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Published on Wednesday, October 14, 2020

Shapps' ABTA speech blasted by travel chiefs

ABTA Chief Executive Mark Tanzer said Grant Shapps failed to show he was 'batting for the industry' during his appearance at the ABTA virtual Travel Convention.

When the Transport Secretary was asked why the travel industry hadn't received the same support as hospitality, given that it has also been virtually shut down due to government travel restrictions, he said 55,000 aviation employees had received furlough payments and £1.8bn of government-backed loans had been made to airlines to see them through the pandemic.

Mr Shapps also said the government had underwritten Refund Credit Notes, and he said it had 'worked hard' to set up travel corridors to Covid-safe destinations.

That was a 'very worrying' response said Mark Tanzer, who described Mr Shapps' speech as 'very restrospective'.

"The travel corridors he mentioned are mainly shut at the moment, we need to move away from blanket FCDO [Foreign Office] advice," he said, pointing out that in England the government has taken a regional approach to coronavirus restrictions but it hasn't done so for overseas destinations, such as Spain and its islands.

Of the Global Travel Taskforce launched last week by Mr Shapps to examine the possibility of testing to replace quarantine for UK arrivals, Mark said: "This testing regime absolutely has to hit the ground if we are going to get out of this, the pre-taskforce work just seems to have disproved things, such as that day zero tests won't work.

"We haven't seen evidence of what he [Shapps] is doing for his department, for his sector of the economy."

The Scottish Passenger Agents' Association President Joanne Dooey said: "We're bound to wonder if our government has any understanding of what's happened to our industry when we have a minister, at a virtual travel conference, who talks about bank loan support for the aviation sector and ignores the hundreds of travel agents across the UK who are facing business ruin and mass staff redundancies as the furlough scheme ends.

"His insensitive tweet on the eve of the conference about his government's support for the space industry shows just how out of touch he is with our plight and his inability to understand, empathise with or support us.

"Space flight may be top of his agenda, but getting international travel moving again is surely more important for the entire UK economy than reaching outerspace? In a week which saw the government giving financial support to bar workers and strip club workers, shouldn't his focus be on helping the industry which enabled him take his family on holiday to Spain this summer?

"The whole travel sector awaits the domestic test regime he outlined today which aims to cut quarantine time on travellers' return to the UK. However, we'd prefer that the testing plans were laid out in full for us, without the rhetoric of Grant Shapps calling it a 'trailblazing' scheme. We cannot stress forcibly enough that we need a testing scheme by the end of the year at the latest to restore customer confidence and save the sector."

During his appearance on stage at the virtual conference, Virgin CEO Shai Weiss said 'any one of us could have done things better, quicker and more decisively'.

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