Comment: Government plan for tourism is a work in progress

Comment: Government plan for tourism is a work in progress

A consistent rate of APD and a shake-up of the visa system are among the issues MPs must focus on, says Ed Anderson, chairman of the Airport Operators Association

The Airport Operators Association congratulated the government on its strategy for backing the UK tourism sector, published in July. Its ‘Five Point Plan’ includes policies to boost visitor numbers and ensure the substantial economic input generated by tourism and aviation continues to grow.

It’s good to see the government respond positively to the industry campaign for a new inter-ministerial tourism group across departments.

We also welcome the recognition that it is hard to consider tourism without considering transport – especially aviation – and the commitment to link the sectors more closely. It’s certainly a good start. We need to ensure this early momentum is maintained.

When MPs return in September, we urge them to give priority to four policy areas on tourism and aviation.

1) Reduce APD

On Air Passenger Duty (APD), the abolition of the longest-haul rates and removal of the levy on children have been helpful. However, the overall rate of APD is still the highest in the world and needs to be reduced.

We welcome government publication of a discussion paper on options to support regional airports in the event that APD is cut in Scotland or Wales. During the election campaign, the prime minister stressed the government was committed to ensuring airports would not be affected by devolution.

The fairest and simplest way to honour this commitment would be to ensure that a cut in one region is matched across the UK, so there is a consistent rate and airports are able to compete fairly.

2) Ease visas

On visas, we welcome the government’s acknowledgement that more needs to be done to make it easier for people to travel here. It is vital to ensure visa fees are not increased in this year’s public spending review.

Ideally, there should be a cut in the costs of long-term visas to encourage multiple trips, a sharing of visa application centres with Schengen countries (so visitors can apply for both visas at the same time) and a cut in the cost of transit visas to enhance the UK’s position as an international hub.

3) Invest in regional airports

We are pleased to see the government accept the importance of regional air connectivity to encourage tourists to travel outside London. Now we want to see it back those words with action by maintaining the Regional Air Connectivity Fund (announced in the 2014 Budget) and ensuring the money is speedily awarded to airport bidders and invested as quickly as is practical.

4) Act on capacity

On airport capacity, we note the government’s commitment to make a decision on the Airports Commission’s final report “as soon as possible”. The government should respond this autumn to remove uncertainty, maintain momentum and ensure badly needed additional capacity is delivered.

More should also be done to make best use of existing capacity across the country – through planning rules that would give airports seeking to expand the opportunity to do so, by changes to airspace to encourage growth, and by improved surface access to airports.

Adopting such a package of measures would help to ensure tourism and aviation play a bigger role in the success of the UK economy in the coming years.

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