The transport secretary prompted a mixed reaction from the trade after he insisted it is still too early to book overseas summer holidays, despite some countries planning to welcome vaccinated British tourists from May.
Grant Shapps MP told the BBC that there are “lots of questions” to answer about “how safe it will be to travel”.
According to the government’s lockdown exit plan, May 17 is the earliest date for holidays.
Greece and Cyprus have indicated they would welcome UK holidaymakers from mid-May.
Currently, leisure travel from the UK is banned although booking holidays is legal.
Asked on BBC Radio 4’s Today programme if it was too early to book a summer holiday, Shapps replied: “Yes.”
He encouraged people to look towards April 12, when he will publish the Global Travel Taskforce report, and said the government was weighing up the effect of vaccination programmes in the UK and overseas.
“So there are lots of questions the answers to which we simply don’t know yet about how safe it will be to travel around,” he said.
Wales, Scotland and Northern Ireland have not set a date for the start of international travel.
His comments prompted a range of reactions from the travel trade, with some saying he should not be advising against booking holidays, but others agreeing consumers should wait until the Global Travel Taskforce report in April 12.
Derek Jones, Der Touristik UK chief executive, said on Twitter that the advice to wait until April 12 is “pretty sensible”.
“It’s only four weeks away and still leaves plenty of time before travel. I would rather customers were well informed about the new rules of travel before committing,” he tweeted.
Travel agent Ashley Quint (Travel Time World) agreed, saying: “It’s what I have been recommending for people to do for the summer anyway.”
However, Giles Hawke, Cosmos and Avalon Waterways chief executive, commented that people “should be given comfort about booking further ahead”.
He highlighted ‘peace of mind policies’ which are “fine to book with for any departure date”.
Julia Lo Bue-Said, chief executive of Advantage Travel Partnership, commented: “It’s still to early to do a lot of things but we already know travel will resume with restrictions once the data allows. It is NOT too early to book a holiday providing you book through a human travel agent who can offer flexible options and professional advice.”
Others were stronger in their condemnation of Shapps’ comments.
YouTubers Cruise with Ben & David said on Twitter: “He’s an idiot and an embarrassment for the sector he covers; it is absolutely not too early to book a holiday later in the year.”
Brian Strutton, general secretary of the British Airline Pilots’ Association (Balpa), told the Independent: “I understand that government ministers have to toe the official line but the message needs to be delivered positively.
“People want to look forward to a summer holiday and airlines need to plan their schedules for the summer. The aviation and tourism sectors need optimism from ministers, not doom and gloom.”
One tweeter, @barnabybleach, described as a “grumpy northern airline pilot” tweeted: “Put a sock in it! He should be banned from boarding any UK airline flight ever again after twisting the knife so regularly in the wounds of the industry.”
APD cut proposal
Shapps was also asked about the proposed cut in Air Passenger Duty on domestic flights.
“There’s a weird situation at the moment where if you fly abroad and back, you pay half as much APD than if you connect within the UK,” he said.
However, he added: “What we will do, though, is make sure APD – a tax which was not designed with carbon control in mind – we will make sure it is not collecting any less money overall but moving towards sustainable aviation fuel.”
Shapps also said he is about to produce the world’s first transport decarbonisation plan, that will look at the UK’s overall output of carbon.
In response to his comments about sustainable aviation fuels, Adam Morton, chair of industry coalition Sustainable Aviation, said: “The transport secretary is absolutely right that sustainable aviation fuels (SAF) will be essential if we are to achieve ‘Jet Zero’.
“SAF technology is available now, can cut carbon by at least 70% compared with fossil fuels and requires no modifications to existing aircraft or refuelling infrastructure.
“Establishing the UK’s Jet Zero Council was a big step forward. The necessary private sector investment is poised to invest, get the first SAF facilities up and running, and fuelling flights by the middle of this decade.
“With the right action from government in 2021, the UK can lead the world in both sustainable aviation fuel and deliver Jet Zero.”
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