ABTA’s director of public affairs tells us about negotiating with government and communicating the needs of the industry
Tell us how you ended up in this role
My background is in government relations and policy issues. Having worked in the civil service for a number of years and in various government affairs jobs, campaign roles and primarily NGOs — most recently, I spent five years at the NSPCC — this is a shift into a new sector. But a lot of the skills I’ve learned about engaging with government are transferable.
There are a lot of people looking to ABTA for guidance at the moment — do you feel the weight of that responsibility?
There is a big responsibility. I think one of the biggest roles for ABTA over the next couple of years is communication, trying to provide a degree of certainty at a time of uncertainty. We don’t really know how the Brexit process is going to go, but we’re making sure we’re planted in the process, seeking to influence it as best we can and communicating back what we know. We know that Members sell holidays 18 months in advance, for example, so giving businesses certainty and consumers confidence that they’ll be able to travel is one of our key roles. It’s uncharted territory for everyone. We’ve got allies on both sides of the table to try and make sure that the voice of travel — given that there are 37 million trips made from the UK to the EU for holidays and short-term business trips every year — is heard. That’s a lot of travel that needs to be protected.
Is it particularly challenging explaining the needs of the industry to the government?
The government has generally been pretty good at listening. They’re not saying a huge amount about how the negotiations are going to work: I think we need to make sure the Europeans are listening as well. We’ve conducted research into the economic value of outbound tourism to the EU, so we can say to those countries, this is how much the UK gives in terms of spend, in terms of jobs, and it’s in everyone’s interest for that to be able to continue.
Apart from Brexit, what are the other big issues you’re working on?
Fake holiday sickness claims have become an issue for a lot of Members. It’s an issue that popped up as a result to changes to legal costs. The team and I, along with colleagues from across ABTA, have been working very hard on this, to understand the scale of the problem, to identify some solutions that we think could fix it and seeking to lobby MPs, ministers and Ministry of Justice officials about some of the changes we want to see.
The new package travel regulations come in from January next year, so we’re looking to ensure that those are as we want them to be and making sure that Members understand what those are and what the implications are for their businesses.
What do you enjoy most about your role?
I really enjoy getting out and meeting people, Members, people in the industry and just talking and learning. It’s such a big and varied sector, it’s very interesting. Actually understanding what people’s needs are and how we can best communicate those to political audiences; that’s something that I find really fascinating and enjoyable.
Is there anything you think would surprise people about your job?
I think for a lot of people who aren’t familiar with how politics actually works, it’s a bit opaque and mysterious. For us, it’s trying to demystify that and make sure we’re in the right place, having the right conversations with the right people at the right time to influence policy as it’s being developed, to ensure that it fits. Members don’t always understand how that works, and they shouldn’t have to. Their job is to go and sell holidays and run their businesses and we can help them by being in the right place and influencing on their behalf.
Why is it important to be an ABTA Member?
Having a voice that’s advocating on your behalf, and communicating back what decisions are being made and what it means for you and your business, is really important. Things like the Code of Conduct, Financial Protection and our brand work are all important too.