Europe rules, but global movers and shak­ers crit­i­cise taxes

The Weekend Australian - Travel - - Travel & Indulgence - LISA ALLEN

AC­CORD­ING to global tourism lead­ers who met in Abu Dhabi last week, book­ings to Europe are well up this year, de­spite the Bri­tish government’s air pas­sen­ger duty de­par­ture tax, which adds $US142.70 ($138) to the cost of long-haul out­bound flights (more than 8000km).

More than 1000 del­e­gates at­tended the World Travel and Tourism Coun­cil sum­mit, in­clud­ing Brett Toll­man, pres­i­dent of The Travel Cor­po­ra­tion, James Ho­gan, chief ex­ec­u­tive of Eti­had Air­ways, Ge­of­frey Kent, founder and chief ex­ec­u­tive of Aber­crom­bie & Kent, and Matthew Upchurch, chair­man and chief ex­ec­u­tive of spe­cial­ist travel agency Vir­tu­oso.

‘‘Europe is still a very hot des­ti­na­tion for Aus­tralians and the ad­vent of Mid­dle East­ern car­ri­ers adds to [its pop­u­lar­ity],’’ Upchurch told The Week­end Aus­tralian. He said a re­cent Vir­tu­oso poll found Aussies still favoured France and Italy as the food and wine des­ti­na­tions in Europe. (The poll also re­vealed many of us as­pire to visit Myan­mar, South Amer­ica, Morocco and Bhutan this year.)

Ac­cord­ing to Toll­man, book­ings to Europe this year have been very en­cour­ag­ing. ‘‘There’s some pent-up de­mand — last year was an off year,’’ Toll­man re­ported. ‘‘A lot of peo­ple were con­cerned about the col­lapse of the euro, [but that] was ill-founded.’’

Toll­man has put some ‘‘fan­tas­tic new ini­tia­tives’’ into his Europe of­fers. ‘‘Pric­ing is bet­ter than a year ago . . . and we are see­ing very strong river cruis­ing [growth], with Uni­world [book­ings] up sig­nif­i­cantly, and so are In­sight and Trafal­gar [cruise sales].’’

De­spite this new-found Aussie pas­sion for Europe, air­line ex­ec­u­tives told fel­low WTTC del­e­gates they were not happy about tourism taxes.

In­ter­na­tional Air­lines Group chief ex­ec­u­tive Wil­lie Walsh was par­tic­u­larly scathing about the Bri­tish government’s long-haul tax. ‘‘Not a sin­gle penny raised through pas­sen­ger duty goes to the [travel or tourism] in­dus­try or en­vi­ron­men­tal is­sues.

‘‘[In or­der] to trig­ger eco­nomic growth, we need a fun­da­men­tal change in at­ti­tude from gov­ern­ments in Europe. A re­cent Price­wa­ter­house­Coop­ers report shows that if you scrap the tax you ac­tu­ally boost the econ­omy and see a pos­i­tive ef­fect.’’

Tourism and Trans­port Fo­rum lob­by­ists at the Abu Dhabi sum­mit voiced their op­po­si­tion to Aus­tralia’s own pas­sen­ger move­ment charge. At $US57.50 for short-haul flights (less than 3220km), it’s one of the world’s most ex­pen­sive. Lisa Allen was a guest of Eti­had Air­ways and the World Travel and Tourism Coun­cil.

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