Luther Pendragon director Mark WattsI recently asked MPs and British MEPs to comment on the profile of the travel and tourism industry.

Reactions ranged from “no profile” to “low profile”. Some could not recall a single contact (don’t worry, I won’t name and shame).

Others had little contact in the past, but felt engagement was improving. No doubt engagement had occurred, but the important thing is that they could not remember.

It is perhaps a frightening thought that in the absence of information from the industry, many MPs and MEPs base their knowledge of the industry on their latest holiday.

For example, it is no secret that the EU introduced stringent denied-boarding regulations because so many key officials and politicians were bumped off flights.

But before readers get too depressed, they should bear in mind three things.

First, views are not negative. Most politicians I spoke to felt positive about the industry, even if they did not know why.

Second, the travel industry recognises that the lobbying effort has been too low-key and is already doing something about it. 

Third, the industry is, above all, a source of jobs and tax revenues, now and in the future. Britain’s recovery and future prosperity depends, to a significant extent, on tourism and travel.

So those involved in travel must focus less on what are perceived to be internal issues and focus more on the contribution to UK plc, the EU and beyond. In these difficult times it is that economic contribution that will resonate with politicians.

Once the industry as a whole gains the recognition it deserves, politicians will want to work with it to overcome the barriers to growth and success.
In Brussels the door is wide open. Under the Lisbon Treaty, the EU can, and will, act on tourism. The travel industry needs to shape the emerging agenda to ensure it is enabling, not stifling. If it doesn’t, plenty of others will. 

In the UK the general election and a new government of whatever party, or parties, offers the chance of a fresh start. A new dedicated tourism minister would be a great boost, but the quid pro quo is that the industry must transform its profile at the same time. 

Mark Watts was an MEP (1994-2004) and Labour tourism spokesperson (1995-2004). Luther Pendragon is an independent communications consultancy.