Jeremy Hunt may have thought spending £5m on a star-studded advertising campaign for British holidays would get a warm welcome from the travel industry. But he may now feel, as Stephen Fry so sagaciously chuckles in the Visit England campaign ads, “it’s just not worth it”.
On Thursday the culture department’s intervention – a spring TV campaign featuring Fry and other celebrities with the punchline “No passports. No jabs. No visas. No euros” – was attacked by the head of Thomas Cook as “absolutely wrong” in persuading Britons not to bother travelling abroad.
The chief executive of Thomas Cook’s UK business, Ian Ailles, said that the economic contribution of the outbound tourism sector matched that of the inbound sector, making a huge contribution to GDP as well as to the Treasury’s coffers.
Speaking at a conference of the travel association Abta, he said: “What we ask is that the government doesn’t distort a functioning market with microeconomic meddling.”
Abta unveiled figures on Thursday showing that outbound travel contributes more than £22bn directly to the economy and keeps 620,000 people in full-time work. A report by the Centre for Economics and Business Research also claimed that an additional £31bn of economic activity in the UK could be credited to related pre-trip spending on items such as holiday wardrobes and sun cream.
Mark Tanzer, Abta’s chief executive, said it proved the huge contribution of foreign travel to economic success. He said: “For too long it has been assumed that by going abroad on holiday, money is being taken out of the UK economy. The government must recognise and support outbound travel in its current and future policies to deliver growth to the wider economy.”
Ailles also attacked the “stealth holiday tax” of air passenger duty for dampening demand, adding that despite repeated assurances that the government supports travel and tourism, “the tax only increases”. He added: “I believe the chancellor would rather take the plaudits for lower direct taxation while stealing it in extra indirect taxation, which we take for him.”
The duty, which has united much of the aviation and travel industries in protest, rose by 8% last month. Tanzer said that the industry would be looking to “mobilise customers” to protest against it, and that the point needed to be made that it affected consumers’ own budgets and not just the industry’s.