Challenging year ahead, warn industry chiefs

The industry faces a challenging year amid economic uncertainty and the likelihood of unexpected disruption, a panel of senior figures agreed last night.

Hugh Taylor, chief executive of hotel asset management company Michels & Taylor, told members of the Chartered Institute of Marketing Travel Industry Group (Cimtig): “We seem to heading downward. The last quarter of 2011 was horrible.”

Taylor told a Cimtig Question Time in London that a fresh downturn in the economy would be tougher to handle than 2009 because companies had already made all the cuts they could.

He said: “The mitigation that was possible through cost cutting is no longer a tool we can use.”

European Tour Operators Association chief executive Tom Jenkins argued a fresh recession would not be global. He said: “Markets in Europe are not looking great, but Asia is not bad and South America is booming.” He added: “London has been doing well.”

British Airways UK head of sales Richard Tams told Cimtig members: “The omens are not good. There are a lot of reasons why we all might be concerned. It’s a miracle to me that our forward bookings look so strong.”

However, Tui Travel specialist and activity sector managing director John Wimbleton said the sector should take heart from its experiences of the past three years.

“We managed to get through it and look after our customers,” he said. “As an industry we know how to deal with crises.”

Jenkins argued the tourism fall-out from the London riots last August provided an object lesson in good practice. “It’s the authorities’ reaction to crises you need to be frightened of,” he said.

“Terrible images of the riots went round the world. But there were almost no fatalities, no London landmarks were affected and we had no government statements. The images were of unarmed police. We had no cancellations. Incredible.”

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