The UK government’s continued refusal to accept the damage its aviation policies are doing to UK plc was one of the major themes to emerge from the latest World Travel Market Meridian Club Think Tank.
Senior buyers with responsibility for air purchasing met in central London this week under Chatham House rules, ensuring that all guests’ comments were unattributed. The session was moderated by respected aviation consultant, John Strickland.
Air Passenger Duty remains a concern. Leisure operators have to find ways to absorb the costs in order to remain not only competitive but also profitable. Business travelers are increasingly aware of the cost burden, too, although the state of the global economy remains the main demand driver in this sector.
One guest mentioned that the additional cost of APD might dissuade global blue-chip businesses from locating in London. With an eye on London 2012, it was felt that many visitors to the games might be deterred from revisiting the UK because of APD.
More than one person mentioned that the Scottish and Northern Ireland parliaments were looking at whether APD could be “devolved.” Belfast Airport has struggled to maintain long-haul flights, because departures from nearby airports in the Republic of Ireland were not taxed as heavily.
Furthermore, another guest pointed out that cruise passengers departing from the UK do not pay an equivalent tax.
The government also came under fire for its refusal to consider expanding airport capacity in the South East. It was felt that the third runway at Heathrow was off the agenda for political rather than economic reasons.
Concerns were expressed that many major international airlines would rather use Frankfurt or Schipol as their European hub rather than take up available slots at Gatwick or Stansted. There is virtually no spare capacity at Heathrow, hence the need for a third runway.
However, many in the room agreed that the UK travel industry’s inability to talk with a single voice on many issues was diluting its lobbying power.
Michaela Juarez, Head of Meridian Club, said: “It is increasingly clear that there is a need for the public and private sectors in the UK to work more closely together, as is the case in many other major tourism destinations.
“The UNWTO Ministers’ Summit, held in cooperation with World Travel Market, was set up four years ago to help the industry and politicians better understand each other’s needs. We will continue to press the UK government to listen not only to senior executives but also other countries which are feeling the impact of current policies.”