Institute of Travel and Tourism delegates at this week’s conference in Tel Aviv remained resolutely in favour of Britain staying in the EU after an impassioned debate at the annual conference.
A live poll of delegates taken before and after the debate showed the proportion in favour of remain grew by eleven percentage points from 65% to 76%. An online poll of ITT members before the event found 60% in favour of remain.
After politicians put the case for remaining and exiting, the travel industry was represented by Travel Weekly chairman Clive Jacobs and Silversea Cruises commercial director Lisa McAuley, both speaking in a personal capacity.
Jacobs, a proponent of Brexit, said being part of the EU led to too much compromise and no clear direction. “For me it makes no sense to fit 28 countries into a one size fits all. As a passionate British person I want control over our country through democratically elected politicians. If we vote for Brexit we can do what’s best for our country and not go down with a sinking ship which is the EU.”
Jacobs accused politicians, including prime minister David Cameron, of not being honest with the British people about the implications on services and infrastructure of immigration of people from eastern Europe who are drawn to the UK because they earn just 15% of what they can in Britain. And he accused them of using Europe as an excuse for their own failings and inability to get things done.
Jacobs said he believed in immigration but it was vital that countries manage their own affairs.
He said: “I think being part of the European club has benefits, the problem is the risks of staying in something that’s heading in the wrong direction. I want Brexit because I truly believe that if we vote Brexit we can step up to the table and have a proper negotiation.”
Jacobs added industry bosses like Carolyn McCall, chief executive of easyJet, was being loyal to a prime minister who had bestowed her with an honour in coming out in favour of remain and contrasted her position with that of BA boss Willie Walsh who has said there will be no impact in the event of Brexit.
“Why would Willie Walsh say that when he runs an airline twice as big as Carolyn’s? People just don’t like straight talkers,” he said.
McAuley disagreed, claiming Walsh’s views were more associated with the share price of BA parent IAG, and she quoted Deloitte figures that show how the UK inbound and outbound tourism sectors were heavily reliant on EU countries as both source markets and destinations.
“The leave campaign to me is a bit like the new Top Gear, it’s very shouty. It’s as if the louder you shout the better you are,” she said.
McAuley said it was vital for the travel industry that the UK has access to a transient workforce. “It’s not just about consumers being able to cross borders, it’s about attracting talent to the UK,” she said.
“I do not believe that the travel and tourism industry should be building borders.” McAuley said most people in the travel industry believe Brexit would add costs to their businesses and she denied European regulations were stifling business pointing to the rise of Manchester based Rentalcars as proof that UK firms can grow and prosper.
“I’m not blind to the challenges that being a member causes us. But collaboration brings more success than taking a stance as loan ranger.”
The debate also featured an MP, a UKIP MEP and two members of the House of Lords, two in favour of remain and two in favour of Brexit.
Lord Michael Cashman said: “Freedom of movement and freedom of travel is something we should support. Are we seriously saying we are so weak and fragile as a nation and culture that if we remain in Europe we will lose our identity?”
UKIP MEP for West Midlands Jim Carver said: “I love Europe, it’s the European Union I do not like. I think our opportunities are bold outside the EU. There is nothing we get from being in the EU that we can’t get being outside. We can look forward to positives because of who we are as a nation.”
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