“I won’t be booking a summer holiday at this point, let’s put it that way,” the transport secretary told Radio 4’s Today programme last week.
Grant Shapps’ throwaway comment suggests the government has no plans to lift travel restrictions at the end of the new lockdown on 8 May.
But more than that, its dismissive tone demonstrates yet again the lack of government understanding about the mammoth challenges facing the UK travel sector.
Abta was not amused. “It would be better,” a spokesperson drily pointed out, “if the government focused on taking the necessary steps to support the sector rather than undermining confidence in it.”
Because, as most can’t fail to notice, the industry is becoming ever more divided the longer it waits for government guidance on the Package Travel Regulations.
You’re either in the “It’s Right to Refund” camp or the “will do anything I can to save my business – please accept a credit note instead” faction.
It is unsurprising consumers want refunds quickly. But if issuing them immediately means saying goodbye to your business and ultimately the livelihoods of all your staff, it is easy to understand why some travel firms are desperate to buy time by issuing credit notes instead – although one industry consultant suggests ministers might finally act if travel businesses actually start failing (p7).
Thankfully, Abta itself has now issued new guidance, which crucially explains to customers the difficult situation the industry finds itself in.
“These extraordinary times call for extraordinary measures,” acknowledges Abta chief executive Mark Tanzer in an exclusive column for TTG this week (p7).
These extraordinary times also call for the sector now, more than ever, to stand together. Divisive rhetoric is of little help to anyone as our industry struggles to survive the greatest threat in modern memory.