An Open Plea to the Captains of the UK Travel Industry

A few days ago I was pleased to be a guest at UK Hospitality’s Christmas Lunch.

As we sat down, two welcoming videos played out. The first from Rishi Sunak and the second from HRH Prince Charles, both extolling the importance to the UK of the Hospitality Industry.

Next up was the double act of UK Hospitality’s Chairman and CEO. Both lamented the effect the pandemic had ravaged on their industry but focused on the massive amount of lobbying that had been done and how much support they had received from the Government…and being mentioned in nearly every announcement regarding Covid.

But there was much more to be done…as I write this, I can see an article in The Guardian saying “ the Chancellor is apparently returning to the UK early from California to “ draw up an emergency rescue package for hospitality firms hit by mass Christmas cancellations amid the Omicron wave. He returns to the Treasury on Friday – a day earlier than he had intended to fly home – under intense pressure to announce emergency financial help.”

Stop. Pause. Compare and Contrast to the Travel Industry.

The UK Hospitality Chairman, whose day job is CEO of one of our largest Holiday Park operators, summed it up as:

Our friends in the Travel Industry are very noisy but pretty ineffective”.

…..and isn’t that the truth?

Elman Wall, as the UK’s leading firm of Travel Specialist accountants, is almost uniquely placed to observe the entire spectrum of the Travel, Leisure and Hospitality Industries. We act for leading companies in every area of this fragmented sector – leisure, outbound, operators, agents, cruise lines, incoming, corporate travel, groups, educational, domestic, wholesale, hotels, bars, etc. You name it, we are involved; and that gives us great perspective over the entire industry, not just bits of it.

Right from the beginning of the pandemic, we ran what we called Zoominars. We had 500 clients and contacts on the calls to hear from leaders across the industry because we knew it was important that the industry acted as one. John de Vial from ABTA; Joss Croft from UKInbound and Clive Wratten from BTA were all fantastic and updated everyone at the 7 virtual meetings and I continually refer to them as the “3 Wise Men”. Many others supplemented them including Julia Lo Bue Said from Advantage, who is an absolute heroine of the industry and George Morgan-Grenville whose campaigning as a “simple” tour operator did more than many of the plethora of Travel Associations to get Travel heard.

Let me tell you a secret….I introduced some of these people to each other for our first Zoominar in March 2020. Many of them didn’t know each other. I do like to think that the output of our early highly acclaimed Zoominars led to the creation of the Save Travel Alliance.

Noisy, but ineffective. The Travel Industry has tirelessly worked towards getting support from Government and all the Associations have made their case time after time, but in hard terms, what exactly has been achieved?

UK Hospitality (or the industries they represent) have achieved reductions in VAT, ”Eat Out to Help Out”, 100% business rates holiday for the sector, local authority grants for pretty much everyone, as well as furlough and CBILS/Bounceback loan support available to all.

And here’s the thing. UK Hospitality in its own words is the single, authoritative voice of the broad hospitality industry, representing everything from bars, coffee shops, contract catering, hotels, nightclubs, visitor attractions, leisure venues, and those who supply the industry. They say ONE INDUSTRY. ONE VOICE.

And here’s something else you might not know- it’s pretty new. It was set up in 2018 by merging the British Hospitality Association and the Association of Licenced Multiple Retailers.

I love the Travel Industry. I love the people in it. My clients are very important to me, and we suffer when they suffer. I only want the best for it….and I can clearly see now that it has to be led in a different way for UK Travel to survive and then thrive. I’ve had my moment of simple and pure clarity, and hearing “noisy, but ineffective” has felt like a knock-out punch.

We can see that parallel industries have achieved more support from Government than Travel has. Travel will always be a more fragmented industry than Hospitality, but not massively. They have learned to put away the competing interests and speak as One Sector. They have been noisy and highly effective. Travel has just been noisy.

The need to create one organisation to speak for the entire Travel Industry has never been greater, and in my view, more urgently required for the future wellbeing of the sector. Focus on the effectiveness, not the noise. Who of our many Association Chairs and CEOs will cast aside self-interest and unify the UK Travel Industry?

I would love to be at a Travel Industry Christmas Lunch in 12 months’ time and hear the Chancellor and the Prince of Wales tell me how important we are to our country, and how they are supporting the companies and their amazing team members within it.

Jonathan Wall, Elman Wall Travel Accountants. A Xeinadin Company

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