Opinion: Budget letter points the way forward for ABTA

Opinion: Budget letter points the way forward for ABTA

John McEwanAs a youngster I remember, probably like most people, being told that children should be seen and not heard. And my kids were certainly told the same as they grew up. But it’s a philosophy that I’d never subscribe to as an adult.

Speaking up for yourself with confidence is definitely a sign of maturity and strength. And that’s why I was particularly delighted to see that ABTA chief executive Mark Tanzer had fired off a letter to Chancellor Alistair Darling with his representations from the industry in advance of this week’s Budget.

On Wednesday we’ll know how effective that letter was, and whether Darling actually listened to the various arguments over Air Passenger Duty, VAT and financial protection for travellers.

There has been considerable debate about the role and relevance of ABTA over recent months, and after the significant reforms Tanzer implemented at the organization I know many in the trade have wondered what ABTA does now and, indeed, should be doing in the future.

Just as the travel industry landscape has changed dramatically, the purpose of ABTA has had to shift. While the letter drew attention to some major issues it was actually an important signal that the body was fit for purpose in the 21st Century.

The ABTA hierarchy would probably admit that the body hasn’t been as vocal as it could have been in the last 18 months, and it is that fact alone that has prompted questions about the effectiveness of its work.

Going forward ABTA has a vital role to play in representing the entire travel business and it is time for us all to start thinking about how that can best happen.

Such a diverse industry as ours will obviously have lots of different concerns. It is right that different sectors – be it cruise, domestic tourism, aviation, agents and outbound operators – have their own organizations.

But all have suffered in the past to struggle to get themselves heard. ABTA has the potential to be the umbrella under which all of these groups gather – and be the focal point for all industry representations to the Government.

Will we have consensus on everything? Almost certainly not. We can get the dialogue started, though, and that is the most important thing.

Getting the ear of senior government figures is always a battle, but the real challenge comes in getting them to take you seriously. If we show our combined strength, I’m sure the travel industry can be seen and heard.


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