect in 2019” session was one of defiant perseverance, it was confirmed a great deal of time, energy and money had been poured into planning for Brexit by the country’s leading travel businesses.
Chris Browne, chief operating officer, easyJet, said such planning was vital because the airline would only continue to be competitive if it can keep its costs low.
“I do believe and hope that common sense will prevail… the message from all the negotiations we’ve had with the Commission and dealing with governments is that even in the event of a hard Brexit there will be a bare bones agreement in place,” she said.
“Having said that, we decided two years ago we’d rather be in charge of our own destiny.”
EasyJet is setting up an Austrian headquarters to operate EU flights after Brexit, and has relicensed its pilots onto European licences.
“The number of hours that have gone in to securing that structure has been phenomenal… and that is just to be able to do what we do today,” Browne added.
“I wouldn’t be sitting here so confident today had we not taken all those brave, big, bold decisions, though.”
Browne added while so far easyJet has not seen an impact on appetite to travel to Europe, “the sooner we get some certainty the better”.
Andrew Flintham, managing director, Tui UK and Ireland, said the main cost of the Brexit vote had been the “energy and effort” taken to “put in place that insurance policy when we could have been doing other things”.
“There’s definitely almost a lost opportunity,” he said. “But we can’t let it get in the way of an optimistic future.”
All the panellists agreed the only option for businesses was to maintain optimism.
“We haven’t let it get in the way of any investment decisions,” Flintham added.
“The business is carrying on full steam ahead because it has to, and the world will carry on after April 1.”
Steve Byrne, chief executive of Travel Counsellors, added: “I’d rather it [the outcome of the Brexit negotiations] be helpful, but if it is more difficult we’ll find a way… if you run a business your people need you to be up for it.”