Travel must get in early with new leadership
This column was first published in TTG on 25 July 2022
With the parliamentary term over and MPs back in their constituencies, we now know that either former chancellor Rishi Sunak or foreign secretary Liz Truss will soon be the UK’s next prime minister.
The Conservative Party leadership election, brought about by the resignation of Boris Johnson on 7 July, is due to run throughout the summer – with national television debates and local party hustings taking place across the country. The contest could reach a sudden conclusion if one candidate decides to pull out, as occurred in the 2016 leadership election between Theresa May and Andrea Leadsom, but failing that eventuality, we expect the winner and new PM to be announced on 5 September.
ABTA obviously doesn’t get a vote and will remain neutral, as is appropriate for a politically impartial organisation. But we will be putting forward the industry’s priorities to both candidates, making clear the issues the travel industry needs government to grasp. These include future resilience planning and recovery from Covid-19, managing cost of living impacts, the need to reconsider labour mobility arrangements between the UK and EU, and the importance of ensuring better coordination across government in relation to international travel policy.
On the latter point, ABTA welcomed the recent formation of a new aviation council, which formed part of the government’s strategic framework to deliver for the sector over the next decade. The council is due to bring together representatives from leading travel businesses and their main trade bodies, including ABTA, with government ministers and officials right across Whitehall. Crucially, the council will include participation from Number 10 and HM Treasury, which is something that has been called for by the entire aviation and travel eco-system as a learning from the pandemic.
With the change of administration taking place, we will be delivering our message that improving the quality of engagement between industry and government is critically important – and that this group has the potential to make a worthwhile contribution.
We are also continuing to call for a minister to be given specific responsibility for overseeing the cross-government approach to international travel policy, especially in times of crisis. Due to the disruption being seen at airports and with airlines, travel has been high on the media and political agenda in recent weeks. The impact on travellers has been covered frequently by media and referenced by several politicians in parliament, including during the business, energy and industrial strategy (Beis) committee evidence session held on 14 June.
ABTA has been focused on ensuring accuracy and perspective in media coverage, making clear what consumers can expect in terms of their rights if they suffer delays or cancellations, but also seeking to remind audiences that most people are getting away successfully without significant issues.
We’ve also sought to bring a similar balance in our political engagement. Following the Beis hearing, we followed up with the, chair Darren Jones MP, to ensure members understood the perspective of intermediaries, including travel agents, tour operators and TMCs, and the value travel experts bring in terms of offering consumer advice and reassurance.
We’ve also held recent meetings with the tourism and aviation ministers, respectively, and continue to engage with the Future of Aviation all-party parliamentary group to spread similar messages to MPs and peers across parliament.
Getting in early
Alongside our political engagement, much of ABTA's advocacy work on a day to day basis happens with officials as they seek to carry forward instructions given by ministers. For example, last week the Department for Transport published its Aviation Passenger Charter which ABTA, along with other industry representatives and consumer bodies, had been considering over recent weeks.
Experts from ABTA attended several workshops as the content took shape, and this is an excellent example of the detailed engagement that is often under way behind the scenes. We are also engaging regularly with the teams responsible for Atol reform and the Package Travel Regulations to provide evidence around what is happening across the industry and to inform future policy development. This side of our work never stops and will continue throughout the summer.
Over the weeks ahead, my team will also be busy refreshing our briefings for newly appointed ministers. ABTA will be seeking to get in early to ensure individuals given responsibility for the policies that matter to travel understand our views.
Additionally, we have some new research due for publication in September on the value of our sector, and the prize that is on offer in terms of recovery and future growth. There will be more information on this, including how members and the wider sector can help us promote the importance of travel to your own MPs, in the autumn.
Whoever emerges victorious from the race to be PM, ABTA will – to borrow the phrase used by one of the candidates – hit the ground running.
Luke Petherbridge, Director of Public Affairs, ABTA