Scottish Passenger Agents’ Association President outlines vision … and frustrations

Jacqueline Dobson has delivered her first address at the helm of the SPAA

DELIVERING her first address at the helm of the Scottish Passenger Agents’ Association (SPAA) president Jacqueline Dobson praised the resilience of the travel industry in the face of global challenges and uncertainty.

She also expressed frustration at the lack of government support for the Scottish travel industry, especially on issues such as business rates, apprenticeships, air connectivity, cruise tax and visitor levy.

More than 350 guests, including senior leaders from across the travel sector and Scottish politicians, attended the dinner in Glasgow on Thursday 22 February.

Calling for more government support to help a growing sector thrive on the High Street, Jacqueline outlining the disadvantage facing Scottish travel agents compared to English counterparts due to the fact that rates relief provided south of the border is denied in Scotland.

“We are another year down the line where we are at a disadvantage compared with our English counterparts. Business might be doing well for many, but rates and bills are skyrocketing for those who choose to trade on the high street.

“When the ONS continues to report downward spending patterns for retail, travel bucks the trend with even more spending than last year. Barclays, for instance, reported spend for travel agents in December grew yet again – at a rate of 12.8% – with growth continuing in January at a rate of 8% year on year.”

She called for “robust” support packages which encourage retail travel to thrive and expand on our dwindling high streets in Scotland.

Industry frustrations at “unacceptable” lack of support for investment in people and a levy which is “unfit for purpose” were also to the fore in her address.

“I remain very disappointed that we now no longer have any funding available for Scottish travel apprentices with the courses about to become extinct across colleges.

“To add insult to injury, the vital Flexible Workforce Development Fund has been withdrawn due to budget cuts – meaning that there is even less funding available to travel businesses.

“We are paying into the same levy pot as every other industry across the UK – yet we cannot utilise our own funding for the courses that would make a difference to our businesses.”

As SPAA President, Jacqueline urged the industry to drive debate on these issues and called for more collaboration and engagement between the industry and key stakeholders to influence policy and deliver change.

She announced that the SPAA would be working closer than ever with the Scottish Chamber of Commerce and Scottish Tourism Alliance to bring both sides of the travel industry together. She also said that the SPAA would be launching face-to-face sessions and round tables to hear the views of members and associates on how they are impacted by policies and trading conditions. 

She said: “Our role as an association that works for its members and passengers means that it is our duty to do what it takes to raise the right issues with the right people. I’m confident that, with such a strong council behind me, we’ll be able to tackle the issues we face. Your feedback is the only way that we can deliver meaningful change – it is about working together. Something that I know our industry here in Scotland is great at doing.” 

The importance of sustainability and AI as key drivers of innovation and competitiveness in the travel sector were acknowledged.  She said that the industry was already investing in solutions such as Sustainable Aviation Fuels and portside energy, but that more public investment was needed for Scotland to unlock its full potential as a leader in this area.

Looking to the future for the industry, she encouraged all to embrace AI and integrate it into business models to avoid losing out to competitors. 

“AI is something that is already becoming commonplace in our industry and everyday lives. Finding ways to integrate AI into your business will be daunting but it is essential that all businesses push this up the agenda during 2024 or risk falling behind or losing competitive advantage.” 

The SPAA, celebrated its centenary in 2021 and is the world’s oldest organisation representing travel agents. It currently has 120 member companies, all their associated agencies across Scotland including many home workers, and 92 associate members across the travel and transport industry.  

The latest stories