Transport secretary Grant Shapps has backtracked on comments which caused a furore in the trade by describing travel businesses as being “what people would have called travel agents in the past”.
Off Broadway Travel in Shapps’ constituency invited him to visit their shop to see the realities of being a travel agent in 2021 and how agents were crucial to restarting the £37 billion overseas travel industry.
Off Broadway Travel had not had a response to its invitation but Shapps has now committed to visiting the Welwyn-based agency.
In a radio interview on BBC Three Counties yesterday, Shapps said about his comments: “Some [travel agents] misunderstood what I was saying at the press conference last Friday in Downing Street, which was simply people book their travel in many different ways.
“Travel agents are a fantastic way to book and have been through a hell of a difficult time over this past year. And I think there’s been a bit of misunderstanding about some phrase I used.”
Off Broadway Travel partner Natalie Bennett said of the proposed visit: “That’s fantastic. We don’t want to have a go at him, we completely agree with the government advice.
“We agree with what [the government] is doing, we just need clearer guidance about how and when we are opening up.
“We just want him to come round, sit with us for a few hours so he can see the hard work we’ve been doing for the past 15 months.
“Travel agents are not a thing of the past we have been helping our clients throughout this pandemic. We’ve been working more or less 24/7 trying to help clients understand rules and regulations, trying to book PCR tests. We’ve been hand holding our clients the whole way through this.”
Off Broadway Travel, a member of The Travel Network Group, took to Twitter to invite Shapps to its shop on May 10.
TTNG chief executive Gary Lewis said: “We are pleased that the secretary of state for transport has listened to our member at Off Broadway Travel and has addressed his comments about travel agents.
“We know that travel businesses like Off Broadway Travel are at the heart of the recovery of the outbound travel industry that contributes so much to the economy and supports over 220,000 jobs in the UK.
“We’re looking forward to Mr Shapps’ meeting with Off Broadway Travel – it’s a perfect platform to discuss how the government response impacts people on the front line of the travel industry and what can be done to support the gradual reopening practically.”