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The audience at the WTM London Leaders’ Lunch (photo: WTM London)

Travel “should plan for hardest Brexit”

Travel bosses should plan for the hardest Brexit scenario, they are told at the WTM London Leaders’ Lunch.

A top businesswoman working with the UK government on Brexit has urged travel bosses at World Travel Market London to plan for the worst possible scenario, in case no deal is agreed.

“If I were a manager, I would be focused on the implications. ‘No deal’ is the hardest, so plan for the hardest scenario,” Susan Hooper advised delegates at the WTM’s leaders’ lunch event.

A non-executive board member of the Department for Exiting the European Union, Hooper also has broad experience in leisure and consumer businesses and the travel sector.

There are three possible scenarios, she said – a soft or a hard Brexit, or no deal at all.

“The ‘soft’ one is a withdrawal agreement, which will see an attenuated exit from the EU. It makes things easier but we might not realise the benefits for a long time to come,” she told the audience.

“A ‘hard’ Brexit is with a WTO agreement – that will be more decisive as it means leaving the customs union. But it’s hard to imagine how two grown-up countries can be happy with a situation where we are not in alignment.”

She said that the civil servants in the department who are working on the Brexit process are some of the “most high-calibre” people she has ever met.

“They are the brightest we have got, working all hours, doing an almost impossible task,” she said.

Aviation worries
Hooper was interviewed by Gloria Guevara Manzo, chief executive of the World Travel & Tourism Council, who also asked about Brexit and both aviation and immigration.

“With aviation, the challenge is the fact that there are no rules to fall back on if there’s no agreement,” said Hooper. “The status quo is what people want for airlines. What we need is ‘no change’ to keep the agreements in place.”

On the issue of immigration, she said: “The UK government has made it clear that it wants control of immigration but freedom of movement for approved passengers. EU citizens’ rights will be respected, but won’t know the details until the final agreement is agreed.”

Open to travellers
Michael Ellis, UK Tourism Minister, also addressed the travel leaders, saying he and the government “know and recognise” the value of the travel and tourism sector to the economy.

“You work in an industry that is of signal importance and we want to make it bigger and more important,” he told the audience.

Commenting on Brexit, he said: “I know you have perfectly legitimate concerns but I want to be clear. The whole of the UK will remain open and welcome to leisure travellers, and open and welcome to business travellers. We want a continuation of flights and visa-free travel, and want to continue supporting the inbound and outbound industry.”

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