Growth prospects for travel weighed up at Barclays forum

Next year continues to offer an uncertain outlook for travel firms but there is growing hope that 2014 and beyond will see a return to sustained growth.

Contributors to a video shown at the Barclays Travel Forum sounded a cautious note about prospects for the next 18 months while saying they expected an improving economy to fuel recovery ahead of the next general election in 2015.

Chris Photi, senior partner at accountants Whitehart Associates, said he was “uncertain” about 2013 but that he was more positive about 2014, a view shared by Abta chairman and Advantage chief executive John McEwan.

Lowcost Travel Group chief executive Paul Evans predicted growth for online players this year and added: “2015 is a general election year, so the government is going to have to stimulate the economy.”

Deloitte head of travel hospitality and tourism Graham Pickett also predicted a gradual increase in household spending, something he said the holiday industry will benefit from.

In cruise Seamus Conlon, chief executive of, said he was very positive about the longer term prospects as new ships start to roll off the production lines again from 2014.

“From a distribution point of view cruiselines are going to need agents,” he said.

A senior line-up of panellists at the forum agreed.

Dave Burling, Tui Travel UK managing director, said he was optimistic for next year due the firm’s investment in product like a new Sensatori resort in Turkey and the first Dreamliners to be operated by a UK airline.

And he said after that it was all about whether the economy takes off.

“We are hopeful, but over the last few years we have all been saying next year is going to be tough and the following year will be better, but I do think this will be the time it takes off a bit.”

Less optimistic about the economy was John Hays, managing director of Hays Travel, who at the start of the recession predicted a bathtub-shaped recovery with the UK bumping along the bottom for an extended period.

“I’m an optimist, but I’m afraid with regard to the economy as a whole I’m a pessimist. While everyone has said it’s going to be better next year I thought it could be 10 years – that’s a prediction I do not want to be right on.”

However, Hays was more upbeat about his own business’s prospects.

“The environment is difficult out there. But people are looking at adjusting their business models. We are cautiously optimistic we will do better this year than last year.”

Steve Endacott, chief executive of On Holiday Group, said he was not surprised by the results of a poll of the 250 delegates at the forum that showed 69% expected to see some growth this year in their businesses.

“We are a highly competitive industry and we all think we can do better than the person sitting next to us,” he said.

Burling added: “Every year there is talk about a late booking surge but I do not think this year will be dramatically different from any other year. There will be pockets of good value out there.”

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