Tourism minister defends government as Abta warns of failures

Tourism minister Nigel Huddleston has defended the government’s record on support for travel and the frequency of changes to travel restrictions.

But Abta chief executive Mark Tanzer warned of “more failures” without targeted support for the sector.

Speaking at World Travel Market’s online conference, Huddleston said the government “can’t do everything it’s asked”.

He said: “A lot of requests come from the industry. We can’t save every job.

“Everybody is familiar with the government’s response [to the crisis]. Compared to other countries’ response, it’s a matter of debate [whether the UK has done as much], but large swathes of the travel and tourism sector did get support.”

The minister dismissed criticism of the government’s frequent changes to travel corridors and the speed with which these are introduced, saying: “We’re in an unprecedented crisis.

“I make no apology for the fact that when the information changes the policy will change. If we didn’t do that, we would be criticised for it.

“I appreciate it’s difficult. [But] this disease is killing people. We are trying to do the right thing.”

Huddleston said the government’s Global Travel Taskforce “will be reporting to the Prime Minister imminently, including on testing.”

But he said: “It’s not just the UK that has had a surge in infections. This is a difficult time to ask for an easing of restrictions.”

Tanzer told the minister: “We appreciate the support we’ve had from government and we’ve had good access to the minister, but we’ve not had all the support we would like. We need targeted support.”

He said: “Abta has had 20 members fail and the fear is there will be more.”

Tanzer warned: “The travel sector is closed. There is no business. We may see more failures. The same logic that applies to [support for] hospitality should apply to travel.”

He added: “Travel agencies need employees working. The furlough scheme doesn’t meet their needs.”

Tanzer dismissed a suggestion that domestic tourism would replace overseas travel for many people, saying: “I don’t think domestic travel is a substitute for international travel. You can do both. [But] they are very different experiences.

“We don’t have the climate. We don’t have the tourism infrastructure of the Mediterranean. People like a holiday and they like to travel.”

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