Distinction in travel journalism
Is independent travel journalism important to you?
Click here to keep it independent

15 May, 2012

PATA Pushes Pugnacious New Policy Posture

The Pacific Asia Travel Association (PATA) is pushing a table-thumping public advocacy posture designed to speak out more forcefully on issues affecting the regional travel & tourism industry.

The policy posture was adopted almost immediately after the CEO Martin Craigs assumed office in November 2011 and stepped up at the UN World Tourism Organisation’s regional commission meetings in Chiang Mai earlier this month.

The policy’s primary target-audience was the many heads of national tourism organisations and senior industry executives who attended the UNWTO meetings. Many of them are not members of PATA, and those who are, are constantly reviewing the value they get for their membership fees.

As government organisations, their membership in PATA is critical to the association’s future survival. Mr. Craigs told them point-blank that PATA, as a public-private sector organisation unfettered by affiliation to institutions such as the United Nations, can and will speak out on issues such as the Airline Passenger Duty (APD) imposed by the UK government and the Emissions Trading System (ETS) tax that will impact all airlines flying to and from Europe.

He proceeded to do exactly that. Provided with both a seat at the head-table as well as a speaking slot at the opening ceremony, Mr. Craigs denounced the APD and the ETS as actions that smacked of “neocolonialism”.

Positioning the policy as being in line with PATA’s mission statement to be a “voice” of the regional travel industry, he said that under his watch, there would be no more “Mr. Nice Guy” posture for tourism. “Its basically to say that even though we want to have a nice guy image, we have to get sharper elbows when it comes to the corridors of power.”

At various times during the UNWTO meetings, Mr. Craigs generated a fair number of his promised “sound-bites”.

He said that in his former days as an aviation industry executive, he had attended numerous international summits where travel & tourism was “totally outnumbered by other industries.”

At one such summit, there were over 150 banking representatives and even more from the oil and mineral companies but the travel & tourism industry had only three. “Eighty per cent of life’s success is attained by simply turning up,” he said, and the tourism industry now had to starting turning up in places outside its traditional comfort zones.

“We are world class at talking to ourselves but quite average at talking to others. That’s why the UK government has imposed the APD.”

Denouncing the APD as “a detention tax,” Mr. Craigs called it “a prime example of ill-conceived taxation.” Effectively, he said, “If a family of four in UK wishes to have a holiday in Asia, they have first have to pay their own government (the equivalent of) US$500 for permission to leave. I contend that is going to suppress travel & tourism in this region.”

The same result would ensue in the case of the EU’s ETS. “If they (the taxes and duties) suppress travel & tourism to this region by even one percent, you will create 6.5 million less jobs. I personally feel that it is not only financially unacceptable but also morally irresponsible for any government 5,000 miles away to create this kind of pain.”

He said that for the first time, PATA would be hosting a dinner in the UK House of Commons on 5 November alongside the World Travel Mart in London to press this issue. Noting that 5 November is Guy Fawkes Day in the UK, he promised to “create verbal fireworks” at the event.

He added, “The luxury of being the CEO of PATA is that unlike the U.N., I can be quite outspoken. All my members have told me to carry on doing this loud and clear. PATA does not have the restriction, so we will speak out.”

His discussions with the various NTO representatives as well as their presentations during the meetings had helped him “understand a little better your concerns and priorities so that I can drive PATA in a harmonious way that is complementary to what you are doing in your own organisations.”

Promising to “walk the talk” of his policy, Mr. Craigs said, “We are in the process of reinventing ourselves as NextGen PATA. We are promising our members that we will remain focussed on staying relevant and adding value in the internet age.”

He said that although travel & tourism remains an essential sector of the world economy, it has long been “under appreciated, over-taxed and illogically regulated by many western governments.”

“We cannot be left in the waiting rooms while other industries push their own priorities with politicians,” Mr. Craigs said. “Tourism cannot go on being Mr Nice Guy.”

At the same time, however, Mr. Craigs was also careful to stress that he would be directing his criticism “primarily at governments in the West and not here in Asia.”