The trade has remembered the Travel Day of Action held exactly one year ago as a ‘powerful day of unity’ for the outbound and inbound sector.
On June 23, 2021, more than 800 people from across the industry attended an event outside the Houses of Parliament, along with 52 MPs.
Over the course of two weeks, political demonstrations were organised nationwide, not just in the capital, and many travel firms engaged directly with their local MPs.
The aim was to promote the value of the industry and urge the government to adopt a less restrictive approach to international travel policy.
In a joint statement, Abta and UKinbound, which were among the organisations planning the day of action, said: “We’re proud of the joint working it took to pull that event together, amidst severe logistical challenges, and we also want to thank everyone who took part in events across the entirety of the UK.
“The Travel Day of Action was a powerful show of unity and pride in what we do as an international industry.”
In the statement, the organisations acknowledged the months following the day of action ‘were still difficult’ but stressed: “The benefits of the industry having a collective voice were seen when the UK was amongst the first major tourism economies to lift its travel restrictions.”
Westoe Travel director Graeme Brett, joint founder of independent agent action group Target, described the day as ‘very successful in giving agents the chance to express their views and get their message across’.
He said: “Although it did not make the government change course, it made travel bodies realise the strength of feeling of their members.
“Too often the travel industry had relied on sending a ‘strong letter’ to government. The Day of Action allowed real agents to communicate directly with government, Members of Parliament and the media.”
Target produced a press pack for the event and more than 150 of its members spoke to local media and contacted MPs.
“Having well known local businesses quoted in local papers is hugely effective and most of those had not contacted their MP previously on any matter,” added Brett.
Advantage Travel Partnership chief executive Julia Lo Bue-Said called the day “hugely successful” but stressed a single day in isolation was “never going to achieve meaningful long-term changes in itself”.
She said: “It is part of an ongoing process. The government will not change its view of the sector, and it is therefore up to the industry to ensure it puts itself in a position of strength, improving its government engagement. The Travel Day of Action was part of an overall campaign which was suited to lobbying against travel restrictions at that time.”
A year ago today we stood united with a common cause; to lobby MPs to speak up for travel, for the workers, for the jobs that were being lost, for travel agents. For the long term economic impact draconian travel restrictions would have on an entire industry shutdown for 2 years pic.twitter.com/D2v3PBMgee
— Julia Lo Bue-Said (@jlo_said) June 23, 2022
She said the industry now needed to lobby with a “clear narrative” on the economic value of the sector, adding: “We must also be bold and better at understanding what needs to happen in order to influence meaningful long-term changes and improve how we engage and lobby government.”
She called on the government to recognise the overall economic and social importance of the travel agency sector.
G Adventures managing director Brian Young agreed the day helped to unite the industry. “It allowed us to get our message out to a wider audience through the media networks that came along to the event,” he said.
But he voiced disappointment at the level of engagement of politicians with the industry and stressed: “We have always said our industry needs to come together with one voice as our lobbying is still way under-represented, I think this was the start of that movement, but we have a huge amount still to do.”
He said the government remained ‘woefully out of touch’ in terms of its understanding of the industry beyond the aviation and called for more transparency, two-way communication and knowledge of the sector.
Miles Morgan Travel chairman Miles Morgan similarly praised the event and spirit on the day but also said it did not succeed in changing the government’s actions.
He said: “I have never seen an industry event where everyone has come together, agents, operators, airlines. It was wonderful.
“We were all lobbying for greater recognition and to change what the government was doing – but on that score it singularly failed.”
He highlighted the recent editorial in The Times, which blamed agents for knowingly selling holidays where flights would be cancelled, as demonstrating the “total lack of understanding and unbelievable lack of knowledge” of the sector.
“We have not ‘cut through’,” he said, adding: “We got no sector support from government and we [the industry] are not really any more joined up than we were. If we entered another pandemic, would our industry be treated any differently? I’d have to answer no.”
Derek Jones, chief executive of Kuoni parent Der Touristik UK, recalled on Twitter how he appeared on television calling for sector-specific support for the travel industry “which never came”.
He tweeted: “This govt must take the lion’s share of the blame for the current issues facing travellers. They ignored our warnings and now they’re trying to pin the blame on us!”
Reflecting on the importance of the outbound and inbound sectors working together, Abta and UKinbound said they remained “committed to spreading the message that travel and tourism is a powerful force for good in the world”.
The statement from Abta chief executive Mark Tanzer and UKinbound chief executive Joss Croft added: “While we won’t always agree on everything or have all the same priorities, the members of Abta and UKinbound have plenty of shared interests and joint working between our organisations has never been more important.”
Abta and UKinbound are currently working together to advocate the extension of the UK’s Youth Mobility Scheme, which they say would have mutual benefits by allowing outbound businesses to more easily get UK staff into destinations to support tourists overseas while also enabling access to a wider labour pool, including workers with language skills, for the inbound and domestic sector.
Tanzer recently wrote about improvements with government engagement and policy priorities on his blog for Abta members.
A year ago today I was on the telly calling for sector specific support for the travel industry, which never came. This govt must take the lion’s share of the blame for the current issues facing travellers. They ignored our warnings and now they’re trying to pin the blame on us! pic.twitter.com/FDSSYH3jpF
— Derek Jones (@Degsy_DJ) June 23, 2022