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Notes from the Elman Wall Travel Directors Summit

By Catherine Leech, Co-Founder and Director, 101 Holidays

Now in its second year, yesterday’s annual Elman Wall Travel Directors Summit brought together an august gathering of tour operators and other travel industry types for a day of speakers, networking and the chance to kiss the hallowed turf of the Emirates Stadium, home to Jonathan Wall’s beloved Arsenal.

Here are my takeaways:

Heathrow 3, Boris Island or Stansted

The liveliest debate of the day centred on the future of the UK’s capacity as a global hub. Daniel Moylan, Boris Johnson’s Aviation Advisor, didn’t mince his words: “Britain is in danger of becoming a country station at the end of the line with the main station across the channel. We simply must have a main hub service.”

Just as Holland stole a march to become Europe’s shipping hub when Britain’s ports started their decline, he believes that lengthy review processes, red tape and political inertia – and lack of liberalisation to allow the private sector to speak – will strangle future economic development.

Moylan stressed that the future lies not just in the third runway but in the fourth and fifth – and Heathrow is quite simply in the wrong place (of those affected by noise pollution close to airports in the EU, 28% live in the Heathrow area – compared to 0.1% for Charles de Gaulle).

The under-utilisation of Stansted was acknowledged, but Moylan believes that the estuary option – the so-called Boris Island – can meet the long-term need to open up new routes, satisfy consumer demand and set up a lasting international hub to help secure Britain’s economic future.

Are newspapers no more than content providers?

Is the web killing the printed press? Chris Blackhurst, Editor of The Independent, is in no doubt that newspapers are here to stay: “We’ll sell less papers and they’ll probably be less of us but demand will always exist.” Equally, he admitted that “we didn’t see the internet coming and rushed to pump out reams of free online content.”

Free newspapers work (financially speaking) – the London Evening Standard has seen huge growth in circulation since going free – but online strategy for the media barons remains the thorny thistle – not least, said Blackhurst, when the BBC continues to be allowed to provide a free online news service. He was clear that whatever the future, people want information and they want it now.

Exit strategy in mind

Unless you are handing your company on to family members, you will want to sell it at some stage. The day’s most charismatic speaker was Dick Porter – he co-founded STA Travel in the ‘70s and engineered the company’s spectacular growth and subsequent sale. His over-riding message was to find a key advisor – “it’s a long and complex process and chances are you’ll only do it once”.

In addition, Porter advises owners to prepare the company for sale by clarifying what they want (sell and move on, become a non-exec shareholder, phased exit, etc), setting out where the company has come from and is going (in words and numbers), ensuring the team has depth and reducing uncertainty (don’t undertake new long-term projects).

A differentiated business is more attractive to potential buyers – and, in all discussions, make sure you “sparkle”. As a final note, Porter emphasises the need to protect your own personal ‘brand’ during and after the exit process – communicate, engage and show your appreciation to all those involved.

225% Tax Relief

Howarth Lynch specialises in securing tax relief for companies that invest in research and development. Alison Lynch grabbed the attention of many delegates – if your investment makes an appreciable advance, overcomes technological uncertainty and is a solution which is not readily deducible, companies can enjoy up to 225% tax relief. Claims can be back-dated by two tax years.

The value of a day off-base

There’s a saying – a change is as good as a rest. When it comes to work, a day out of the office amongst fellow industry players – aided by some stimulating presentations and plenty of time for networking – is a shot in the business arm.

It was good to see the team from Family Holiday Association, whom we support. Delegates raised around £600 on the day.

Thank you to everyone at Elman Wall, the event sponsors, speakers and fellow delegates for a rewarding day and for your generous hospitality.

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