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Huw Merriman urges Aito companies to step up lobbying of MPs

Aito members have been urged to step up their lobbying of MPs to break down “the wall” and get the industry’s voice heard in government.

Speaking at The Specialist Travel Association (Aito) general meeting, the chairman of the government’s transport select committee Huw Merriman urged travel agents and tour operators to do more lobbying, in a plea backed up by Aito chairman Chris Rowles.

The Conservative MP said the industry had “a big voice” adding that companies should go back to MPs if they do not directly answer questions on the restart of international travel and on financial support.

He said: “You as an industry have to push; if you all push the wall comes down. Make sure your own voice is heard.

“Contact your local MP. If you do not feel they have given enough attention send the letter back. Keep on at them and make sure they show an interest and they do something about it.”

He encouraged Aito members to engage more with local MPs, government ministers and parliamentary groups, or even form their own lobby group for agents and operators separate from the aviation lobby.

The industry had already succeeded in bringing forward the date from which double vaccinated holidaymakers did not have to quarantine on their return, originally set for mid-August, he added.

Merriman’s calls were backed by Rowles, who spoke remotely to the conference from France after being unable to travel back to attend in person due to the new amber plus rule. “Do not understate your voice; the wall can be broken. Badger your MPs and do not take no as an answer. Keep going at them,” he said.

Merriman told Aito members he was committed to helping to secure a reopening of travel based on data, and agreed the government should have gone back to the industry with sector specific support after its initial financial support schemes were announced at the start of the pandemic.

“After a while we should have gone back and rectified that and your industry should have had a lot more support,” adding he had “made the point” to government that the sector should be compensated because travel was not able to restart.

But he stressed his focus was to get international travel restrictions eased and bureaucracy reduced at borders, rather than sector specific support. “My first priority is not to get bailouts; it’s to get business back again. Some of you are 90% down,” he said.

Merriman reiterated his criticisms of the government’s approach to easing travel restrictions, admitting he was “really surprised” about the creation of the new amber plus category given to France based on the number of Covid cases in the country.

He said:  “Arguably it’s safer going to France than it is staying in this country. I cannot find the logic or data to back up the decision-making process. It’s incredibly frustrating. These restrictions do not make economic sense.”

He added perceptions had to change from going on holiday being a “dirty word” and said not enough time had been spent during the “down time” to “lock in” the digitalisation processes needed for travel, he said. “That time was not used properly. The down time should have when people were coming up with solutions.”

Asked about the transport secretary Grant Shapps, who has been heavily criticised in the trade, he said Shapps was a “big supporter” of the travel industry.

“I can genuinely tell you that he is really enthusiastic and positive and really does make the case, and wants to see travel back,” he stressed.

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