Grant Shapps will visit Off Broadway Travel in his Welwyn constituency after the agency invited him to visit and learn more about the challenges agents have faced over the past year.
TTG Top 50 agency Off Broadway’s invitation came after transport secretary Shapps appeared to brand agents a thing of the past at a government press briefing earlier this month (7 May), sparking ire throughout the trade.
Agents across the country responded by sending Shapps pictures of their agencies, highlighting the strength of the UK’s independent travel agency sector and their frustration with a perceived lack of support from government during the Covid crisis.
His remarks also drew criticism from Abta, who described them as "ill-judged and ill-informed".
Appearing on BBC Three Counties radio on Monday (17 May), Shapps addressed his comments. “Some [travel agents] misunderstood what I was saying at the press conference, which was simply [that] 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."
Shapps made the comments while delivering the full details of the government’s traffic light system, and revealing the UK’s first Covid travel "green list".
Off Broadway invited him to visit to learn more about the reality of being an agent in the Covid era, and how the sector would contribute to restarting the £37 billion overseas travel industry.
Partner Natalie Bennett said it was fantastic news the transport secretary had agreed to drop by. "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 and 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.”
Bennett told TTG that they had yet to hear from Shapps or his office about setting a date for his visit to the agency.
"We’re waiting to see what happens and have not heard from him yet. The radio station has told us they will keep chasing him to make sure he keeps his promise to visit us," she added.
"It’s about educating him about how the travel industry has been affected, how the industry is different and how we need to get sector support."
Gary Lewis, chief executive of The Travel Network Group, of which Off Broadway is a member, added: “We are pleased the secretary of state has listened to our member and has addressed his comments about travel agents.
"We know 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."