“If I could just ask everybody for a little bit more patience,” the aviation and maritime minister told delegates at last week’s TTG Agenda 2021 seminar.
If I had any doubts as to whether the UK government understands – or is even concerned – by the pressures facing the UK travel industry, they were swiftly quashed during our interview with Robert Courts last week.
To be fair to Courts, it’s not really his fault. Boris Johnson’s government has always been more concerned with PR than facts – prioritising positive coverage from favoured newspapers rather than focusing on understanding the challenges facing the industries that have been battered by this crisis.
And to Courts’ credit, he calmly listened to TTG’s explanation of the frustrations facing the sector. He didn’t become defensive, agitated – or worse combative – as tourism minister Nigel Huddleston did when we interviewed him back in December.
What Courts did show though, was an ignorance and ultimate indifference, to the struggles that continue to be felt by the UK travel industry.
His call for patience was in response to our question asking if he could understand why some in the travel industry had accused the government of orchestrating a campaign to deter consumers from booking travel.
It was a fair question, coming in response to the slew of government advisors who dominated the news agenda last weekend as they warned international travel could be off the cards this summer.
Just as things were looking up for travel – consumers were starting to book breaks away and travel businesses were finally daring to hope they might see money starting to come in this summer – the government had decided in its infinite wisdom to remind consumers of the uncertainty around travel – and the costly fines they could incur if they break the rules.
It was also a question borne out of the further irritation felt by much of the industry when the UK woke to headlines on Tuesday detailing the introduction of £5,000 fines for anyone found to be holidaying illegally, alongside news that rules banning international travel were now nominally in force until the end of June.
Such fines are an unnecessary distraction several months too late – we all know it’s currently illegal to go on holiday. And the extension of the rules until the end of June have been cataclysmic for many travel agents who had spent the week prior taking a raft of bookings from consumers excited to have something to look forward to, only to see them now calling up to move bookings – and in many cases, cancel their plans all together.
Courts of course, could have little idea of any of this.
He could have little idea because the sector just isn’t represented at a government level.
This was underlined later on in the interview, when I again asked about a commitment for dedicated support for the sector should international travel remain off the cards this year. Courts gave a vague response which (naturally) did not answer the question. Instead, he, once again, referenced the support that had already been provided to airlines.