Industry leaders expressed hopes that Britain will remain in the EU at the Abta Travel Matters conference in London yesterday.
However, International Airlines Group chief executive Willie Walsh said leaving would have no “long-term material impact” on IAG.
Voters go to the polls today in the referendum on whether Britain should remain in or leave the EU.
Abta chief executive Mark Tanzer told the conference: “We’re at a fork in the road. Abta came to the conclusion that the travel industry has more to lose than to gain by leaving [the EU].”
Referring to the joint Abta-Deloitte report on the impact of a Brexit published in March, Tanzer said: “I think we’ve been a sane voice in the cacophony.
“If there is a vote to leave, we will reassure people that nothing will change in the short term. A withdrawal would take a while, except that you may get fewer euros for your pounds on Friday morning.”
Deloitte partner and head of travel, tourism and hospitality Graham Pickett warned: “Brexit could be very damaging. If we get the right result [tomorrow] it could be positive. I hope we don’t jump off the precipice.”
Virgin Holidays managing director Mark Anderson agreed, saying: “I hope the vote is to Remain. If it is to leave who knows what will happen to the pound and to consumer confidence?”
Walsh told the conference: “The aviation industry and consumers in Europe, including the UK, have benefited from free trade within a common aviation area.”
But he said: “We’ve undertaken a risk assessment and, at this stage, have concluded that should Britain vote to leave, this will not have a long-term material impact on our business.”
Walsh added: “I personally believe Britain’s interests are best served by staying in the EU and influencing reform from within. However, IAG as a company is not going to tell people how to vote.”
Stephen McCall, chief operating officer for hotels group IHG in Europe, said: “Economies don’t normally benefit from uncertainty. I will just be delighted the uncertainty is over.”
Abta head of public affairs Stephen D’Alfonso said: “On Friday we will be in a different political place.”
But Abta chairman Noel Josephides warned: “I fear that what will follow tomorrow’s vote will take us backwards, no matter what is decided.”
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