Travel bosses fear this summer season could be at risk after the prime minister Boris Johnson said it is “too early” to plan holidays.
But there were mixed messages from the cabinet, as it emerged that the health secretary Matt Hancock confirmed he has booked a break in Cornwall – although Grant Shapps, transport secretary, said earlier on Wednesday that it is too soon for people to consider holidays domestically or overseas because of tough Covid travel restrictions.
Speaking on BBC Breakfast on Thursday (February 11) about the disconnect between his comments and those of Shapps and Johnson, Hancock said: “We will bring more certainty when we can.”
When pressed on whether people should follow his example or advice from Shapps, he said: “It’s neither. People understand that. It maybe more difficult for headline writers but the people are smarter than all that.”
He told the Today programme on Radio Four that he “very much hopes” for a great British summer but highlighted there are many uncertainties.
“There is uncertainty so we cannot make categorical assurances, he said.
“It is difficult, people are yearning for a direct answer.”
He said the prime minister will set out more details about the way forward on February 22, commenting: “We are all working incredibly hard to try to ensure not only can people have a holiday this summer but people, before then, can see loved ones.”
Shadow health secretary Jonathan Ashworth told the Today programme that people planning holidays just want clarity.
“People just need to know where we stand, where we are going with this virus,” he said.
Commenting on Hancock’s holiday plans, Jim McMahon, the shadow transport secretary, said on Twitter: “We are all desperate to get back to normal, but the government must speak with one voice, not add greater confusion, and in the end frustration. Health Sec busy booking a getaway while the PM pours cold water doesn’t help.”
We are all desperate to get back to normal, but the government must speak with one voice, not add greater confusion, and in the end frustration
Health Sec busy booking a getaway while the PM pours cold water doesn’t help https://t.co/5mlR0lWrMz
— Jim McMahon MP (@JimfromOldham) February 10, 2021
Travel and transport unions also hit out after the prime minister’s comments.
Manuel Cortes, TSSA general secretary, said: “This inept government failed to secure our borders last year and despite longstanding cries for help has still not provided sector specific support for our travel trade.
“Government’s mixed messages are sinking the travel trade.
“Companies, jobs and whole swathes of the industry will be lost forever. This is devastating for those who work in travel but it’s also dashing the hopes of so many of us who want to know we can take a break – in the UK or abroad.
“The government has to provide a clear pathway and specific support for the travel trade.
“These companies have been worst impacted by travel restrictions, short-notice changes to travel advice, failed test, track and trace, and in many cases exacerbated by Brexit.”
“Airlines are drowning, but rather than throwing us a life raft, the transport secretary has just thrown a bucket of cold water at us.”
Brian Strutton, general secretary Balpa, said: “Government policies on borders, quarantine, testing and lockdown, followed by [Wednesday’s] statement from the transport secretary, that people should not book any holidays, means the aviation industry is essentially shut down.
“Airlines are drowning, but rather than throwing us a life raft, the transport secretary has just thrown a bucket of cold water at us.
“The UK aviation sector cannot survive another summer with hardly any flying.
‘[The government] must provide economic support immediately.”
Airline bosses are calling for the government to explain how it plans to lift travel restrictions in time for the summer season.
EasyJet: Plan needed
The Times reported that Johan Lundgren, chief executive of easyJet, told a virtual Centre for Aviation conference: “Most important now is that the government comes out with a plan on how they’re going to unwind these restrictions.”
He said that if the vaccines proved effective against the new variants of coronavirus, he would be “positive for a strong summer”.
Sky News said Tim Alderslade, chief executive of Airlines UK, is calling for a “reopening timetable” in a letter to the prime minister.
The letter said: “Critical to this restart approach is understanding whether the government wants to, or anticipates being able to, reopen international travel for leisure and business travel this year, and by the summer.”
He said that in order to operate “a meaningful flight programme” in July, carriers would need to begin planning by the end of this month.
However, Michael O’Leary, chief executive of Ryanair, told the BBC he remains optimistic that people will be allowed to travel from May onwards.
“We take that from Boris Johnson’s guidance that everybody over 50 will be vaccinated by the end of May. The British government said local elections will go ahead at the end of May,” he said.
“If you vaccinated that entire group, frankly I find it hard to see why there is any justification for any restrictions or lockdowns on civil liberties from the end of May onwards.
“I would, therefore, be much more hopeful that people can continue make bookings for their summer holidays.”
When asked about Shapps’ comments which suggested travel restrictions would remain until everyone is vaccinated, he said: “It’s another example of Grant Shapps calling it wrong, sadly, as usual.”
Sue Ockwell, founder of Travel PR, which works with the Association of Independent Tour Operators (Aito) told the BBC Shapps’ remarks were “puerile and nonsensical”.
Abta warned on Wednesday that the travel industry cannot afford to wait until everybody is vaccinated before travel restrictions are lifted.
Blue Bay Travel chief executive, and Abta chairman, Alistair Rowland, tweeted to say: “Government need to be really careful using ill-thought out sound bites on what the public can and can’t do. It’s is LEGAL to book your next holiday and it should be encouraged.”
Phil Nuttall, owner of the travel agencies Holiday Village and Travel Village, has recorded a video message for his customers, telling them it is not illegal to book a holiday, following Shapps’ comments.
“This is ignorance by a senior minister making crass comments,” he said.
“We are not stupid. We know now is not the right time to travel.
“I reserve the right to spend my time helping you book your next holiday.”
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