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To understand travel you have to live travel - An insider’s view, Friday 2 December 2022

Updated: Mar 17, 2023

Could a lack of knowledge about the travel industry be causing problems in policy and the media? Financial and regulatory expert, Matt Purser – Director of the Firebird Partnership – gives the latest take on the issues facing travel businesses now.

Many of us in the travel industry feel increasingly frustrated by decision-makers and influencers who make public comments and decisions about travel without fully understanding the industry – and without realising the damage that their uninformed statements can cause.

“Both small and large business share pain points – but who of influence is listening to them?”

When I started my own consultancy business in 2005, it was off the back of 15 years at ATOL, the Air Travel Organiser’s Licence. During my time at ATOL I looked after small, medium and large tour operators, sole traders, partnerships, limited companies and publicly-listed companies.

Those 15 years gave me the confidence to establish my business and aim to add value to tour operator clients. Thankfully, I was able to add that value, and still work with some of those clients today. But I can honestly say I learnt more in the first three years of that work than I ever did in 15 years at ATOL. It was only then that I really got to know my clients and their businesses, and could see what their pain points were.

Both small and large businesses share problems and pain points that are similar – but who of influence is listening to them, or properly learning about the wider sector?

“The sector is already being kicked enough by events including pandemics, wars and recessions”

This week we have seen the European Travel Agents’ and Tour Operators’ Associations (ECTAA) raise concerns about the European Commission’s “lack of ambition” to review the EU Package Travel Directive. Their press notice on 29 November said: “This is demonstrating an obvious lack of understanding on how the travel industry works.”

There seems to be a lack of knowledge among some media spokespeople too, as demonstrated by BBC presenter Rachel Burden’s recent statement about cruise ships – comparing them to “prison ships” – another throwaway comment with potential to have a hugely damaging effect on the industry.

Ms Burden isn’t the first – and, unfortunately, probably won’t be the last – to judge the travel industry without a full understanding of how it works. The sector is already being kicked enough by events including pandemics, wars and recessions. We don’t need ill-informed commentators adding to those woes.

“There are plenty of experts within travel, without a hidden agenda, who can be your guide on the real issues we face”

Whether you are a presenter, influencer, government minister, or another person of power, it is important to get a decent grasp of the industry, rather than making further unenlightened comments and decisions. There are plenty of experts within travel who are willing to help, without a hidden agenda, and who can be your guide on the real issues we face.

Without working together, we are in danger of not achieving the goal of keeping consumers fully and fairly informed, as well as protected. We can’t do this by working separately.

Matt Purser is a Director of the Firebird Partnership, and has worked in travel since 1989, beginning with ATOL at the Civil Aviation Authority. There he was instrumental in scoping out regulatory changes to protect consumers. In 2005, he set up the Travel Trade Consultancy (TTC) and helped grow it from a start-up to a million-pound-turnover business. Matt is an expert for the Finance & MI and Regulatory modules of Firebird’s Foundations for Growth programme.

Learn all about the programme, and get in touch with Firebird, at


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