Tui’s UK boss has blasted the prime minister and chancellor for failing to have “even one meeting” with the industry as he confirmed the travel giant had officially become an interested party in Manchester Airport Group’s legal action against government.
Speaking at Abta’s Travel Matters conference, Andrew Flintham vented his anger at the way the government had treated the sector during the Covid-19 pandemic, the lack of transparency in its current traffic light system and failure to open up international travel. He also called for amber quarantine requirements for double-vaccinated holidaymakers to be ditched this summer.
Flintham said the travel industry, unlike hospitality, had not had a ‘katsu curry’ photo opportunity, referring to when chancellor Rishi Sunak launched the ‘Eat Out to Help Out’ campaign by serving food in a Wagamama restaurant last year.
He admitted the industry had “reached the end of our tether”, suggesting the government is keeping the sector “deliberately at arm’s length” and holidaymakers “frustrated and despondent” while the rest of Europe was “up and running”.
“This has to stop,” he said, adding that this made the June 23 Travel Day of Action “so important” to highlight the importance of the sector and need for a safe return to international travel this summer.
He said: “Unlike crises we’ve faced before, the pandemic has shown what happens when you have a government that simply does not understand how an industry works.”
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Flintham said the company had worked closely with the Department for Transport throughout the pandemic, including two Global Travel Taskforces, and attended 103 working groups, been present at 36 expert steering groups and roundtables and had eight meetings with ministers and officials.
He said: “We are all fighting for one common goal – and that’s to safely reopen international travel. However, as an industry worth £37 billion a year to the UK economy, accounting for nearly 2% of GDP, and supporting over half a million jobs across the UK, we have not managed to get even one meeting with our prime minister or chancellor of the exchequer.”
He urged the government to use the success of its vaccination programme to allow double-vaccinated clients to travel to amber destinations this summer without the need to quarantine for up to ten days on their return.
With data showing the Pfizer vaccine is 96% effective against hospitalisation after two doses against the Delta variant, and the Astrazeneca vaccine 92% effective, he said: “These are incredible real-world statistics and show the vaccines are working.
“Being double-jabbed must therefore remove all quarantine requirements for amber and therefore become the key to unlocking travel this summer.
“We need to see this at the first Global Travel Taskforce checkpoint on June 28.”
He also called for transparency around the methods and data used to decide which countries were on the government’s traffic light system, adding it was ‘inexplicable’ Malta, the Greek Islands and Balearics had not been made green destinations at the last review and that Portugal had been removed without any promised watchlist.
Flintham said Tui was currently operating about 7% of its normal programme which was “pretty pitiful”. The company had 8,500 clients in Portugal when the traffic light colour change was announced, of which 2,500 were due to come back after the government’s deadline. Of those, only 200 chose to return home.
So far the data showed “no significant infections” were being brought back from travel to amber destinations and Flintham accused the government of being “very opaque” on the statistics. He said: “Quarantine is not really effective because if you look at the return infections, it’s tiny, probably smaller than going to a supermarket in the UK.”
The lack of a framework to pre-empt when countries change colour is why Tui is officially an interested party in the Manchester Airport Group’s legal action against government, he said, adding the legal action showed the level of frustration felt within the whole industry.
The fact other countries in Europe and the Dominican Republic, Cuba and the Maldives have already opened up to allow travel meant it was time for common sense to prevail in the UK, he added, but stressed Tui had no plans to operate to amber destinations which the Foreign Office advised against travel to.
Pointing out that Tui’s clients in Germany could now travel to other EU destinations without the need to quarantine, he said: “We must not fall behind other nations and should push for the same policies here in the UK. For Tui markets in Europe, travel is absolutely possible again.”
Flintham also called for the cost of testing to be reviewed. Tui is heavily subsidising its testing packages for clients and paying VAT on the price while other European countries have capped the cost and allowed double vaccination to remove all or most testing requirements.
Adding that buying a package holiday through a trusted brand or travel agent had “never been more important”, Flintham added: “We already have a travel framework and an amazing vaccination programme. All that’s missing so far is the will to use it.”