WTM 2018: UK travel bosses ‘confident’ ahead of Brexit

Leading UK travel companies say they are prepared for Brexit but admit it has been a costly and difficult process.

Speaking during a session at World Travel Market, easyJet chief operating officer Chris Browne said she was hopeful “common sense would prevail” and that the “bare bones” of a Brexit deal would be in place by the end of March 2019.

As a back-up, the company has set up another airline, easyJet Europe, in Austria to protect its flying rights in the European Union once Britain leaves.

She said: “This means we will retain our flying rights. We are pretty confident we are prepared so that come April Fools Day we will be able to fly across Europe. It’s our insurance policy.

“I would not want to tell you the amount of work that has gone into our post-Brexit structure, just to do what we do today. We debated long and hard but I am really happy we have done it.

“There was investment required and an awful lot of reorganisation. We cannot underestimate the impact this is having on our global workforce. It is very unsettling for our crew.”

Steve Cassidy, Hilton senior vice-president and managing director UK and Ireland, said Brexit had put a “big dollop of uncertainty” into the business community but said the hotel group had continency plans for a no-deal scenario.

He stressed there were “not enough UK employees to fill the gap of international employees” as a result of Brexit.

“One area we are working very hard with the UK government on is ensuring we can have access to these skills,” he said.

Travel Counsellors chief executive Steve Byrne said there was no doubt Brexit “posed some structure issues” for the travel industry but said: “You have got to be an optimist. Regardless of the outcome, I do believe entrepreneurs will find a way around it. Ultimately we will all just make it work.”

Tui UK managing director, Andrew Flintham, said the cost of preparing the company for Brexit had been “all the energy to put everything in place to create insurance policies when we could have been doing other things”.

But he added: “We couldn’t let it get in the way of our investment decisions. As a business we are carrying on full steam ahead.”

The bosses were talking at the session entitled Travel Leaders Speak – UK Travel Market: What to expect in 2019 in the WTM London Europe Inspiration Zone on Monday (November 5).

• Speakers in the session entitled Social media, digital excellence in Brexit Britain, questioned whether innovation and funding in tourism would continue once Britain left the EU.

Kurt Janson, director of the Tourism Alliance, said concerns over the future of funding was the top issue among members in a recent survey.

The Tourism Alliance is working on a Green Paper for the government with 10 Big Ideas to boost growth and employment in the tourism industry, starting on April 1, the first day after Brexit.

“We as the industry need to lobby government to ensure there are continued funds for tourism,” Janson urged.

Roger Goulding, from the Cranbourne Chase Area, in Dorset, recently secured £130,000 of EU funding to develop an augmented reality tourism app that brings historical characters to life. He is also helping to put together a £2.5 million Landscape Partnership Scheme for the Cranbourne AoNB, which straddles Dorset and Wiltshire.

However, he admitted it was hard to see where future investment would come from, and hoped his project would act as a catalyst for other businesses to work together. He also called on local councils to work more collaboratively to create sustainable tourism plans.