The tourism minister has defended the government’s support for the travel sector during the Covid-19 crisis.
In an interview with The Times, Nigel Huddleston was asked how he responded to claims from the travel industry that it has been abandoned by the government.
He said: “The scale of the problem is immense but I can absolutely confidently say that the response from the government has also been immense.”
Huddleston said he recognises the pandemic is “the biggest disaster and the biggest challenge that the sector’s faced in peacetime history”.
“We’ve delivered at least £25 billion to the travel, hospitality and leisure sector — and, while I recognise that some have not been able to access all the grants and all the schemes available, nearly everybody has been able to get something,” he said.
“At the peak point, 87% of travel and hospitality businesses were accessing furlough and 82% have had business rates relief.
“There are many sectors that didn’t get the same level of support as tourism, and, while I feel the travel industry’s pain, it also hurts to hear that it feels abandoned. I’ve got 25 billion reasons to prove otherwise.”
He reiterated the roadmap out of restrictions was conditional and if “things are moving again in the right direction then we can genuinely start to feel like we can do international travel again”.
“I understand why people are getting annoyed with the uncertainty,” he told The Times.
“They wish we could be more robust and definitive and while I’m optimistic that people will be able to have a summer holiday, my message is that we can’t guarantee anything while we’re in the middle of the third wave of the global pandemic.”
He said the Treasury is the key ministry for decisions about financial support, while decisions about the reopening of travel are based on scientific and health advice led by the Department of Health.
As chair of the Tourism Industry Council, he aims to make sure the government understands the economic contribution of travel and tourism. He said his main focus is on inbound and domestic tourism but he works closely with Paul Scully at the Department for Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy and aviation minister Rob Courts on overseas travel.
The Conservative MP for Mid Worcestershire said his first ever job was at Woodcock Travel in Lincoln, when he was aged 15 in 1986.
“I remember trying to sell holidays and using the Thomson reservations telephone system and having to press about 150 keys for each booking,” he said.
“Later I worked at Google Travel and at Deloitte, where part of my job was consultant in travel and tourism. Tourism minister is the one job I wanted in government.”
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