Advantage chief leads defence of sector’s lobbying

Criticism of the industry’s lobbying of government is understandable but misplaced, say association leaders as the sector ramps up for a day of action on June 23.

Advantage Travel Partnership chief executive Julia Lo Bue-Said acknowledged “industry leaders have a responsibility to lobby” but said: “It’s very easy to be critical when you’re not round the table.

“Lots of parts of the industry would not come around the table.”

Speaking on a Travel Technology Initiative (TTI) webinar, Lo Bu-Said dismissed the idea that the industry needs ‘an association of associations’ to lead its lobbying, saying: “The reality is the industry is complex and at times we’re conflicted.

“What is right for our members may not always be right for others. There are different organisations for different reasons.”

But Lo Bu-Said added: “We’ve had meetings every week for the last 15 months with Abta, Aito, the Business Travel Association and all the other organisations as the Save Future Travel Coalition.”

She said: “The industry is in a really dark place. There is a lot of anger and resentment. We’re seeing agents trading at 20% of the level of 2019 and there is only so long a business can sustain that.

“We don’t know from one day to the next what will happen. The framework is in place [to restart], but the traffic light system is not aligned with Foreign Office advice, it’s not aligned with Europe, it’s not aligned with the rest of the world.”

Yet Lo Bu-Said argued: “The government’s priority has to be public health. Public sentiment is to keep the borders closed. The public is fuming that the government did not act sooner to close borders.

“The industry is paying the price for that – for a government that was incompetent at dealing with this. We have no choice but to work with that. The majority of the public is not behind the opening up of borders and we have to work with the government.

“But you can’t penalise an industry on the basis of government policy and not provide support.”

Business Travel Association (BTA) chief executive Clive Wratten agreed, saying: “There has been criticism of the industry associations’ engagement with government, but the government is not ignoring the industry because it doesn’t understand it.

“It is ignoring the industry because [international travel] is not top of its list of priorities.”

Martyn Summers, executive director of specialist travel association Aito, told the TTI webinar: “It’s not always obvious, but there is a lot of work going on behind the scenes with the Future for Travel Coalition.”

However, Sumners warned: “If the government continues this way, summer 2021 will be gone. There will be failures unless people are able to travel.

“Bookings for 2022 are welcome but we’re not getting any revenue from them. If the government won’t let us travel, we need financial support.

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