Kuoni chief says government inaction ‘death by thousand cuts’ for industry

The continued lack of clarity or any strategy for a return to travel from the government is tantamount to “death by a thousand cuts” for the sector, according to the boss of Kuoni parent Der Touristik.

Speaking on a Travel Weekly webcast, chief executive Derek Jones said: “There’s a 5pm briefing every day, and we’ve been going for several weeks, and we haven’t had the travel one.

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“We haven’t had the one where the government comes on, and they coherently and sensibly explain to the public what the official view is in terms of overseas travel. That’s my big frustration.”

He added: “It’s not as if the annual holiday is an irrelevance. It’s not as if people aren’t thinking about it. In fact, the longer this goes on, I think the more people are beginning to think about when’s their next holiday? When can we get away? When can we go back to enjoy family time and get away with the grandparents? All of those things are really important to people.”

Asked what he thought of health secretary Matt Hancock’s comment that overseas holidays would be unlikely this summer, followed by transport secretary Grant Shapps saying that it would be a risk to book a summer holiday, Jones said: “It’s like the Hancock and Shapps comedy duo. Hancock delivers the opener, then Shapps does the punch line.”

He added: “The annoying thing is, I understand completely that they are subject to the whims of this virus, the same as everybody else. And it is difficult. And I understand the challenges they’ve got.

“But I just think a little bit of thought and sharing with the public about where their strategy is and what they’re thinking would help because this is sort of death by a thousand cuts at the moment.

“I think we’d all prefer to have a clearer insight into government thinking and an honest view that they share with us.”

Jones said the government had “deprioritized outbound travel” and was in danger of mis-reading the mood of the country.

“There’s two elements here,” he said. “The huge economic benefit that the outbound travel industry brings to the country. There are huge numbers of people employed in the sector so they should be concerned about the impact on the travel sector.

“And I do think to some extent, the longer this goes on, the more the government are in danger of misreading the mood, because I think to begin with, it was fully understandable that holidays were not on the agenda; there was a serious crisis they needed to deal with and it would have seemed flippant to be talking about overseas holidays.

“But as it moves forward and people start to queue at garden centres and are able to drive anywhere in the UK for exercise, that’s a beginning of a release, and it’s going to make people start to think about well, when’s the next release? When is that extended? And finally, when can we start to travel overseas again?

“I have friends and neighbours that I talk to who just want some clarity. The one question I get asked more than anything else is ‘when we will we be able to go on holiday again?’”

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