Does the UK outbound travel industry need an umbrella organisation?

The outbound travel industry has long bemoaned a lack of a cabinet-level travel minister, who understands the sector and can fight for investment and support on the top table of Government.

Currently, Nigel Huddleston is the Minister of Tourism and Heritage. Huddlestone, who was Head of Travel at Google before entering Parliament as MP for Mid Worcestershire in 2015, also has responsibility for sport, the Commonwealth Games and gambling and lotteries at the Department for Culture, Media and Sport (DMCS). His boss at the DCMS and the Cabinet Minister for the department is Oliver Dowden.

One reason often cited for this lack of representation in the cabinet is the fragmented nature of the industry and this in-turn means there is no one organisation lobbying government.

Instead, the travel industry has many member’s organisations representing different parts of the industry. These include; Abta, Airlines UK, Airport Operators Association as well as a number of travel agency consortia.

So would the outbound UK travel industry benefit from one overall umbrella body organisation?

The UK hospitality industry has UK Hospitality. On its website, Hospitality UK describes itself as “the single, authoritative voice representing the broad hospitality sector – covering everything from bars, hotels, coffee shops, contract catering, nightclubs, visitor attraction, escape rooms, bowling alleys”.

It represents a wide range of sectors and members. These sectors have their own membership associations – for example the British Beer & Pub Association and the Night-Time Industries Association.

The UK hospitality industry does not have a dedicated cabinet-level minister fighting for investment and support. However, the industry has secured £352 billion in economic support to help ease business back to operating normality.

Furthermore, a ‘hospitality strategy’ has been announced which recognises the contribution the sector’s pubs, restaurants, hotels, nightclubs and other venues make to the UK’s economic and social wellbeing.

The strategy sets out a raft of measures, including highlighting opportunities in the hospitality industry to job seekers through the Department for Work and Pensions (DWP) work coaches, as well as helping the sector address current recruitment challenges. The government has also set out ways to help the sector improve its resilience, which includes making hospitality a “career option of choice”, boosting “creativity and developing a greener sector”.

Hospitality UK has welcomed this support.

While the outbound travel industry has struggled throughout the pandemic for the UK Government to recognise its economic importance. Pre-pandemic, outbound travel industry’s economic contribution to the UK totalled £37.1 billion in Gross Value Added (GVA), which amounted to around 1.8% of UK Gross Domestic Product (GDP), according to ABTA.  This included a direct contribution of £15.9 billion (GVA), which is equivalent to around 1% of GDP. Furthermore, total expenditure within the UK by residents engaged in outbound travel reached £45.7 billion.

Despite this, the industry has been left with a complicated, ever-changing and evolving (many would argue unworkable) traffic light travel system. This multi-layer system has been made even more confusing with France being moved to a new Amber + category, requiring double-jabbed travellers to quarantine for 10 days when returning to the UK.

It could be argued that this unenviable position is – at least in part – due to many organisations being forced to laisse with a number of different Government departs with ministers at all levels of Government.

Highlighting the fragmented and uneven support the industry has secured during this pandemic, an Abta spokesperson on Radio5Live last week said the Government has only given dedicated financial support to the airline industry. He continued that travel agents and tour operators remain in desperate need of support, citing a massive 200,000 jobs at risk in the industry. Airlines UK says more than 500,000 direct jobs in the UK are at risk.

Abta has written to Transport Secretary Grant Shapps ahead of the next strategic review on the requirements for international travel due on July 31.

The letter highlights the ongoing need for a package of tailored financial support for the industry, including extension of furlough support and business rates relief at current levels, and a grant scheme to help firms through “very difficult” weeks and months ahead. A cabinet-level outbound tourism minister has to be the industry’s ultimate long-term goal. Could an umbrella organisation for the industry be the first step to achieving a Government minister around the cabinet table?

Paul Nelson has worked in the travel, tourism and hospitality industries for two decades – starting off as a journalist before moving into corporate communications and public relations. With an undergraduate journalism degree and post-graduate marketing degree, Nelson worked as a reporter on a number of local newspapers and trade publications before joining Travel Weekly. After seven years at Travel Weekly and Travolution, he moved in to corporate communications at the lastminute.com Group – managing PR and internal communications for the group and all its brands, including lastminute.com, Travelocity, Holiday Autos and Medhotels. Nelson then joined World Travel Market ultimately running the Press and PR department for the portfolio which covered WTM London, Arabian Travel Market, WTM Latin America and WTM Africa. He also co-founded and launched the International Travel & Tourism Awards before leaving to launch and head up a travel and tourism division at broadcast PR agency Markettiers. Nelson now works as a PR consultant.

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