Industry expects little in Budget as another tourism minister takes role

Leaders of the outbound industry’s engagement with government had limited expectations of the chancellor’s Budget this week, with few measures favourable to the sector anticipated.

Abta director of public affairs Luke Petherbridge forecast “a quiet Budget” after the Autumn Statement “was, in effect, an emergency Budget”. But he said: “Wider measures to encourage people back into work are what is most important.”

Petherbridge hoped that chancellor Jeremy Hunt would announce help with childcare costs, noting: “Travel has large numbers of women with children working in it. Measures to encourage people back into work would also be important.”

Hunt announced an extension of the energy price guarantee, which is protecting households by capping typical energy bills at £2,500, for a further three months until the end of June ahead of the spring Budget.

Advantage Travel Partnership chief executive Julia Lo Bue-Said noted the Budget came on “almost the same day as the first travel restrictions were introduced three years ago” and said: “There is a risk someone looking at travel from the outside sees a robust industry with people travelling, consumers spending, and says ‘This industry doesn’t need support.’”

She argued: “We can be proud of the industry’s resilience. But the industry needs to present itself in the right way or we’ll be left on our own in the next crisis. The risk is we’re not recognised because we’re resilient.”

Lo Bue-Said is set to join the Tourism Industry Council set up by the Department for Culture (DCMS) and promised “a vocal voice for outbound travel”.

She said: “It’s an opportunity to make clear what outbound travel is about and how it can support government goals.”

But Lo Bue‑Said added: “The challenge is we’re working with a government making decisions based on going to the polls. It’s critical we look to engage with Labour.”

Both she and Petherbridge expressed frustration at the appointment last week of a fourth tourism minister in six months, with Julia Lopez becoming minister for media, tourism and creative industries, working across both DCMS and the new Department for Science, Innovation and Technology.

Petherbridge said: “The breadth of the minister’s role is a concern. She has a large brief and it will reduce the attention she can give to travel.”

Abta continues to push for a minister with overall responsibility for outbound travel and Petherbridge said: “We think that should be the aviation minister.”

He sees the Aviation Industry Council, set up by the Department for Transport and which Abta has joined, as the key avenue for engagement.

Petherbridge said: “The frustration we had with the Tourism Industry Council was its focus on domestic tourism.”

In addition to the two councils, February saw the first meeting of the Cruise Industry and Government Forum with maritime and aviation minister Baroness Vere and 25 cross-party MPs, chaired by Clia UK & Ireland managing director Andy Harmer and the DfT and due to meet twice a year.

Lopez took over from Stuart Andrew, who was appointed tourism minister in November to replace Lord Kamall who, in turn, replaced Nigel Huddleston in September.

Petherbridge described the turnover as “disappointing”, saying: “Tourism is the largest single contributor to the economy at DCMS and stability is important.

“One of the benefits during Covid was that we had a single minister, Nigel Huddleston, who understood the industry very well, for the entire period.”

Separately, Abta, the School Travel Forum and UKinbound welcomed a government commitment on Monday to make school and youth group travel between the UK and France easier.

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