Comment: We must accept travel will not be a government priority

Our focus should be how we recover, not when, says the Advantage Travel Partnership’s Julia Lo Bue-Said

It’s not surprising there is growing confusion among consumers when it comes to booking a holiday given cabinet ministers conflicting statements.

However, the mixed reactions across the industry are also presenting ourselves in a fragmented manner.

I agree it’s more important than ever before to come together as a single voice, just as the Save Future Travel Coalition (SFTC) has done.

I also believe it’s important that we are using the right avenues to lobby the relevant government departments in a considered and balanced manner, in order to protect the industry’s reputation for when the time is right to travel again.

The travel industry is interconnected; there are many different parts that make up the whole and for 10 months now I have worked closely with colleagues within the SFTC to ensure a consistent message is delivered to government and the media around what the industry needs.

It’s been refreshing to see many different industry leaders championing the sector – different faces with the same message for the greater good.

For an industry that relies largely on positive consumer sentiment to sell them a dream we have to ensure we are not sending out confusing messages to consumers.

In the midst of a public health crisis with over 118,000 deaths in the UK alone, and regardless of how we feel government have dealt with the matter, we have to accept that travel will not be a priority for cabinet ministers.

We all have a responsibility to behave in the right way and ensure that our priority remains doing the right thing by travellers and this means to pause and reflect.

There is also reputational damage that we must fix.

The unprecedented nature of when the pandemic first hit and the challenge many businesses had in processing refunds still rumbles on today, with a number of travel companies still not treating customers fairly.

The danger here is that all businesses in the industry stand the risk of being tarnished with the same brush, which I know simply isn’t the case.

At a time when emotions and frustrations are heightened, and with the grim reality of the extreme financial pressures on travel businesses, our focus should be on how we recover – not when.

We cannot control ‘when’ but we can control the ‘how’.

The Save Future Travel Coalition’s key messages right now are:

  • To push the government on extending financial support measures including, grant schemes, VAT deferrals and the furlough scheme.
  • Recognising the unique regulatory restrictions placed upon travel
  • Enabling travel businesses to trade out of the crisis by setting out a roadmap

We are best placed to manage this in a considered manner through our government department meetings and the Future of Aviation Group, of which Abta is a founding member, as well as through our own media campaigns.

So how do we come together?

The Save Future Travel Coalition, through its constituent members comprises the vast majority of travel agents and travel management companies (TMCs), tour operators and cruise lines.

This is a powerful force – no other alliance exists. Our collective turnover represents a value of over £200 billion.

We can all play our part by continuing to write to our MPs – over and over again and reiterating the key messages from the Save Future Travel campaign.

In addition, through our individual relationships we are also speaking with airlines and other parts of the sector to ensure we are aligned and are able to send out the same messages whenever appropriate.

The SFTC is the campaign group for the industry and there remains an open invitation for other bodies or associations to join.

Times are grim. It’s extremely frustrating but I think it’s important that the industry does create a lot of noise, but it has to be the right noise at the right time; united in our messaging. Keeping the dream alive but keeping calm in the process.

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