When Abta chief executive Mark Tanzer spoke at the Abta Travel Matters conference last week he called for the “proper enforcement of regulation” on businesses, including the likes of Airbnb.
He made a plea for thorough regulation, adding that currently “the good guys play by the rules and the bad guys don’t”.
On June 23, the day after the conference, there was a leader article in The Times on this. It read: “It may be that behind Mr Tanzer’s comment is a fear of tourists who shun the type of package hotel holiday that has traditionally been his members’ bread and butter.
The solution is not to seek to curtail the activities of Airbnb with new taxes and regulations. It is for his members to raise their game.”
But far from resisting competition, travel has thrived on it! Is there a more competitive industry than travel? We created affordable travel. The difference is that back then we all competed on a level playing field: package holiday organisers had to provide financial guarantees (and still do), to take responsibility for health and safety, and act as principals.
Airbnb claims its hosts’ guests become part of the local community. I might agree if they are renting a room in the host’s home, but certainly not if they are simply staying in an independent rented apartment.
Compare the legislation that covers us with the virtually non-existent legislation that covers the likes of Airbnb: to say that we have to “raise our game” is to show gross ignorance of the facts.
So, did those who voted for Brexit do so to achieve complete abolition of the red tape emanating from Brussels? Well, the irony is that the bigger regulatory problem lies with the UK government, which allows the so-called disruptors to operate without shackles while adding unnecessary regulations of its own.
The other point made at Travel Matters was about consistency of enforcement. The UK has, through the Atol scheme and other regulations, enforced the Package Travel Directive to the letter.
But are other European countries doing the same? As travel becomes increasingly cross-border, we risk losing good UK companies which decide to move overseas to take advantage of slacker regulation.
And what other state in the EU, other than the heavily regulated UK, prevents the sale of travel insurance by travel agents – arguably the only group that can claim to know what it’s talking about?
The referendum decision last week will force us to make some urgent decisions about the level and type of regulation that the UK needs in the future.
Now is the time for us to fight our corner and make sure the UK government doesn’t continue to over-regulate the legacy sector of the industry, while allowing the new kids on the block to continue unchecked.
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