The 140-strong Association of Independent Tour Operators, www.aito.com, is setting out its stall pre the May elections. Says Chairman of AITO, Derek Moore: “Specialist AITO companies are naturally closer to their destinations, and AITO companies have been involved in so-called green/environmental issues now for 22 years; this is no flash in the pan. Accordingly, AITO’s Manifesto for the Government has a distinctly green slant.”
On the environmental front, AITO strongly rejects any calls for increased airport capacity across the UK. “We should be looking at better managing the capacity that we currently have – ensuring that planes fly full, for example – as a key priority”, says Moore. The airline industry is already in a parlous state, with BA teetering on the verge of strike-ridden chaos and with collapses galore over the past decade, leaving hundreds of thousands of people stranded abroad or stuck in the UK without their paid-for holiday. A considerable number of US airlines are in Chapter 11 – basically, they are insolvent. So let’s reject increased airport capacity and get back to basics!
If planes fly full, their environmental credentials improve dramatically. And, if planes fly full, the commercial stakes for those airlines improve dramatically too. It’s simple commonsense. If passengers offset their flights, the situation is better still from an environmental perspective.
Air Passenger Duty is, in AITO’s view, a bit of a red herring. The Government claims it’s an environmental tax, but the industry has yet to see proof of a single penny of this not-inconsiderable tax going into the green coffers or being used for green purposes. It affects countries which rely on tourism – e.g. the Caribbean – by increasing the cost for families to travel there by a considerable amount and possibly causing fewer to holiday there. Air Passenger Duty should be abolished and replaced by the strategy of flying planes full and ensuring that passengers offset their travel. That way, the environment would benefit positively.
Tied in very closely with financially-healthy (or not) airlines is the issue of reform of consumer protection laws. AITO has lobbied on this front for at least the last decade, and strongly advocates that the travelling public is protected no matter how it books its travel arrangements. It makes no sense for people sitting in adjacent seats on a plane to find out, when an airline goes bust, that one of them is protected because he/she booked via a tour operator and the other isn’t because he/she booked on line direct with the airline. AITO has sent submissions both to the EU and to the UK Government on this topic in the past two months, strongly advocating the beefing-up of consumer protection. AITO has held firm to its principle of 100% financial protection for consumers consistently over many years.
AITO whole-heartedly backs the call for a dedicated Minister of Tourism. For too long the industry has been passed from pillar to post, with a huge number of so-called tourism ministers over the past decade. In reality, these people never responded to requests for meetings or got to grips with the huge employer that tourism is, whether inbound, outbound or domestic. Part of such a Minister’s role would be not only to safeguard jobs in the tourism sector but also to help create new roles, thus reducing the number of unemployed people in the UK.
Says AITO’s Chairman, Derek Moore: “AITO is focused on people and places – the economic and environmental/social impact of holiday trips can be hugely positive if correctly managed. Ours is a commonsense manifesto and it’s very workable, to the benefit of all – from UK unemployment figures through to the destinations we like to visit in our leisure time, both at home and abroad. We hope that the new Government, whichever party it proves to be post the May elections, will take this on board and will work closely with the travel industry going forward.”