APD fight wins fresh support from global tourism bodies

International and domestic opposition to the UK government’s changes to Air Passenger Duty is mounting, with opponents pledging to ramp up efforts when a new government is in place.

The reform of Air Passenger Duty is one of the five proposals to government laid out in Abta’s Travel Matters manifesto launched on March 10. APD rates went up last November and are due to rise again in November 2010.

The tax has received particularly vociferous opposition in regions such as the Caribbean which insist they are penalised by the way it is calculated.

In recent weeks, the United Nations World Tourism Organisation, the Pacific Asia Travel Assocation and the Confederation of British Industry have all lent their support to calls for reform.

Speaking at ITB earlier this month, UNWTO secretary general Taleb Rifai accused the government of turning a deaf ear to opposition in order to retain a multibillion-pound tax income.

Rifai admitted no action was likely to be forced before the general election, but pledged to push harder before the end of the year to have it removed or changed.

Meanwhile, Pata is urging its worldwide chapters to lobby British ambassadors and high commissioners as it believes the changes will make markets such as Asia Pacific unaffordable for families.

And in the UK, the CBI has insisted that APD is not the way to achieve its own targets for the government – namely immediate post-election action to slash the budget deficit with a view to balancing the books by 2015-16.

Andy Cooper, Thomas Cook’s director of government and external affairs, said: “We are all waiting to see what happens in the election.

“I would like to think the flaws in APD will be recognised and that there will be changes, but whether something can be done before November, I don’t know.”

Last November’s changes to APD made the rates calculated on bands based on the distance from the UK to each destination’s capital city.

This November’s scheduled changes will increase all rates.

Cooper said shadow chancellor George Osborne’s recent speech on the importance of tourism offered some cause for optimism despite focusing on the inbound industry.

But he added: “Awareness and action are two different things. We need to get behind Abta which has put this in its manifesto and approach this in a co-ordinated fashion.”

Tui Travel revealed it had recently met with various MPs from different parties as part of its continuing lobbying effort.

A spokesman said: “We have never supported APD because its revenue is not directed to projects that benefit the environment: customers contribute more in taxes than the environmental cost of the CO2; airlines operating new-generation aircraft with high load factors are not rewarded; and the banding system has many anomalies.”

The operator also said this year’s rate rises would have “significant financial impact on carriers” and could “threaten the commercial viability of premium economy”.

“We will continue to make government representations and to support communities that wish to articulate their anger and we thank all parliamentarians who are highlighting this injustice.”

An Abta spokesman said the launch of the manifesto was a starting point, with the introduction of emissions trading in 2012 a viable end-goal.

“In the short term our manifesto is clear; in the long term we want to see taxes on flying scrapped once the emissions trading scheme comes in in 2012,” he said.

Travel Weekly Aviation Issue - March 26 2009This article appeared in a special aviation-themed issue of Travel Weekly edited by Virgin Atlantic chief executive Steve Ridgway

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