‘Travel doesn’t punch its weight’: Interview with ABTA’s Luke Pollard

With only months to go before the UK faces a general election, ABTA is looking to step up its political lobbying.

The association is poised to fight on a range of issues – including financial protection – by lobbying not just Westminster but the European Commission. It also aims to improve the industry’s relationships with other associations, such as the European Travel Agents’ and Tour Operators’ Association.

Luke Pollard, who took up the role of head of public affairs in December 2009, was previously an account director with public affairs company Edelman. He believes the industry has the potential to be much more influential.

He said: “As a sector, sometimes we have been apologetic about why we are here. I don’t think we punch our weight at the moment. The industry hasn’t got its lobbying basics right and, on some occasions, it hasn’t made enough noise.”

Pollard believes the travel industry has failed to get the fundamentals of political lobbying right and has taken the wrong approach to influencing government policy. The ABTA brand is extremely strong and this is a “great advantage” that should be used, he argues.

He said: “I was in the House of Lords last month and when you mention ABTA they recognise the name. The best way for MPs to know about your organisation is by their experiences as a consumer. And, just like many consumers, they know that ABTA stands for good things.”

ABTA has a small group of MPs from the Commons and the Lords who are strong advocates for the industry.  Pollard said it is imperative for the industry to remain close to these MPs and ensure a regular flow of questions are put to the government during Parliamentary Questions. He also said that after the next election it is important to give newly elected MPs reasons to support the industry. 

He said: “Is tourism policy going to be an election issue? Probably not. Are jobs going to be an election issue? Almost certainly. If we want our issues dealt with in government we are going to have to link our issues to the agenda.”

This is why Pollard is in the process of recruiting a research and public affairs manager who will collate evidence that ABTA can present to the government on issues such as the number of people the industry employs, the amount of tax it pays and the contribution it makes to ‘UK plc’ and to destinations.

He added: “They should also know our position on issues such as runway expansion. I want to say we don’t support Air Passenger Duty because here is the evidence why it is not good for the sector and why this is not good for our destinations.”

He said the ABTA public affairs team was also looking at social media such as Twitter as a way to lobby.

Pollard added: “The ABTA we are going to see in six months’ time in terms of lobbying and communications will be very different. If we haven’t got our house in order as a lobbying sector, we could be on the receiving end of some policies that we are unable to fight. We have to make sure we are ready.”

European lobbying role

One of Pollard’s first tasks since becoming head of public affairs has been to lobby on the Package Travel Directive (PTD) consultation to ensure the European Commission is aware of the views of the UK travel industry. 

He said: “We have picked up our European lobbying quite dramatically and that includes taking on an agency in Europe to help with this. Part of the lobbying we have to do immediately is informing the MEPs, the commission officials and associations that there are different models across Europe. But the principles we are going for are the same.

“What has happened in the last 10 years or so is that we have been regulated by a directive that is confusing and implemented differently in different parts of Europe. Now we have a chance to say that we know poorly-worded directives are bad for business and will not allow this again.” 

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