We recently looked at some of the many ways that Brexit could affect the travel industry, but what do the sector's heavy hitters think of the prospect of the UK leaving the EU?
The Association of British Travel Agents (ABTA) recently released a detailed report on what Brexit might mean for the British travel industry. Chief Executive Mark Tanzer concludes: “Our assessment of the report’s findings is that a vote to leave will lead to uncertainties and may lead to increased costs for travel businesses and the travelling public. … ABTA has considered what a vote to leave the EU might mean purely from a travel perspective. Our view is that the potential risks and downsides are not matched by an equal upside for the traveller.”
This guarded pessimism is the general tone found amongst the travel industry’s thought leaders, though it’s not all doom and gloom. While no one is jumping for joy at the idea, it’s not too hard to find those who think that leaving the EU would be no big deal for the travel sector.
easyJet, Ryanair and Monarch Believe in a Great Brit-IN
Carolyn McCall, Chief Executive of easyJet, has been very vocal about her belief that UK travellers are “better off in Europe”:
“If the UK were to vote to leave the EU any new, more restrictive aviation arrangements would add cost and therefore fares would rise. And a weaker pound would mean the cost of a holiday abroad – including food, accommodation and drinks – would be more expensive.
“How much you pay for your holiday really does depend on how much influence Britain has in Europe.”
Never one to shy away from expressing an opinion, Ryanair boss Michael O’Leary described the airline as a “committed supporter” of the UK remaining in Europe:
“As the UK’s largest airline, Ryanair is absolutely clear that the UK economy and its future growth prospects are stronger as a member of the European Union than they are outside of the EU.”
Monarch chief executive Andrew Swaffield has also spoken up, viewing “the outcomes for the travel sector as very negative,” and suggesting that “An exit would most likely lead to higher air fares and fewer scheduled flights between the EU and the UK.”
Perhaps most unequivocal of all is Doreen McKenzie, who owns the Belfast-based Knock Travel agency, and believes that a Brexit would be "disastrous" for the travel industry.
Tui’s Long Fears Increased Travel Risk
Meanwhile, in an interview with the Sunday Times, Peter Long, former joint CEO of the Tui travel group claimed that Tui – formed following a cross-border merger – could not exist in its current form had it not been for the single European market. He also suggested that leaving the EU could increase risk for British travellers.
Of the 38 tourists tragically killed in Sousse, Tunisia, last summer, 33 were Tui customers. Long talked how about the massacre gave him “first-hand experiences of how European governments, through their foreign offices, collaborate and work together in a crisis” and his belief that if governments didn’t “work together to deal with crises … it would be a threat to security”.
Long believes that the close cooperation between member states that comes with EU membership is key to “protect the security of our holidaymakers … It would not be like that if we were not in a situation where we were as Europe working together.”
But Amadeus and IAG Think a Brexit is Nothing to Fear
In conversation with CNBC, Ana de Pro, CFO of top GDS Amadeus, showed no fear, claiming that the loss of one country to the EU would have little impact on the travel industry, and particularly her business, since “we are a truly global company and we operate everywhere," and she believed any impact would be purely short-term. Though, she did go on to say "it's true that Brexit may have a global impact and our business is related with global GDP."
Of course Ana de Pro is speaking on behalf of a global company that is not UK based. However, Willie Walsh, Chief Executive of International Airlines Group (IAG) which owns British Airways, the UK's largest airline in terms of fleet size, is also fairly upbeat on the consequences for his business.
Though he allows that the looming referendum is causing uncertainty, he maintains that, having undertaken a risk analysis and sought advice from a number of expert sources, Walsh is confident that leaving the EU would not have ‘a material impact’ on his business.
While feelings are certainly mixed, at least on a global scale, like Skift, we are yet to find a UK travel brand that actively supports the Exit campaign.
However, Rafat Ali, founder of Skift and one of our travel industry experts to follow tweeted some rather interesting advice for the UK:
If UK was smart, they would do the Brexit, and become refugee colony for Americans fearing Trumpocracy. Now is the time to start marketing.— Rafat Ali (@rafat) March 2, 2016
Whether the UK leaves or stays put within the EU, the travel sector will continue to evolve. Another area that should be of great interest to our industry is the growth of the sharing economy and its effect on TMCs and travel agencies.