06 Jun

Party Manifestos – what should we expect for travel?

This column was first published in TTG on 6 June 2024

With the General Election now underway, it is expected that the main party manifesto documents will be published soon. What can we expect to see offered for the travel industry?

Let’s start by being clear. It is unlikely there will be specific references to travel, and there was never likely to be. Not because politicians don’t view travel as important, but because manifestos rarely focus in on individual industry sectors. This simply isn’t their purpose, rather manifestos serve to paint the intentions and aims of each party in broad brush strokes.

However, that certainly doesn’t mean we won’t get some important clues about the future of policies that will shape the future of our sector.

Within Abta’s own manifesto document, we clearly set out three themes that will shape the future of the UK travel industry and which form the core of our engagement during the general election; positioning the UK as a leader in sustainable travel, promoting fulfilling careers in travel and tourism, and creating the conditions for travel businesses to compete successfully. Across each of these areas, I expect there will be policy commitments of relevance.

Delivering sustainability in a domestic environment

Taking sustainability first, I would be very surprised if each of the main political parties do not set out clear ambitions to make the most of the transition to net zero and to maximise the opportunities available in terms of jobs, economic growth, and regeneration

Our industry has been clear that one way we can do this is to deliver a domestic industry in sustainable aviation fuels (SAF). We also need to see government working in partnership with industry to deliver much needed investment in infrastructure, such as improved domestic transport links and the installation of shoreside power to deliver upon maritime net zero goals.

While the manifestos might be light on details, there will be important threads here to pick up with Ministers and officials, post-election.

Hit the ground running on education

Looking at promoting fulfilling careers in travel, we’ve already seen education take centre stage as a campaign issue and both parties will make commitments in this area that are worthy of note. Prime minister Rishi Sunak has repeated his commitment to review higher education courses, closing down those considered not to offer value for money.

There is a potential threat there for our sector, as we know tourism-related courses have previously come under scrutiny, which is why retaining higher education provision features in our list of priorities.

However, we do agree with the aim of improving access to apprenticeships, and we want to see improved used of existing levy funds. To that end, the Labour Party is committed to reforming this into a ‘Skills and Growth’ levy – which includes enabling levy funds to be used for an enhanced range of training programmes. We’ll almost certainly see more in relation to education and careers as the manifesto documents are published and again this is an area where we’ll want to hit the ground running with the next government.

The third and final theme in Abta’s manifesto document was competitiveness, which includes a number of policy areas such as a balanced consumer protection regime, business rates reform, and improving our relationship with the European Union.

We know not all these issues will feature in party manifestos. Some – such as PTRs and ATOL reform – are too industry-specific and detailed for documents that seek to appeal to the country as a whole, and others – likely including youth mobility – are topics that are considered sensitive or contentious.

But again, there will likely be references of note. I would expect to see commitments to improving relations with our European neighbours, and indeed the shadow chancellor, Rachel Reeves, has given a speech outlining plans to seek improved agreements around mutual recognition – a topic that would benefit travel.

Reform of business rates, another topic we have raised in relation to supporting high street travel agents, is also expected to feature in Labour’s offering and could also be picked up by other parties too.

ABTA has always been clear that the aim of our manifesto document has never been to influence the offers made by the parties ahead of the election. Rather, our manifesto is an ongoing engagement tool to speak with new ministers, officials, and newly elected politicians across the political spectrum up to and beyond 4 July.

We know many priorities for travel won’t feature directly next week. But we have already been advocating these policies to the current government, and opposition parties, for many months and it doesn’t mean those asks aren’t being heard or won’t be acted upon by the next.

Lobbying isn’t simply about single events like manifesto launches. It’s about developing long-term relationships. Abta will continue to work hard to ensure members views are represented, whoever emerges as the next government.

Luke Petherbridge, ABTA's Director of Public Affairs