Retail sales and travel agencies helped support growth in the UK services sector at the end of last year.

The travel agency industry increased by 7.3%, contributing 0.05 percentage points to headline GDP growth in the October to December quarter.

Abta chief executive Mark Tanzer seized on the figures to urge government support for the travel industry as he warned of “uncertain times ahead”.

The overall economy grew by 0.6% in the three months – the same rate as the previous two quarters – confounding fears of an economic slowdown following the Brexit vote.

Initial estimates from the Office of National Statistics show that the  services sector, which accounts for about three quarters of the UK economy, grew by 0.8% in the quarter.

This was helped by growth in the distribution, hotels and restaurant industries, with support from retails sales and travel agents, according to the ONS.

According to the ONS, “a particularly strong performer was the travel agency industry, which increased by 7.3%, contributing 0.05 percentage points to headline GDP growth”.

Tanzer said: “The latest figures from the Office of National Statistics showing the contribution of travel agency services to GDP growth are positive and are a sign that consumers are feeling more confident and value the expertise of travel agencies.

“The figures reflect the significant contribution that travel and tourism makes to the economy, delivering £127 billion annually.

“However, there are challenging and uncertain times ahead and for continued growth it is more important than ever that the government supports the travel industry.

“This includes driving growth through airport expansion, removing barriers to growth such as Air Passenger Duty and ensuring that we secure the best possible deal for Brexit.”