Comment: Politics and travel - a House of Cards?

Comment: Politics and travel - a House of Cards?

With a General Election approaching and the outcome uncertain, industry consultant Andy Cooper considers how the result may affect the industry

It is unusual to be two months away from a General Election without any clear view as to who is likely to be in government afterwards.

While this is a source of interest and speculation for those in politics, for the rest of us there is simply uncertainty – with no view as to what policies will be adopted or by whom.

All the main political parties face challenges.

The Liberal Democrats have often been the reserve choice for many voters. But many who might have voted for them in the past now look at the Coalition and don’t like what they have seen.

Both Conservative and Labour have been affected by the rise of Ukip, many of whose policies seem designed to attract those for whom Genghis Khan was a woolly libertarian.

Whether Ukip end up winning many seats remains to be seen, but it will certainly disrupt the voting patterns of both major parties.

At the same time, the Green Party is sitting at the left hand of Labour, with policies which seem to appeal to the younger end of the traditional Labour support. Again, it is questionable whether the Greens will pick up more than a very small handful of seats, but they could affect the outcome of some.

Probably the biggest single factor is the Scottish vote. The SNP appears far stronger than previously, to a point where some pollsters suggest it could take most of the 59 seats in Scotland. That would give the SNP a massive influence in the 2015 UK Parliament, which is ironic.

All this adds up to a tremendous lack of certainty, a strong likelihood of a hung Parliament, and another coalition – without any clarity as to who will be the coalition partners.

So what does it mean for travel and tourism?

Abta launched its ‘general election hub' last week with its manifesto – a tremendous piece of work to pull together the campaigning messages for our industry.

The manifesto was actually launched in July 2014, but the key priority areas for the new government make eminent sense and are ones with which I wholeheartedly agree. I paraphrase:

  • Get off the fence and make a decision about airport capacity.
  • Recognise the UK transport infrastructure doesn’t work and put serious investment into it.
  • Sort out Air Passenger Duty – all campaigners on this would like it abolished (an ambitious outcome which probably won’t happen any time soon).
  • Take a coherent approach to tourism policy.
  • Sort out consumer protection with a sensible and proportionate system.

Can we expect any incoming government to implement any of these, particularly if we end up with a coalition?

We will probably get all the parties saying they recognise the sense in many of those proposals in the run up to the election. But when it comes to the crunch, we shouldn’t hold our collective breath.

Airport capacity will continue to be a political hot potato. All logic and operational common sense would suggest either expand Heathrow or build a new airport, but political expedience will almost certainly result in neither – and another five years of talk. I hope I am wrong.

Transport infrastructure is a tricky one, causing clashes between differing political interests. In my home area of Greater Manchester work started this week on a road originally planned in 1967. It may open on or around the 50th anniversary of the original plan – and that is not unusual.

I worry about Air Passenger Duty. Devolution to Scotland is inevitable. Further devolution seems possible and if the SNP holds the balance of power becomes likely. The risk is we end up with an even more complex regime.

Full-rate APD could end up being a congestion tax on Heathrow and Gatwick.

I also suspect the possibility of additional environmental taxation has not gone away. My fear is we end up with an even worse position than at the moment.

Number four, tourism policy, actually got a mention of sorts in the 2010 Coalition agreement: “We will take steps to improve the competitiveness of the UK tourism industry, recognising the important part it plays in our national economy.”

Five years on, I struggle to think of any ways in which those steps have been taken.

Consumer protection is a non-party political issue. Much of the outcome will be driven from Brussels. I’m not hopeful that we will end up with either a coherent or a proportionate outcome to the reforms of the Package Travel Directive and Regulation 261 on air passenger rights.

All of this brings me to a couple of slightly depressing conclusions.

Whoever takes the reins is unlikely to have the tourism agenda at the forefront of their policy priorities, and we will be lucky to see positive steps in any of our main areas of concern.

I hope I’m wrong, but we have to keep up the pressure on politicians to have any hope of achieving positive outcomes.

Andy Cooper will be on the panel to discuss The General Election, Travel and Tourism at the next Travel Weekly Business Breakfast this Thursday in London, an event hosted by Deloitte.


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