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Travel firms seek certainty as polls open

Travel firms say they are looking for certainty ahead of the outcome of today’s general election amid signs that customer sentiment is pointing to a positive 2020.

Speaking at a Travel Weekly Business Breakfast on Wednesday to launch the annual sector analysis Insight report, senior bosses from easyJet, Royal Caribbean, Travelopia and Midcounties Co-operative agreed this year turned out to be better than feared after a slow start.

Insight report partner Deloitte, said the fundamental factors for the industry in 2020 look positive with research for the report showing more people are likely to take a holiday, spend the same or more, and most are not looking to trade down.

Alistair Pritchard, lead partner, travel and aviation, at Deloitte, said: “In general consumer fundamentals have been pretty strong for a number of years. There are challenges like the Brexit delay and the Thomas Cook situation. Generally uncertainty does create some challenge and a squeeze on consumers.”

With the latest polls indicating the battle for Number 10 tightening this week and a small Tory majority or a hung parliament both within the realms of possibility, travel brands on the panel said they were “Brexit ready”.

Sheelagh Mahoney, head of leisure distribution at easyJet, said: “Forward bookings are up over this time last year, but it is a period of uncertainty. Deal or no deal easyJet is ready. Whatever happens we will still be flying.”

Sally Cowdry, managing director tailor made and chief executive of Travelopia, said as previous Brexit deadlines have passed and the UK has failed to leave the EU the impact has decreased. “We have had long enough to plan. What we all really want is just some certainty about what’s going to happen and when. The question is are we going to get any more certainty tomorrow?

“Planning is really hard. Consumer behaviour is responsive to what’s in the press. We see a reaction in customer behaviour and then it dies down again.”

Alistair Rowland, chief retail officer at Midcounties Co-operative, said a variety of outcomes were still possible ahead of the election and that business needed to see a return to some “normality” and “stability”.

He said he sees across sectors that government has been “in a really difficult place for some time” and travel needs some common sense applied to areas like airline insolvency and Atol reform.

“It’s really hard to plan,” he said. “Just some stability to do business as normally would be great.”

Stuart Leven, vice-president EMEA at RCL Cruises, said the operator had decided not to provision ships in the UK due to Brexit but at the first port of call in Europe and that would be the case throughout the summer.

“We will reverse that when the time’s right,” he said.

Leven said he expected cruise to grow in 2020 due to the UK consumers’ “dogged determination” to have their holiday regardless of what’s going on, reflecting Deloitte’s quarterly leisure spending intentions tracker which finds holidays are top of the list of priorities.

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