The industry was right to continue its lobbying for sector-specific backing throughout the pandemic but extensive government support ultimately rescued many agencies from failure, according to the chief executive of The Travel Network Group.
Speaking at Travel Weekly’s Future of Travel Spring Forum in London, Gary Lewis said the industry had managed to get its key messages through to the “right people” in government, though cabinet decisions were not always in its favour.
He also said the entire outbound industry was unable to speak with a single voice due to its complexity, a statement later rebuffed by Julia Lo Bue-Said, chief executive of rival consortium Advantage Travel Partnership.
Lewis praised the work during the pandemic of the Save Future Travel Coalition, now renamed the Future Travel Coalition, under Abta’s leadership.
He said: “The most important thing we have done in the last two years is getting statistics and data to the right people, to the civil servants.
“Abta was already sitting on the right committees. Government civil servants all understood furlough and what we needed and that we still had to have people working.
“We had to keep shouting and keep making our voice heard. I think it’s really important because we have always criticised Abta and the Civil Aviation Authority for not making our voice heard.”
Many agents were saved from collapse by taking advantage of government aid, including the furlough scheme, bounce back loans and the Coronavirus Business Interruption Loan Scheme (Cbils), he said.
He admitted he was “conflicted with Abta” as TTNG has many non-Abta members as well as its Worldchoice Abta members, but said: “In the last two years we were all going to go out of business unless something fundamentally changed.”
TTNG had expected to lose 70% of its members as a result of the pandemic but in the event lost only around 100 members, and through its acquisition of the Global Travel Group actually ended up with more members by the end of the pandemic.
In a swipe at plans for a new cross-industry outbound lobbying thinktank, he said lobbying work through the Future Travel Coalition should continue but maintained the industry could never speak with one voice.
“The industry has always been criticised for not having a single voice but it cannot have a single voice because there is too much complexity,” he said. “We should come together under Abta under the Future of Travel Coalition. Everyone has to put their egos in their pockets.”
In direct response to Lewis, Lo Bue-Said, the driving force behind the proposed thinktank, tweeted: “[Gary Lewis is] praising the government for supporting the industry and believes the industry can never speak with one voice. I disagree.”
She later reiterated the view in a panel discussion, insisting the government had failed to understand or acknowledge the specific needs of the industry during the pandemic.