12 Sep

ABTA: 'The Mood Music is Changing in Westminster When It Comes To Travel'

This column was first published in TTG on 7 September 2023.

ABTA: 'The Mood Music is Changing in Westminster When It Comes To Travel'
By Luke Petherbridge 

This week, MPs returned to Westminster from their summer holidays – hopefully many of them booked with Abta members.

Abta has a clear programme to engage MPs this autumn (Credit: iStock)
With little more than a year – at the very latest – before the next UK general election, the period ahead promises to be extremely busy and, with the main parties increasingly jostling for voters’ attention, more than a little controversial at times.

However, amid the inevitable sound and fury of the pre-election period, plenty of important policy and legislative developments will be taking place for our industry, and Abta has embarked on a programme of engagement to ensure we’re continuing to fight our members’ corner.

There is not a conversation we have in the corridors of power currently where we don’t take the opportunity to remind people of the value of the outbound travel sector, worth some £49 billion annually in GVA – gross value added – and supporting more than 843,000 jobs.

Abta’s chief executive, Mark Tanzer, reiterated the economic heft of the sector to the tourism minister, Sir John Whittingdale MP, when we met with him a few weeks ago. We’ll also be raising it during one-to-one meetings with MPs and parliamentary candidates when we attend all three of the main UK-wide party conferences in September and October.

It’s really important those who represent us – whether that’s sitting MPs or those of the future - are aware of the contribution travel agents and tour operators make to local economies.

As ever, we would encourage everyone in the industry to consider supporting this effort by getting in touch with your MP. Abta has constituency data and template materials to help, which are freely available at abta.com/internationaltravel.

Another priority for our lobbying activity is getting the government to address the post-Brexit challenges members face employing UK staff in the EU. Abta’s report with Seasonal Businesses in Travel (Sbit), published in June, found there has been a 69% drop in UK staff working in the EU since the end of the transition period.

There has also been a particularly steep drop in opportunities for young people, with the proportion of workers in the sector in the 18 to 24-year-old age group falling by a fifth.

The issue is a huge challenge for travel businesses, which are facing significantly increased staffing costs, and also for the wider industry, which faces a loss of future talent that will have serious long-term consequences.

Yet there is a simple solution – extending the existing youth mobility scheme to EU countries. Mark Tanzer and I were pleased to have the opportunity to discuss this issue with former tourism minister Nigel Huddleston, now minister for international trade, earlier this week. We’ll also be raising the topic directly with MPs and peers at an event in parliament, held jointly by Abta and UKinbound, next week.


The need to improve trading relationships with Europe, especially concerns about labour mobility, but also in other areas – such as school and youth group travel – is an issue we are raising with all political parties in the run up to the next election.

We’ll also be working closely with Abta members to speak with MPs and parliamentary candidates to discuss the challenges and barriers companies face, and to promote Abta’s recommended policy solutions.

While significant policy changes like these take time – and political will – to achieve, I do get the sense that the mood music is changing. There is growing recognition of the mutual benefits of travel and tourism and the need to improve relations with the EU, both within the current government and also across the opposition parties.

These are two of the areas we’ll be focusing our lobbying activities. Of course there are others too, including around education and skills, and also sustainability.

It’s also important we continue to explain how large-scale disruption, as seen in last week’s Nats [air traffic control] meltdown, impacts businesses across the entire travel supply chain.

Our member travel agents and tour operators will have faced huge costs – not only financially, but also in terms of resourcing – as they raced to support their customers in dealing with delays and cancellations and rebooking their travel arrangements.

It’s vital that lessons are learned to protect travel companies from exposure to risks beyond their control, and we’ll be raising this point with government as it considers next steps. 

Luke Petherbridge is Abta’s director of public affairs.