The travel industry will be looking for decisive political leadership to unite the country after last night’s inconclusive election result, says Lee Hayhurst
In April, when Travel Weekly asked travel industry bosses for their assessment of the calling of a snap general election one word kept coming up – ‘certainty’.
Although at the time polls suggested a clear outcome in favour of prime minister Theresa May and her Tory party, there were concerns that the election could be turned into a fractious re-run of the Brexit referendum.
In the end Brexit took something of a back seat in the election campaign to questions of the future political direction of this country as Labour set the agenda and, given events in Manchester and London, security.
Back in April no one foresaw last night’s result in which the Conservatives ended up as the largest party but with no working majority.
So it was the prospect of certainty from a clear result, as indicated by the Conservative’s clear lead in the polls and May’s personal rating, that allayed travel sector fears that this unexpected and unwelcome general election could hit the key lates period for travel.
Today, the only clarity about what the future holds is that we are in for a period of political horse trading as parties work out who can form and sustain a working government.
The last time we were in this situation in 2010, two of the three major political parties put their differences aside to form a coalition, but the experience of how that went means we’re highly unlikely to see a repeat.
The prime minister is this morning indicating she has no intention of resigning, but her authority has surely been significantly undermined after an election that was meant to shore up her position, and she faces demands to go.
Brexit negotiations, that are so vital for the future prosperity of this country, were due to start in 11 days and there are now suggestions that these could be put on hold despite Article 50 having been triggered and the starting gun fired on the UK’s exit from the EU.
What this means for the travel industry and business in general is impossible to say at this stage, but it’s clear that the hopes for ‘certainty’ back in April have evaporated for now.
Overnight as the exit polls indicated no clear winner the pound’s value dropped against the euro and the dollar before stabilising.
This was interpreted as the market reacting not to the changed political landscape in the UK, but the uncertainty that the election result has brought.
We saw a similar reaction after the Brexit referendum and the suddenness with which the pound devalued had a damaging impact on travel although the gloomiest predictions of economic meltdown did not materialise.
The challenge for the next prime minister will be to unite a country that looks as divided as ever following last year’s Brexit referendum and this year’s general election.
Media commentators trying to explain this latest shock election result have pointed to worrying signs that the UK economy is going into reverse and voters are starting to feel the pinch.
The health of the travel industry depends more than anything else on the strength of the economy, the disposable income in people’s pockets and their willingness to spend it.
Political uncertainty is one thing, but the concern all will have in the travel sector this morning will be that this leads to, or exacerbates, economic uncertainty.
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