Comment: What will the elections of 2015 mean for tourism?

Comment: What will the elections of 2015 mean for tourism?

Industry public affairs consultant Andy Cooper considers the implications of this month’s election in Greece and the UK election in May

The headlines for the next six months will be dominated by two election campaigns and their outcomes.

The UK goes to the polls in May in what may be the hardest fought and least predictable election for some time.

But before that the Greeks will also have voted and their election may help determine the future of the euro – something which is of interest to most of us in travel.

Tourism is a key industry in Greece, with the World Travel and Tourism Council estimating it directly constitutes 7.4% of GDP and indirectly represents 19.1%of GDP and 21.4% of employment.

Despite this the Greek government paid little real attention to tourism until relatively recently, with tourism ministers rarely surviving more than a year.

However, since 2012 there has been a level of stability with one minister, Olga Kefalogianni, staying in post, and I would suggest it is no coincidence that in the same period Greek tourism has performed strongly.

However, after some political stability the Greeks face an interesting choice in their election due in late January, with political commentators predicting the left-wing Syriza party will gain a number of seats and even potentially win the election.

This is important as Syriza is primarily campaigning about the Greek austerity programme, imposed as a result of the country’s economic difficulties.

Syriza says that if it wins it will renegotiate the terms of the Greek bailout, end the austerity programme, and write off part of Greece’s debt.

The concern is that this will not be acceptable to the European Central Bank or to other EU partners, and may ultimately force Greece to leave the Euro – something which has been predicted by a number of commentators over the past five years without coming to pass.

Whilst a change from the euro to another currency is in theory little more than an administrative process if handled well, there is a real risk that any change won’t be handled well – and depending on timing, this could easily have a negative impact on tourism.

At the very least, political instability could lead to customers not wanting to risk booking holidays to Greece pending resolution of the uncertainty.

So we need to watch closely and be ready to respond – although our biggest problem will be knowing how and when to respond.

As a side note, the Greek political situation is already having an impact on the euro and, in the short term at least, is likely to result in sterling strengthening against the euro.

This should benefit outbound tourism, in that holiday prices in the eurozone may fall and spending money go further.

It could encourage a small decline in the popularity of all-inclusive holidays, as tourists see they can get good value eating and drinking out – though that may take longer to work through to the market.

As UK businesses, we can have more influence in the UK General Election, scheduled for May 7.

Tourism rarely appears directly in party manifestos, but the outcome of the election may be important for our industry with a number of policy areas likely to affect all of us, inbound, outbound and domestic.

I will return in a subsequent piece to some of these issues, but at this stage will simply highlight the fact that the Airports Commission will be reporting post-election on the future needs of UK aviation.

The political wrangling over whether any proposals will be implemented will probably take up most of the next Parliament.

We have seen chinks of light in government policy on Air Passenger Duty during this Parliament and that may continue to be a political hot potato.

However, of more immediate interest is what happens in the election.

No politician can feel entirely confident as to their election prospects. The Lib Dems seem to have had their election chances badly damaged by being Coalition partners.

The rise of UKIP is impacting on both Labour and Conservatives – as Ukip appeals both to traditional right-wing Tory voters and to traditional Labour voters worried about job prospects.

Whether that results in Ukip winning many seats remains to be seen, but it will make those campaigning in the elections desperate to secure every vote they can.

This means that, for once, we all have the opportunity to persuade politicians to listen to our concerns. There has probably never been a better time to contact your MP or other candidates.

If you can demonstrate why you are important to a constituency (and travel businesses are often big employers as well as providers of a service that most voters want), you should be able to get the politicians’ ears, which should be beneficial post-election.

Now more than ever we need a clear and simple set of messages that we can communicate to politicians.

Our trade associations need to publicise these quickly and we should all go and bang on the doors of political candidates as soon as possible.

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