Comment: Ministers have shown a disregard for travel

Government must dig deep to save the industry from a talent drain, says Reality Training managing director Bob Morrell

As a disgruntled traveller, directly affected by the recent French travel ban, I once again find myself compelled to write about this new and ridiculous situation.

I don’t blame the French, or indeed any country that wants to protect its citizens. I was due to cross over on the Eurotunnel, drive down to the Alps and have a week’s safe skiing in a resort we know, in a private apartment.

We planned to use open ski lifts only, open air restaurants in the day and keep our mixing with others to a minimum. I reckoned it was a pretty fool-proof plan.

Then along comes Omicron. Great. Most of the things I booked I could postpone or cancel, and I’ve got one small travel insurance claim to make – it could’ve been worse.

But what has really angered me, this time, is the way our government has casually allowed this total shit-show to come about – yet again.

Ministers have shown a disregard for major industries and announced their new measures in a patronising and hypocritical way. They have accepted and implemented new laws and restrictions without looking like they have learned anything at all from the massive errors made over the last two years.

Grant Shapps is the transport secretary. What does he do all day? Sit around meeting people and making asinine decisions and avoiding challenging interviews with people who actually need answers?

What’s the point in being secretary of state for transport when you’re actively agreeing to limit and restrict transport? Where is the realisation of the value and contribution of the sector to the UK economy? Is it hiding behind a shot-to-pieces Brexit ideology? Is there a belief that because much of the travel industry’s money eventually goes abroad it can withstand a few rough years? Is the travel industry just one marketplace that has been put in the ‘expendable’ box while the pandemic rages?

The request for sector specific support appears to be falling on deaf ears, not least because the hospitality and leisure sectors have been granted £1 billion worth of grants this week.

I’ve not heard that question, from an outbound travel point of view, answered directly by ministers yet. I had expected they’d say, ‘if we do it for one industry then everyone will want it’, but that argument is a little shot now. What would be the problem anyway? This is a global pandemic, a (hopefully) once-in-a-century event.

Travel is central to the global economy and arbitrary choices to restrict it, always long after the horse has bolted, do little to save lives – but do a lot to cripple a struggling industry and force good people out of it forever, which wounds the market still further.

We have an aviation and maritime minister too, Robert Courts. Yes, I’d never heard of him either.

If Grant is avoiding the travel industry, then how does Robert occupy his time? Does he lobby the cabinet for financial support for airlines forced to mothball their fleets? Does he call for fuel duty, APD and other iniquitous taxes to be cut? Does he visit worried airlines and cruise companies and find out what they need from government to weather the storm? Who knows?

Whatever he and his friends in government are doing, it’s not helping much, is it? It’s not helping the market cope with overnight changes to lists and travel bans. It isn’t pursuading the Treasury to bung the industry some cash to help it through. What it is actually doing, the government and its ministers, is hoping they can get away with it. That is hardly a strategy.

For such a large industry that turns over billions and contributes so much to the UK economy, I don’t know many people in travel who are in it for the money.

The excitement of travel is what drives so many. When the industry is effectively closed what choice do they have, in the end, but to consider leaving?

We train people in many other marketplaces as well. Travel is not our biggest sector, nor our most-profitable, yet we stay in it because we love the people in it, we love travelling, we love the potential and the future it promises.

It is time Grant and Robert planned some serious support and dig deep to save a service industry that would be infinitely less attractive if it was driven almost entirely online.

Comment: The overseas travel testing regime is too much

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