The UK aviation minister at the start of the Covid-19 pandemic showed “an utter lack of understanding” of business travel and “little inclination” to meet its representatives, a corporate travel industry consultant has revealed.

But the sector has since made “a lot of progress” under current aviation minister Robert Courts.

The aviation minister at the start of the pandemic was Kelly Tolhurst, MP for Rochester, who joined the Department for Transport (DfT) in February 2020.

Tolhurst was moved to the Ministry of Housing, Communities and Local Government in early September and replaced by Courts as aviation and maritime minister.

Thomas Woolhouse of Cavendish Advocacy, which lobbies on behalf of the Business Travel Association (BTA), said: “The level of engagement at the beginning was very poor.

“The aviation minister at the time showed very little inclination to meet. There was an utter lack of understanding.”

He told an Elman Wall Covid-19 webinar last week: “[Under] the new aviation minister Robert Courts we have had much better lines of communication.”

Woolhouse said: “We’ve been engaging with the government on how business travel differs from leisure.

He argued: “It is clear the minister does not have the power to make unilateral decisions.”

But he insisted: “We have made a lot of progress.

“They [the DfT] do want to understand the people who use business travel. After all these months, they want to understand whether there is still an appetite for meeting face to face – and the feedback is that there is.”

Woolhouse criticised the government’s introduction of a limited quarantine exemption for “high value” business travellers in December.

The exemption, which came into force from December 5, applies to “senior executives bringing significant economic benefit” – such as “creating or preserving at least 50 UK-based jobs” or “purchasing goods or services worth at least £100 million”.

Woolhouse told the webinar: “The corporate travel eco-system is so much broader than jet-setting executives.”

But he said: “That exemption came from the Department for Business not the DfT.”

He suggested government departments “all have a finger in the pie but don’t really talk to each other”.