Comment: Travel needs to box clever in this election

Luke Pollard, former Abta head of public affairs and Labour candidate in Plymouth Sutton and Devonport, looks ahead to the May general election

The phoney war is over. The 2015 general election has begun. It’s time the travel industry debated what policies it wants the next Government to implement.

It remains unfashionable to say so, but what happens in Westminster matters to our industry. The past five years have shown this.

When you strip off the politics, the 2010 election produced a profoundly unsatisfactory result for our industry.

Within weeks Heathrow had its third runway cancelled, VAT was hiked – making everything, including holidays, more expensive – and domestic tourism saw its entire tourism funding structure swept away in a bonfire of the Quangos.

Tourism took a beating. Our value as job and wealth creators was undermined, and we learned an important lesson. What happens in Westminster affects our industry, our jobs and the bottom line. What the parties promise in their manifestos matters to our sector.

The three main parties have been working on their documents for years. The coming weeks will see the major themes and headline policies published, spun and re-spun.

Is it too late to influence the manifestos? Possibly. Does that mean the industry should not be making a strong case for what it believes in? Absolutely not. Commitments made to a sector in the heat of an election campaign often prove most helpful.

How much about our industry do we want to appear in the manifestos? In 2010, tourism barely got a mention and it seemed successive ministers didn’t really get what we do or how holidays help the wider economy.

There is a strong argument that to achieve our goals (let’s assume these include additional aviation capacity, action on APD and a decent outcome to holiday protection reform) we should allow maximum leeway for the next government, whoever it is.

With Sir Howard Davies holding tight to his runway recommendations until after the election we won’t have the aviation debate we had at the last election – except in West London and Crawley where runways will make or break a candidate.

Giving whoever is in charge after the election the maximum room to deliver would be wise. The logic of an additional runway might be apparent to all those in travel but not necessarily to the average voter – and there are dangers in wanting our issues to be everyone’s.

Remember that not everything is in a manifesto. George Osborne’s VAT rise wasn’t.

So travel must box clever in winning politicians’ support for our views and fight a rear guard action against unsavoury policies. That is what lobbying outfits like Abta, the Airport Operators’ Association, the Tourism Alliance and A Fair Tax on Flying have been doing for years.

With little money around, the industry would be wise to keep any requests of Government affordable, deliverable and easy to communicate. Few voters care about the the Package Travel Directive or who runs the Atol scheme and, at election times, politicians ask the public what they want. Our issues won’t top housing, jobs or the NHS.

Let’s be smart.

Let’s ensure everyone in travel knows what our issues are so any doorstep canvasser gets a relevant question. Let’s ensure everyone votes.

And let’s hit the ground running so whoever wins in May knows that travel and tourism contributes billions to the economy, employs thousands and is not an industry to be ignored or kicked.

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