Big Interview: UKinbound chief says lack of airport capacity is ‘biggest barrier’

Big Interview: UKinbound chief says lack of airport capacity is ‘biggest barrier’

The Tourism Industry Council offers a chance to align the sector’s demands. Ian Taylor reports

Representatives of outbound and inbound travel united this week in an appeal to government for a decision on airport expansion and clarity on apprenticeships.

They are due to meet ministers from the Department for Culture, Media and Sport (DCMS) and Department for Business (BIS) today at the Tourism Industry Council, set up in June 2014 and expanded at the end of last year.

Ahead of the meeting, Council member and UKinbound chief executive Deirdre Wells identified the issues which unite the industry. She told Travel Weekly: “The Davies Commission is such a priority. We’re disappointed it got kicked into touch.”

The government postponed a decision on the commission’s recommendation to build a third runway at Heathrow till this summer. Wells said: “The aviation minister asserted [the delay] is to do with environmental concerns and avoiding a judicial review. It is a difficult political decision and it’s a logical explanation. But the fear is it will get bogged down. There are so many lobby groups pro and anti. There is a real danger it could drag on for years.”

Britain saw record visitor numbers in the past two years and Wells said: “We don’t want to be bumping against a ceiling. The biggest barrier [to growth] is airport capacity.”

She warned: “If we go beyond the summer, it is a real problem.”

A second priority is “the issue of jobs, skills and apprenticeships”, she said. Chancellor George Osborne announced a new apprenticeship levy in November and Wells said: “We have people keen to take on apprentices, but it’s all terribly unclear. Our members are confused. We need details.

“The key thing is that it encourages individuals and businesses. The danger is that it could seem like a penalty.”

Wells also wants to see an easing of the visa process for visitors from India in line with new arrangements for those from China.

A former senior civil servant at DCMS, Wells took over at UKinbound almost two years ago and lobbies the government alongside Abta, the Airport Operators Association (AOA) and the Tourism Alliance, whose leading figures – including Abta chief executive Mark Tanzer – also sit on the industry council.

She pointed to increased funding for UK tourism, announced in the autumn statement (Travel Weekly, December 3), and said: “The industry is becoming more favoured by the Treasury.

“One of the reasons is that they [officials] feel positive about it. You cannot deny the figures. We’re doing very well and the government can see it.”

However, Wells warned against an industry tendency to moan to ministers, saying: “I’m conscious that politicians body‑swerve industries which tend to be negative. Travel people are very positive and passionate about the industry when not talking to government.

“We should acknowledge what is going well and save our fire for the big issues. Travel is a positive, can-do industry. It is to do with how people lobby and how they are perceived.”

She added: “Organisations are getting smarter about how to lobby – balancing their ‘asks’ with thanks and acknowledgement.”


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