The European Tour Operators Association (ETOA) GEM Conference 2009 took place last week in London and a number of important issues including UK travel taxation were discussed at a crucial time for the industry.
The key message from Jack Coronna, President of ETOA and speaking at the 20th anniversary conference, was that increased taxes on travel will discourage visitors to Britain as people avoid paying them. He said the UK government could learn from other European states that had abolished departure taxes and other charges on travelers.
“The UK Government has raised airport departure taxes this month by between 10 and 40 per cent and will raise them again in a year’s time. This is an insane and savage penalty on a group who can - and will - choose not to pay it. UK citizens may find it difficult to avoid paying this imposition, but tourists from elsewhere can easily avoid doing so - by staying away,” he said.
Mr. Coronna pointed to the Netherlands move where the government imposed a tax then had to drop it as useful example of where the UK may be heading.
“Tourism should be an engine of growth, but cannot be if it is taxed heavily,” he said. “ETOA has lobbied over 20 years for more recognition for Europe’s inbound tourism industry. Our members have a huge impact on Europe’s economic wellbeing, both in terms of revenue and jobs.”
Elsewhere at the conference., the issue of ‘costly and unreasonable’ fees for coaches bringing visitors to historic cities was raised. It is felt that these fees are damaging tourism and could ultimately hit the local economies of key heritage sites. Dieter Hardt-Stremayr, president of European Cities Marketing, told ETOA members gathered in London that no city tourist board wanted to ban coaches but pressures were coming from city governments to restrict access. He called for a new partnership between tour operators and coach tour companies to lobby for better conditions to promote coach travel.
And finally a sustained growth in cruise sales in the United States could threaten traditional European holidays according to new figures from a survey of US travel agents. New and larger ships are being launched and marketed aggressively, despite the economic downturn, according to Arnie Weissman, Editor of Travel Weekly.
Speaking at the conference, he said ocean cruises were big ticket items with large commissions for travel agents and cruises from home ports in the US and Caribbean were being promoted as more attractive than traditional land-based vacations in Europe.
A new detailed report on the travel market in the US showed that 80 per cent of travel agents had seen their revenues decline by an average of 26 per cent in 2008. Successful agents were seeing the recession as an opportunity to expand their range of services, rather than as the time to slash costs.