Labour MPs attending the Travel Day of Action have backed industry calls for sector-specific support as the shadow tourism minister denounced the government’s “botched” policy on international travel.
The opposition party’s official stance is for tighter restrictions on international travel, but MPs including the shadow tourism minister argue that the sector should at least receive financial support if it cannot operate.
Emma Lewell-Buck, MP for South Shields, vowed to “fight” for the travel industry as she attended the Westminster lobby to support Westoe Travel, a business in her constituency.
She told Travel Weekly: “I had a few friends who were travel agents and have lost their jobs, and Westoe Travel is in my patch, so I know the travel industry has been treated appallingly through the pandemic.
“It has been singled out for treatment that no other industry has been singled out for. It’s wholly unacceptable.”
She said: “We have had debates in Parliament and tried to hold the secretary of state [for transport, Grant Shapps] to account. Ministers go on with bluff and bluster but haven’t done anything. Today will help. I’ve seen lots of things like this [for other industries] and they work. It shows the strength of feeling.”
And she urged the industry: “Keep the pressure on. Keep engaging with Parliament. Don’t lose faith.”
Lewell-Buck, who voted against the extension of restrictions, said Covid is “going to be here for the long term” and is personally backing reopening of international travel – against Labour’s party line.
But she agreed with her party’s stance on support for travel. She told Travel Weekly: “We need tailored financial support for the sector, and also a safe reopening.
“I will fight for people, like my friends who lost jobs and Graeme [Brett] at Westoe Travel.”
She also backed a furlough extension specifically for the travel industry, stressing: “There are particular industries that have been hit harder than others.”
Dozens of MPs across the bench signed a giant postcard addressed to prime minister Boris Johnson labelled ‘sign up to save travel’ at the lobby day outside Parliament.
Dear @BorisJohnson … at least 25 MPs have so far signed the letter calling for support of the travel industry. #traveldayofaction#speakupfortravel They’re listening to the industry, are you? pic.twitter.com/UgGkD3Kc5T
— Ben Jaxen Ireland (@ben_ireland_11) June 23, 2021
Other Labour MPs to attend included Abena Oppong-Asare, who represents Erith and Thamesmead, who said: “This industry [travel] has been let down by the government’s inaction and confusion. They deserve better.”
Great to meet my constituent @ajeynes at the #TravelDayOfAction outside Parliament. This industry has been badly let down by the Government’s inaction and confusion. They deserve better. #speakupfortravelpic.twitter.com/BcTNzirnBc
— Abena Oppong-Asare MP (@abenaopp) June 23, 2021
Alex Davies-Jones, MP for Pontypridd, also attended. She said: “The UK Government need to stop moving the goalposts, give sector-specific support to ensure a safe return to international travel.”
Shadow tourism minister Alex Sobel tweeted to say he was supporting the Travel Day of Action.
He posted a video including calls for sector specific support, in which he said: “What’s really clear, is that sector-specific support hasn’t been forthcoming and it is urgently needed, whether that’s for travel agents, tour guides, coach companies or anybody else in the tourism industry whether inbound or outbound, or domestic. It is of vital importance.
“I am really concerned that we will see a dramatic loss of business and jobs if the government doesn’t step in: one bringing in sector-specific financial support and two sorting out the botched travel system they have come up with, which isn’t allowing the industry to re-inflate post-Covid.”
Lewell-Buck believes public opinion is in favour of maintaining a strong travel industry.
“People are desperate to go on holiday,” she told Travel Weekly. “As long as the right health and safety measures are in place, people are raring to go. And what they don’t want, and I don’t want, is more boarded up shops on our high streets. Once an industry goes, you can’t just build it back up again overnight. It feels like the government is happy to let travel slip away.”
She stressed that people are “afraid to book” because of the “ridiculous” traffic light lists – and backed calls to allow quarantine-free travel for fully-vaccinated people returning from amber and green list destinations.
“Most people don’t have jobs where they can take two weeks off to quarantine,” she added. “The government need to get their act together and give a consistent message so everybody knows where they stand.”