How Brexit has prompted discussion about future tourism industry planning
Whatever your views on Brexit, it has prompted discussion about future tourism industry planning and some of the regulatory arrangements that have flowed from our membership of the EU.
Some of us are old enough to remember the coming of the Package Travel Regulations (PTR) in 1992, which had a significant impact upon the group travel sector – both the role and responsibilities of GTOs, and the framework imposed upon suppliers to protect the interests of their customers and their monies.
The Department of Business Energy and Industrial Strategy (BEIS) has been consulting on the potential changes to the PTR when the 2015 European Package Travel Directive is imported into English Law. There are a number of issues about the best form of consumer protection and the way to ensure that innovation and creativity amongst suppliers seeking to put together services is not stifled unnecessarily.
The Tourism Alliance, of which the GTBF is a member, has been coordinating a sectoral input to the discussions and as a contribution to that I did invite some of our network to respond to an online survey of attitudes and issues.
If I was putting forward a view to government from the group travel sector alone, I would underline comments that have been made throughout the history of the regulations concerning the restrictions put on the combination of tourism and leisure elements by non-commercial/volunteer group organisers on behalf of closed membership groups that cannot be considered to put clients at great risk yet still are ‘caught’ by the PTRs.
These include domestic only trips and self-packaged arrangements by group travel organisers on behalf of members on an occasional basis using coach hire or scheduled transport. These are really quite distinct from any arrangements needed to regulate the commercial regular retail packaging activities of tour operators etc.
To avoid unnecessarily burdensome and restrictive regulations it would seem appropriate for some genuine ‘risk assessment’ to be undertaken by government about what does and does not require to be included in packaging protection, and ways in which more straightforward and simple measures to ensure monies paid over by group members are properly looked after on behalf of closed groups who are not part of the travel business. There must be parallels with Christmas Club-type groups and other charities, who collect member contributions, and those organising not-for-profit activities for the benefit of people who might otherwise be unable to enjoy tours and excursions etc. Another key question is how the insurance sector can provide appropriate cover for individuals taking part in group trips.
The Tourism Alliance has identified a similar situation facing ‘bolt on’ offers for their guests by small hotels etc where it is really inappropriate to ‘use a sledge hammer to crack a nut’ and I know that this was an important part of the content of a meeting that took place recently between the Alliance and BEIS officials.
We are not sure yet how the government proposes to consider and to decide upon any changes to the regulations as they now stand (and indeed are currently being amended by the EU), but putting forward some creative options for changes for comment that are more flexible and pragmatic might be a good way forward.
The GTBF would be pleased to be hear from anyone who has thoughts on amendments and alternative mechanisms for ensuring that those organising trips and tours are not putting their clients monies and interests at risk, and how participants are best looked after if anything goes wrong during a trip.
Likewise, work has been going on about the tourism sector’s future skills needs. Input on that too would be welcome by both GTBF and the Tourism Alliance.
This article was originally published in issue 275 (September / October 2017) of GTO magazine.