Opinion: Travel matters - Is this a government that understands that?

Opinion: Travel matters - Is this a government that understands that?

Stephen D'Alfonso, Abta head of public affairs, reviews yesterday's sixth Travel Matters conference and says there were signs of a political consensus on the key issues for the industry

Abta’s Travel Matters Conference was held yesterday in St James, London.

The event brought industry and government together for the first time since the general election, and the message from industry was clear: there should be a focus from government on creating a political and economic framework that facilitates growth in the industry over the next five years.

The message from government was equally clear: the government has heard that message, and it would be decisive on airport capacity.

Robert Goodwill, the Aviation Minister, gave the morning’s keynote address, highlighting his belief that too many tough decisions on transport, like airport capacity in the southeast, have been delayed or deferred for too long and that the government would look to redress this once the Airports Commission’s recommendation is made.

Abta’s chief executive, Mark Tanzer, kicked off the conference by launching a new report, ‘Driving Growth’, which quantifies the economic contribution made by outbound travel – notably, that it generates £28.3 billion in economic value annually while sustaining 435,000 jobs in the wider economy.

In the morning’s other sessions, speakers and audience members discussed and debated the future of the UK’s EU membership and what it might mean for the travel industry, as well as shifting power within the UK, and the potential for UK market distortions as a result of devolution.

There was also a panel session on changes to consumer protection, and the likely impact on UK passengers and businesses.

Eight weeks on from the general election, and with newly elected MPs finding their feet in Westminster, the inner workings of this Parliament, and the priorities of this government are becoming clearer.

For example, the slimness of the government’s majority has meant that the party whips are keeping their MPs within walking distance of the House of Commons chamber in anticipation of the division bell ringing.

Since the election, whenever I’ve been in the Palace of Westminster during a vote, the sight of MPs scurrying around the building, literally dashing for the chamber, is a sight to behold. Every vote matters, and MPs are not taking that for granted.

The slim majority also highlights the necessity for the government to try and build a broader consensus, where it is possible.

Labour worked with the government to push the European Union Referendum Bill through, averting what could have been a potentially close vote.

Other primary legislation that might divide the ranks of Tory backbenchers – like for example, airport capacity – would also benefit significantly from broad, cross-party consensus.

The political deliverability of additional capacity at either Gatwick, or Heathrow, will not be straightforward, and so a big tent coalition will be the government’s best shot at delivering the urgently needed extra capacity in the southeast.  

Travel Matters’ final panel session yesterday – which featured first-time Conservative, Labour, and SNP MPs – demonstrated the potential for a consensus.

Yesterday was the sixth time the industry gathered for Travel Matters, and the second time the event has ushered in a new Parliament.

Sure, the event is a great opportunity for networking, and to hear from interesting speakers. Yet, the conference also serves the important purpose of conveying a powerful message to government, and it is all in the name: travel matters.

In the last government, this message began to get through, in the context of reductions to APD; in the context of the recognition of the value of our industry; in the momentum gained on regulatory reforms; and in recognition that action was needed to address airport capacity in the south east. 

So, the groundwork is in place, and the choices for growth stark.

Is this finally a government that will deliver the policy, infrastructure, and tax framework the industry needs to maximise our potential?


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