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COMMENT: What happens next at Westminster?

We wait on Friday morning.

The normal high-flyers from the travel industry have been very quiet with the lead-up to the voting.  I wonder why?  Is it a fear of the unknown!  The Civil Aviation Authority (CAA) likes to think of itself as non-political, its role being safety and the interests of the consumer. No comment from them. Canary Wharf, the current HQ will of course issue a welcome to the new Government.  

As for the major operators, nothing.  They were approached.  Transport, whether it is in the air, rail, roads or buses is clearly a hot potato.  Say the wrong thing now, try and influence the outcome of the election, and life might become difficult.  

Taxing is the current in verb!  

What will the new government do?  How will it deal with airport expansion?  Will it privatise the railways?  Labour published a 26-page transport document on 25 April. The Prime Minister announced the General Election 23 May.  A section called “A modern transport network” is part of the Labour Party’s manifesto.  A mention of potholes has been added, but no solution!  

Travel News Update offers two pieces that recently saw the light of day in the industry forum Travel Trade Gazette (TTG).  Take your pick. They raise interesting points.

Luke Petherbridge, Director of Public Affairs at ABTA – The Travel Association, has his say, followed by Martyn Sumners, Executive Director of AITO – The Specialist Travel Association.

Petherbridge's words were first published in TTG on 6 June.

"With the General Election now underway, it is expected that the main party manifesto documents will be published soon. What can we expect to see offered for the travel industry?

Let’s start by being clear. It is unlikely there will be specific references to travel, and there was never likely to be. Not because politicians don’t view travel as important, but because manifestos rarely focus in on individual industry sectors. This simply isn’t their purpose, rather manifestos serve to paint the intentions and aims of each party in broad brush strokes.

However, that certainly doesn’t mean we won’t get some important clues about the future of policies that will shape the future of our sector.

Within ABTA’s own manifesto document, we clearly set out three themes that will shape the future of the UK travel industry and which form the core of our engagement during the general election; positioning the UK as a leader in sustainable travel, promoting fulfilling careers in travel and tourism, and creating the conditions for travel businesses to compete successfully. Across each of these areas, I expect there will be policy commitments of relevance.

Delivering sustainability in a domestic environment

Taking sustainability first, I would be very surprised if each of the main political parties do not set out clear ambitions to make the most of the transition to net zero and to maximise the opportunities available in terms of jobs, economic growth, and regeneration

Our industry has been clear that one way we can do this is to deliver a domestic industry in sustainable aviation fuels (SAF). We also need to see government working in partnership with industry to deliver much needed investment in infrastructure, such as improved domestic transport links and the installation of shoreside power to deliver upon maritime net zero goals.

While the manifestos might be light on details, there will be important threads here to pick up with Ministers and officials, post-election.

Hit the ground running on education

Looking at promoting fulfilling careers in travel, we’ve already seen education take centre stage as a campaign issue and both parties will make commitments in this area that are worthy of note. Prime minister Rishi Sunak has repeated his commitment to review higher education courses, closing down those considered not to offer value for money.

There is a potential threat there for our sector, as we know tourism-related courses have previously come under scrutiny, which is why retaining higher education provision features in our list of priorities.

However, we do agree with the aim of improving access to apprenticeships, and we want to see improved used of existing levy funds. To that end, the Labour Party is committed to reforming this into a ‘Skills and Growth’ levy – which includes enabling levy funds to be used for an enhanced range of training programmes. We’ll almost certainly see more in relation to education and careers as the manifesto documents are published and again this is an area where we’ll want to hit the ground running with the next government.

The third and final theme in ABTA’s manifesto document was competitiveness, which includes a number of policy areas such as a balanced consumer protection regime, business rates reform, and improving our relationship with the European Union.

We know not all these issues will feature in party manifestos. Some – such as PTRs (Package Travel Regulations and ATOL reform – are too industry-specific and detailed for documents that seek to appeal to the country as a whole, and others – likely including youth mobility – are topics that are considered sensitive or contentious.

But again, there will likely be references of note. I would expect to see commitments to improving relations with our European neighbours, and indeed the shadow chancellor, Rachel Reeves, has given a speech outlining plans to seek improved agreements around mutual recognition – a topic that would benefit travel.

Reform of business rates, another topic we have raised in relation to supporting high street travel agents, is also expected to feature in Labour’s offering and could also be picked up by other parties too.

ABTA has always been clear that the aim of our manifesto document has never been to influence the offers made by the parties ahead of the election. Rather, our manifesto is an ongoing engagement tool to speak with new ministers, officials, and newly elected politicians across the political spectrum up to and beyond 4 July.

We know many priorities for travel won’t feature directly next week. But we have already been advocating these policies to the current government, and opposition parties, for many months and it doesn’t mean those asks aren’t being heard or won’t be acted upon by the next.

Lobbying isn’t simply about single events like manifesto launches. It’s about developing long-term relationships. ABTA will continue to work hard to ensure members views are represented, whoever emerges as the next government".

www.abta.com

From the TTG issue 27 June.  Martyn Sumners is Executive Director of AITO – The Specialist Travel Association.

"Summer has only just begun, but already, consumers are experiencing severe disruption, while travel agents and tour operators have been left picking up the pieces following issues and failings at several major UK airports.

At the same time last year travellers faced hundreds of flight cancellations due to air traffic control staffing issues at Gatwick airport, and then there was the wider Nats ATC system meltdown over the August bank holiday weekend, which is still being investigated.

Yet here we are again; after the UK’s eGates went down in the spring, we had scenes of chaos at Manchester airport at the weekend following a power outage, and before that, long queues at Birmingham airport which is facing challenges processing passengers seeking to clear security. Boss Nick Barton has apologised and vowed to fix the issues promptly.

Not only do these situations really knock consumer confidence, impacting Aito members’ bookings considerably, it also places immense pressure on agents and operators, who have to step in to help their customers.

Tour operators also continue to suffer considerable financial detriment, through no fault of their own, due to the onerous responsibilities placed on them by the Package Travel Regulations (PTRs) to ensure each package is delivered as promised even in the most challenging operational circumstances.

As highlighted in Aito’s response to the government’s call for evidence on updating the PTRs, these costs can be significant, particularly where flights and/or accommodation need to be rearranged.

Unlike the largest, vertically-integrated travel companies, our SME members don’t have large cash reserves immediately available, and neither do they have the resources – or the leverage – to seek significant compensation from the airports. Aito’s SMEs are therefore left to suffer cash flow issues due to the failings of third parties.

This highlights a huge disparity within the travel industry. Consumers who book directly with airlines will often be recompensed by the airline or their travel insurer.

’UNFAIR AND UNEQUAL BURDERS’

However, for those who – very sensibly – prefer the peace of mind that comes with a package booking, such claims are often declined and referred back to the tour operator to deal with under its legal obligations. This is exceptionally unjust, and makes no sense whatsoever.

Aito members’ customers have paid for travel insurance to protect them against any and all such potential risks, so why should the tour operator concerned bear the insured loss rather than the insurance company?

The PTRs are clearly responsible for foisting such unfair and unequal burdens on SME, such as those that belong to the Aito community.

We urge the next government to act quickly to deliver long-overdue reform of the PTRs, which currently stymie the success and growth of travel’s SMEs – which is ultimately to the detriment of the very consumers the rules are designed to protect".

 www.aito.com

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