ABTA chief executive Mark Tanzer describes his role within the organisation, from liaising with ministers to meeting the members
Talking to government
As chief executive, I have a number of sides to my job. One of those is the political and policy side: talking to government about regulations, and the way the travel industry would like them to be shaped. Over the past few months, we’ve had two new ministers: the minister for tourism, Michael Ellis MP, and minister for aviation, Baroness Sugg CBE.
When ministers arrive, it’s about building relationships. You want a personal contact, someone you can pick up the phone and speak to if something does come up. We get good access to the government because of the strength of the ABTA brand: we’re unique for a trade association in that we represent members, obviously, but we’ve also become a consumer champion for issues that affect travellers. This is really important to politicians.
Planning for Brexit
We’re talking to all ministers about Brexit at the moment. ABTA has been studiedly neutral about Brexit – in terms of whether it’s good or bad – but we do say that, for travel, the status quo has worked well. The access we have to fly wherever in Europe, the consumer protection that has come through European legislation, reciprocal healthcare – we’d like to preserve as much of that as possible.
Given we are less than a year out from when we’re leaving the EU, we had our own ABTA breakfast briefing, to which we invited about 150 people. I spoke there about what needs to happen from the industry point of view, for us to get into shape.
There is a ton of policy activity here, which I get involved with. But, of course, before we get to the point when we’re talking about our positions, we have to figure out what the positions are. We’ve recently been consulting with members about how they feel about the new Package Travel Directive. We’re talking to members and I’m sitting in on those meetings, and we’ve put those thoughts together into a response for the government. It’s important everyone here at ABTA understands what our members think. I always sit in on those policy-formulating roundtables.
The ultimate forum for policy decisions is the board. We have board meetings every two months: we give them a full account of the policy agenda, our current positions and policy objectives. If we are taking a firm position, the board is the final arbiter of that. It’s the board’s job to come up with a position that’s in the interests of the membership as a whole.
From a personal perspective, I try to do as much member engagement as possible. At the moment, all of our members are concerned about no longer being able to charge for credit card fees. If you are a travel agent, this is a huge deal; these fees can represent a large amount of your revenue. We are gathering data from members to see what sort of costs they are incurring, so we can make the argument to the Treasury that they have to work harder to bring those costs down. Members are telling us more people are using credit cards. It’s very important for me to speak to members and understand the scale of the issue.