The travel industry has set the new government a series of demands ahead of this week’s general election.
With Thursday’s general election fast approaching, some of travel’s leading organisations have laid down their priorities for the new government and parliament.
While travel did not feature prominently across the major parties’ manifestos, outlined in last week’s TTG, this hasn’t stopped some of the industry’s top leaders from laying out what the new government needs to do to help outbound travel thrive over the next five years.
Some organisations, such as Abta and the Business Travel Association (BTA), have even produced their own manifestos setting out what they would like the next government to do – regardless of who (if anybody) wins on 12 December.
Meanwhile Aito and the Advantage Travel Partnership are among those calling for a dedicated tourism minister.
This election was supposed to be all about Brexit but the subject has not figured as prominently in the campaign as might have been expected when parliament finally agreed to go to the polls on 29 October.
A sense of exhaustion and frustration seems to have settled over the country when it comes to leaving the EU, with the overall sentiment of the travel industry being a desire for a “speedy” resolution to the impasse – while avoiding any sort of hard Brexit – to help boost consumer confidence.
Gary Lewis, chief executive of The Travel Network Group (TTNG), is among those calling for “a speedy execution” of Brexit.
“This is vital for the economy and consumer confidence,” says Lewis. “We need to move clearly and quickly through the final divorce details and bring certainty and clarity to the country.”
Alistair Rowland, chief retail officer – specialist business at the Midcounties Co-operative, adds: “On travel, we want Brexit concluded and a clear position on full protection against a no-deal Brexit.”
Meanwhile Clive Wratten, chief executive of the BTA (formerly the GTMC), says: “The government has been paralysed by Brexit over the past three years, which has revented serious discussions about the future needs of the business travel sector.”
Travel organisations have also called for other practical issues to be resolved, such as agreeing reciprocal rights to allow UK staff to continue being employed in the EU to look after British travellers, plus reciprocal health arrangements, not increasing mobile roaming charges, and ensuring visa-free travel to the EU continues.
The future of consumer protection for holidaymakers, and the Atol scheme in particular, has been thrown into more doubt after the government decided to repatriate all Thomas Cook passengers regardless of whether they were protected by Atol (exactly as they did with the Monarch collapse two years earlier).
Abta is calling for the new government to “consult industry on how best to protect consumers in the event of airline insolvency” as part of measures to “build confidence in travel” for consumers.
“A long-awaited solution is required to ensure there is clarity for consumers”
Luke Petherbridge, Abta’s head of public affairs, says: “One of our asks is to lead a consultation on a comprehensive regime of consumer protection in the event of further airline insolvencies.
“A long-awaited solution is required to ensure there is clarity for consumers, and fair and equal treatment for all companies who make flight seats available.”
Ken McLeod, outgoing president of the Scottish Passenger Agents’ Association (SPAA), agrees: “We should have overall consumer protection on a much wider scale to include all forms of transport overseas, with much simpler rules.”
Aito chairman Derek Moore goes further and says the solution to conundrum is for the new government to introduce a charge on all flights departing the UK.
Ensuring the UK outbound industry remains competitive is another key tenet of Abta’s manifesto, which has been sent to all candidates standing on Thursday.
Abta is making three demands on the incoming government to improve competitiveness: reduce air passenger duty to bring it “in line” with European competitors; invest in the UK’s rail network to improve access to the country’s airports and ports; and consider “targeted measures” to support SMEs (small and medium-sized enterprises) and regenerate high streets through business rates reforms and other initiatives.
On Abta’s latter point, Andy Stark, managing director of the Global Travel Group, says: “One of our key election demands is to take a more proactive approach to reducing business rates. Many of our member agents have the ambition to build their businesses on our high streets but high corporation tax and business rates dramatically inhibit their ability to turn this into a reality.”
Climate change should also be “at the top of the agenda”, with Abta urging the new government to “work in partnership with the travel sector to support efforts to contribute to climate change goals”.
The Advantage Travel Partnership has called for the government to “encourage people to travel responsibly based on reality and not on tabloid headlines”.
“Travel shouldn’t be singled out and vilified while other sectors are far bigger contributors to climate change but are flying under the radar,” added an Advantage spokesperson.
The BTA, meanwhile, is calling for legislation to modernise the UK’s airspace which will boost capacity and reduce delays, and should be coupled with “research and development of greener transport technologies”.
All these issues and demands should give the new government plenty to ponder from Friday morning. And the industry will have to work hard to ensure it gets its message over and isn’t drowned out by other interests in the coming months.