Comment: Government finger pointing is a distraction

We must remain focused on supporting the industry’s recovery, says Abta chief executive Mark Tanzer

As I said at the time, I was utterly dismayed to see government pointing the finger at the travel industry for the recent travel issues without giving any acknowledgement to its own role and responsibility for bringing the sector to a halt and the challenges we now face.

Such statements are a distraction from the job that needs to be done – supporting the industry’s recovery and getting back to being world leaders for international travel.

As the largest travel trade association and recognised voice for the outbound travel sector across government, Abta continues to engage proactively across many fronts to promote the vital role that our members and the wider industry will play in delivering economic recovery for the UK, as well as to influence the crucial policy developments that will determine the future shape of our industry.

There is a very busy and broad policy agenda for the UK travel industry to tackle. The DfT’s ‘Flightpath to the future’ strategy sets out the priorities that will guide policy across the aviation sector for the next decade, with major focuses on sustainability, consumer rights and skills.

These type of policy matters are the bread and butter of Abta and what we do, and we’ll remain right at the heart of these important debates that will shape the future of our industry. These issues, among others, will form part of my conversation with the aviation minister when we next meet, which is due to be in the coming weeks.

There are also the Brexit implications to contend with. Abta is working with other organisations to promote meaningful solutions that could help, at least partially, to address some of the challenges that outbound travel businesses have faced; for example, proposing the extension of the existing Youth Mobility scheme to EU countries, which would enable businesses to more easily move staff into Europe but which would also benefit our inbound and domestic industries enormously.

We have also joined a new CBI initiative to promote the role of the services sector in trade deals, which could result in greater appreciation for the benefits that tourism, both inbound and outbound, brings to the UK economy.

While we are emerging from the pandemic, we shouldn’t lose sight of the lessons that need to be learnt so the same mistakes aren’t repeated during any future pandemics.

To make sure that the travel industry’s views are considered, Abta was invited to be part of the official Covid-19 inquiry, which was set up to examine the approach taken by policymakers during the crisis. The inquiry will take time, but we’ve already seen some success with the terms of reference of the inquiry taking on board our recommendation to factor in a more thorough examination of how government policies around travel impacted on businesses and those working in the sector.

We also need to make sure the industry has the most effective and efficient ways of working with government. It’s not news for you to hear me say there is a need for more coordinated policymaking for the UK’s aviation, maritime, travel and tourism industries.

Forums like the Tourism Industry Council (TIC), which Abta sits on, has an important role to play, but there is room for improvement in terms of cross-government recognition for the value of the sector, and I made that clear in my recent meeting with the tourism minister, Nigel Huddleston. With that in mind, I welcome the announcement of the new Aviation Council, which the DfT has recognised must work closely with the TIC to work effectively. Clearly there is a lot to do.

The progress that has been made during the pandemic in relation to cross-industry working has been excellent and a tribute to the ability of our industry to put aside differences and come together in times of need.

I am particularly proud of the central role Abta played, especially by bringing together organisations from across the organised travel industry within the Future Travel Coalition, but also by continuing to work collaboratively with the wider aviation, maritime, travel and tourism sector trade bodies, including through the Future of Aviation Group, the Tourism Alliance, and other shared lobbying activity and channels right across the UK.

This work needs to continue, and I look forward to welcoming leaders from across the industry to Abta’s annual Travel Matters event next week to discuss shared challenges and solutions.

I, and all my colleagues within Abta, are fully focused on ensuring the voice of the outbound travel is heard and understood at the heart of government.

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