Comment: Edinburgh’s high-carbon ad ban sends the wrong message

Barrhead Travel and the SPAA’s Jacqueline Dobson says action is misguided

With the general election looming, industries across the country are lobbying every political party in the hope of making their voices heard.

Travel is no different. I know there has been some fantastic ongoing engagement from our main industry bodies, as well as grassroots activity from business leaders and independent agents.

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From an agency perspective, a lot of my hopes for the next government centre on investment and high street regeneration. Despite years of promises from the UK and devolved nations, little progress has been made. Just look at the stats which show that one in six high street units remain empty across the country.

As is well documented throughout the industry, there is also an urgent need for attention on youth employment. The apprenticeship levy system is failing businesses – we need to see a system that works for everyone, irrespective of location.

As well as engaging with the larger parties at Westminster, I think we need to look closely at how other parties are influencing decisions. Change that impacts business is being made – not just at UK or devolved levels, but at a very regional level, with local councils introducing new policy.

Advertising ban

Last month, I was shocked to read about Edinburgh City Council’s advertising ban on ‘high-carbon’ products. At first glance, it supports the council’s ambition to accelerate the city’s journey to net zero by 2030. It’s a vision that I am certain all businesses support in principle.

The policy itself,however, will ban advertisements for airlines, airports and cruise holidays in council-owned spaces such as bus stops and billboards. It will also ban any sponsorship for events or partnerships. Other products bundled into this category include weapons and SUVs.

Aside from how bizarre it is being grouped in a policy that includes arms manufacturers, the ban has serious implications for travel providers and businesses. It also does not cover many industries that carry a much higher carbon footprint. Why then, must travel be singled out and demonised?

There seems to be little consideration for the thousands of local jobs supported by travel. And there was no engagement with relevant industry or business on the ban before it was approved. Of course, travel – particularly inbound tourism – is intrinsic to Edinburgh’s economy. Many of its city centre businesses are wholly reliant on visitors.

Mixed messages

Yet, in what seems to be a direct contradiction, the policy will no longer permit cruise lines or airlines to advertise in council-owned spaces – despite them accounting for much of the city’s tourism income, which totals about £1.2 billion a year.

It is surely also in direct conflict with Scotland’s national ambition to become more connected to the world. I’ve taken part in many round-tables and discussions with Scotland’s ministers – all of whom praise the importance of tourism to Scotland and outline their vision of growing global and domestic connectivity. Yet if airlines and cruise lines are being pushed out of advertising in its capital city, what sort of message does this send about our desire for global connectivity and growth?

So it seems significant to note who is voting for and influencing these policies. The ban was spearheaded by a Green Party councillor in a Labour-run council. This means we have to understand every party’s manifesto and what effect they’re likely to have on the future of travel.

Travel and tourism are not the enemies of a low-carbon future. You don’t have to look far in our industry to see some incredible innovation, whether that’s the solar farms close to home at Edinburgh airport, or airlines making serious investments in alternative fuels and efficient aircraft.

Whatever form our next government takes, ensuring that the message of how travel impacts our world for the better must be at the heart of our communication.

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