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4 APRIL 2022

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Article from BTNews 4 APRIL 2022

ON THE SOAPBOX: Julia Lo Bue-Said, Chief Executive Officer, Advantage Travel Partnership

Julia is one of the UK Travel Industry’s pre-eminent leaders, having led the Advantage Travel Partnership Group since April 2018.  

During this time, she has transformed the business with vigour and energy, it becoming the UK’s leading commercial membership organisation for travel intermediaries who operate in both the leisure and global business travel environment, as well as becoming a leading voice of the UK travel industry, driving change and representing the sector tirelessly through the Covid-19 pandemic. Bue-Said believes passionately in the SME (Small and medium-sized enterprise) sector; that they are the lifeblood of business.

Where do we go to from here?

With Covid measures easing it may be easy to think all is now forgotten, that the sector is out of the woods and reports of trading back to 2019 levels mean the Outbound sector, both leisure and business travel, can start to reap the rewards of pent-up demand.

If you believe this, then it couldn’t be further from the truth for many business owners.

Yes, there is pent-up demand but after two years of continuous travel bans, no face-to-face meetings, friends and families apart, the pent-up demand cannot be mistaken for a bounce back – in real terms.

The Outbound travel industry including travel agents, Travel Management Company (TMC) and tour operators are feeling battered, bruised and not listened to. Keeping the travel industry within the news and headlines is one thing we’ve managed to achieve at Advantage, but media coverage and interviews can only do so much.

To look forward we need to look back at our world-class travel industry which continues to swing in the balance after two years of restrictions.  The Outbound sector was shunned when it came to dedicated financial support (refunding income already banked) leaving business owners feeling exasperated, in debt, with low morale, facing a skills shortage, regulatory pressures and all alongside a cost of living crisis and geo political instability.

So where do we go from here?

Well, it isn’t all doom and gloom. In fact, I think a huge opportunity exists for the UK Outbound sector, but I feel it’s going to get worse before it gets better.

I’ve been calling on the entire Outbound travel industry to come together with one voice to create a war chest to fund a lobbying group to represent the interests of the Outbound sector.

The aim of this group, ‘UK Outbound Travel’, will be to help the industry’s voice be heard as we continue to navigate these hugely challenging times.  My vision is to create one single voice that represents the sector, similar to how aviation and the domestic tourism sector achieves this through their engagement with Department for Transport (DfT), Department of Culture, Media and Sport (DCMS) and at all levels across these government departments and others.

The cross-industry collaboration throughout the pandemic has been incredible and this now needs harnessing.  It’s our duty as leaders to learn from the past two years and ensure we build long-term government education and engagement as a critical component of our industry’s long-term plans. Educating at all levels across the political spectrum, ensuring the Outbound sector gets the visibility it deserves, in both social and economic importance across the business landscape.

Whilst the industry has not had to deal with such a crisis of such a magnitude as a global pandemic before, challenges will continue, and these issues will require a different approach and in my mind are bigger than any one person or any one business.

Since our call to action announced back in December, a significant number of Outbound travel-related organisations have now registered to support an initiative of this nature, in principle, going forward. We have also met with a former cabinet minister, talked with several public affairs experts and other stakeholders to gauge views and gather input.   

The pandemic is far from over for our sector, being one of the first to feel the impact of border closures we are one of the last to recover. Businesses across travel remain fragile, in debt and under significant pressure as restrictions across the world in some form continue.  Even with the UK dropping restrictions we cannot control what’s happening at destinations.

There is still a labyrinth of restrictions and complexities to navigate in order to arrange travel, and a minefield of confusing regulations, depending on destination, regarding test requirements, quarantine and evidence of vaccination.  Whilst restrictions area starting to ease, much of Asia, for example, is still operating quarantine on arrival, regardless of vaccination or tests.
 
Improving the understanding of the sector and raising the industry’s profile across UK Government is crucial, both to the issues we are facing today and going forward. Building long-term strategic relationships, protecting current jobs and attracting future talent to the workforce, as well as driving investment into the sector, improving the fragmented devolved nations approach and delivering sustainable options to our end-users are all required.

Clearly articulating the entire eco system underpinned by UK Outbound Travel, through to putting people on planes, trains, ships and through airports. And, in addition to this, how we align our objectives with government’s, so we can ensure there is alignment on key macro ambitions will ensure we may relevant to policymakers.

The travel industry must not be swept under the carpet and forgotten. Continued government engagement with industry is paramount and we have seen the importance of using our influence to drive international harmonisation enabling the world to travel once more driving economic and social prosperity.

Ensuring the UK Outbound sector gets its seat at the table with government as a key economic and social driver alongside other such critical sectors for a true Global Britain will not only keep us on track – but will determine where we go next from here.

www.advantagemembers.com

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