Each issue we speak to an ABTA employee to find out more about their work. This time, it’s Alan Wardle, director of public affairs
Brexit talks in Brussels…
As part of ABTA’s Brexit engagement, which includes speaking to politicians in Westminster, Brussels and also in the European member states, Mark Tanzer, the ABTA chief executive, and I hosted a lunch in Brussels for ambassadors and senior representatives from some of the major destinations Britons travel to. It was a private lunch to talk about some of the priorities that the travel industry has – for instance, making sure we have good connectivity after Brexit, that staff can still be posted and making sure these issues are sufficiently well known in the nations’ capitals. The good news is that they are all well aware of the potential impact of Brexit. It’s such a big market for those countries, and we’re keen to continue this by preserving the ability to travel freely and other benefits we have, post-Brexit.
… and Brexit talks at home
The clock is ticking: there isn’t a huge amount of time left and the UK government is still essentially negotiating with itself. It’s a difficult time, but we are making sure we’re out there, in Europe and the UK, making sure our key priorities are understood, and that our members’ voices are heard, too. We’re speaking to all the main government departments, the Department for Exiting the European Union, the Department for Digital, Culture, Media & Sport, which has the tourism portfolio, the Department for Transport, as well as Number 10 – how things are looking, what plans are in place, contingency in the event of a No Deal, which we certainly don’t expect to happen. Our membership of the EU has given us a lot of benefits in terms of travel, such as visa-free travel, and we want to preserve as many of these benefits as we can – that’s in the interest of UK travellers and travel companies.
We had a wide consultation with our members just after the Brexit vote two years ago, which established our priority issues. That informs the basis of our lobbying. We hold roundtables with our members to discuss, sometimes quite complex issues, such as how VAT works with our travel. In general, we work as a conduit between our members, hearing what the practical issues are, and communicating those to key officials.
Members are very much involved – we hear from them and we feed back to them about how the process is going and what it means for them and their business. There’s a lot of uncertainty out there and part of our job is helping our members manage this.
Campaigning for the industry
Thankfully, my work life is not just Brexit. We have a lot of other issues to deal with, such as fighting fake sickness claims. The teams across ABTA have been working on this, delivering the change Members wanted. In this case, we spoke to Members, got their data, their stats, and raise the profile of the issue through the Stop Sickness Scams campaign. A lot of what we do is driven by our members’ concerns, and we think about how we can bring about change. My job is to communicate these things at a political level: we have to make sure we’re putting travel issues on the agenda. You don’t bombard MPs: it’s about being clear, and making sure you have specific issues that you want to get across.