Steve Allen, chief executive of Portman Travel, explains why he thinks it is in the travel industry’s best interests that the UK remains in the EU
With just days to go to the EU referendum vote, it’s finally time to make up our minds on what is a truly historic decision that will have an impact on us all.
Having absorbed much of the media coverage of the last month or more – I’ve even welcomed the relief now afforded by the European football which as an occasional football fan is saying something – I would like to share a personal perspective set within the context of the travel sector.
I am sure that we can all agree that a healthy economy drives success and prosperity.
We know that in the business travel sector there is a compelling case for investing in business travel to do business and grow business, supported by the Oxford Economics research published last month that revealed the positive impact on GDP growth and on exports and investment.
In the leisure travel sector, we know the economic benefits that flow from both inbound and outbound tourism, well-articulated by Abta over the years.
This is why understanding the economic implications is so fundamental to the decision, as this is the enabler of our well-being: the rock on which our services, NHS, infrastructure, education and many more key areas are supported.
Let’s look at some of these considerations.
We have easy access to the EU for both business and leisure travel, enabled by Open Skies within Europe. Many Brits have moved overseas and set up successful businesses in the sun, or retired. It’s a healthy state of affairs.
Yes, we do need to sort out the management of our airspace and work towards a single body to ensure efficient and strike-free movement: best done working from within the EU I would argue.
Through the EU we have greater negotiating clout to deal with the international and regional regulations that impact on airlines, tour operators, travel agencies and others, as we seek greater liberalisation and reduced protectionism across the globe, to enable more effective competition.
We also want consistently high quality standards worldwide. Good for UK business and good for our customers. We have a much greater chance of success acting as one market of some 510 million people rather than individually.
We are a nation that is very much a service-led economy with world leaders in the financial sector, in consulting, technology and the sciences to name but four. All are growth sectors and thriving.
The UK is seen by many countries around the world as the place to be in order to do business with Europe. We would be foolish to risk damaging this leadership position by leaving the EU as we know that Frankfurt and Paris would be eager to fill the gap.
The UK is a strong economy, ranking alongside Germany in Europe, and one of the leading economies in the world. We are an economic success story, and being part of the EU for some 40 years has been a driving factor.
Of course, we still have a deficit and debt challenge to address, as we seek to better balance the books. The performance of the major stock markets and the currency markets are key indicators of how the wider business world views the current uncertainty around the in/out decision.
When the opinion polls and certain media suggested a move towards favouring exit recently, sterling dropped and £30 billion was wiped off the value of the FTSE 100 companies.
Leaving would bring uncertainty, reduced competitiveness, and further erosion of UK plc. This will not help with the deficit or with growth. It would have a negative impact on both business and leisure travel volumes and spend.
The UK hospitality sector is very reliant on workers from within the EU, and very few actually believe that the flow of people is unhealthy. It’s the volume of inbound migration that makes the headlines.
Yes, we do need to determine how to best manage this challenge, and there have been small steps made, both in terms of tightening non-EU migration and changing the rules around the ability of EU citizens to claim benefits.
The latest UK unemployment rate announced this week is 5%, the lowest for more than 10 years, and one of the lowest in the EU. This is hugely encouraging, and we know that many British companies rely on EU people to fill the gaps.
We need to work on finding the right balance and approach with the other EU members, many of whom share concerns about the impact of the movement of people on infrastructure, resources and nationality.
Of course the EU is far from being perfect. There are many positive facets but some key concerns to address. The UK has been a world leader and shaper for many decades, and we should seize the opportunity to improve and reform the EU from within.
We can make it better and more effective such that our interests and economy continue to outperform. We should look on the EU as an opportunity, and become leaders of it. This is not to say that we will reduce our national status and sovereignty, as these are hugely important.
We already have exemptions from closer political union and the Euro, and we have our veto. We can and should influence the EU vision and its direction of travel. It may not be easy, but that does not make it undesirable or not do-able: change is good and needed.
So, as you reflect on the many claims and counter claims, the use of diverse statistics and ‘facts’, and the scare-mongering tactics and hype employed by certain media and politicians, it might be useful to take a step back and ask what sort of world you want to help create and the legacy we will shape for tomorrow’s generations?
Bringing people and ideas together is something that the travel industry can be rightly proud of – we are global agents of change and understanding.
Staying in the EU, taking a greater leadership role in it, embracing globalisation and cooperation will make us both economically stronger and morally richer.
Building on our economic success will provide more employment and opportunity for future generations.
Let’s confidently embrace being part of Europe and work together to make it stronger and better: vote yes on Thursday and we can then get on with it.
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