Transport secretary Grant Shapps came under fire for appearing to fumble over his understanding of travel agents during Friday’s televised press briefing.
His reference to travel companies as “what people would have called travel agents in the past” drew strong condemnation.
Miles Morgan Travel chairman Miles Morgan questioned whether Shapps was being “deliberately thick” “or do you still not understand the travel industry?”
Kuoni chief executive Derek Jones said: “Grant Shapps delivered his whole update in that uber-self confident style so beloved of politicians until he started waffling about consumer protection. Did he really say…’what used to be known as travel agents?’
“Why can’t he grasp how the industry works?”
Advantage Travel Partnership chief executive Julia Lo-Bue Said tweeted: “I am still holding my head in my hands over this. Travel agents are still called travel agents and vouchers are not issued under the Atol scheme, credit note vouchers are – they are different and only protect consumers who book a package holiday (an Atol one).”
However, she added: ”Amongst all the disappointment and raised expectations let’s not forget the good news, non-essential international travel from the 17th May will no longer be illegal. We can no longer be fined £5k. So let’s stay positive, stick to the facts & remain hopeful.”
Others posted pictures of their open agencies to press home the point.
Marina March, of The Holiday Shop, tweeted to Shapps, prime minister Boris Johnson and chancellor Rishi Sunak calling for sector support, and said: “This is a travel agents. Independently owned which I have put my blood sweat and many tears into. We need your help in 2021 not belittled on national TV.”
Richard Slater, of Henbury Travel, said: “Travel trade disbelief at Grant Shapps implying that travel agents were a thing of the past. Over 3,000 shops across the UK.”
Sutton Travel tweeted: “Dear Grant Shapps, this is a travel agency in 2021. We still exist, despite your uneducated comments of Friday’s press conference. This is an independent travel agency which I set up 12 years ago and have put blood, sweat & tears into during that time. Get yourself educated.”
Simon Oram, of The Travel Shop, posted: “This is a high street travel agent, independent & family owned for 33 years. You think we don’t matter. Tell that to my mother and father who have worked tirelessly since Mar ’20 for no wage and no financial support.”
Travel Finesse said: “We think we are important too alongside every other independently run travel agent long serving our local community.”
The attacks came as the government was accused by Aito of keeping people “stuck at home” rather than take overseas holidays.
The independent operators and agents group’s chairman Chris Rowles said: “We believe that keeping the British people stuck at home rather than on holiday abroad has been the government’s intention throughout – to ensure that its furlough payments are used solely to boost the UK economy, whether UK residents go on holiday in the UK or simply stay at home.
“We call upon Mr Johnson and Mr Sunak: Give the outbound travel industry a serious level of support, in line with the impossible situation that you have put us all in.
“We have had no income for 14 months now. No organisation can cope with that. Do as the 60 members of the All-Party Parliamentary Group (APPG) have recently suggested – don’t leave us high and dry, but give us the sector-specific support that we need to survive, and deliver it now.
“You must demonstrate clearly that you are not simply aiming to put us out of business and that you realise the massively negative hit that your actions are having on our formerly vibrant SME businesses, their customers, the travel industry’s hundreds of thousands of employees and, of course, the many destinations worldwide that we all serve.
“This has nothing to do with safety; everyone realises how important the mantra of face, space and hands is, and understands that such safety steps will need to be continued, both at home and abroad, for the foreseeable future.”
Rowles said: “It is hopelessly unclear if the three-week traffic light updates start from today or from 17th May, which is desperately unhelpful for beleaguered travel companies.
“With quite rapid improvements in many EU countries, the short-haul list of destinations should really increase substantially in the next three weeks – but who knows with this government, which seems to be guided by alchemy rather than science?”
Flight Centre UK head of retail marketing Yvonne Hobden said: “While we understand that the government needs to take a cautious approach, we are disappointed to hear some destinations did not make the green list.
“Our data also shows that 69% of customers would be willing to travel to a green list destination, however, only 14% are willing to travel to an amber destination and 2% to a red list country, meaning that the travel industry is now restricted to very few options, when we so desperately need to get back on our feet fully.
“It is also important to stress that, although a destination may be on the green list, this doesn’t necessarily mean it is a recommended destination for UK travellers, such as Australia and New Zealand, which are not accepting tourists this summer.
“Now more than ever, it’s best to check with an expert travel agent to ensure your booking is safe. Finally, we have also seen that holiday pricing is starting to boom as restrictions lift, so we recommend booking now for the best prices for those wanting to go on holiday abroad this year.”