Sometimes heroes come in the unlikeliest of forms.
As the prime minister laid out his much-anticipated roadmap, it wasn’t the transport minister who rose to challenge him about his lack of detail for travel, nor the tourism minister (who still seems confused as to what his brief actually entails).
Boris Johnson had a lot to discuss in his roadmap, and travel has never exactly been high on his agenda (despite the outbound travel industry contributing £37.1 billion to the UK economy).
So the PM’s speech wasn’t exactly detailed when it came to what international travel will look like.
He noted only the resumption of international travel was “vital for many businesses which have been hardest hit including retail, hospitality, tourism and aviation” (you don’t say prime minister) and that it would be subject to a separate review to resolve “key questions”.
The major flaw in the PM’s plan, as May was quick to point out, was that the industry doesn’t have time for another review.
A new travel taskforce is due to report on 12 April which, put simply, doesn’t allow people enough time to plan their summer holidays “or for the aviation industry to prepare”, May highlighted.
Travel’s unlikely hero even pushed Johnson to rethink the date, insisting "the industry needs three months’ preparation from the point of certainty".
Predictably, Johnson dismissed her points. "It will give people time to make their plans for the summer,” he blustered. “And if we can meet these ’not before’ dates, there is every chance of an aviation recovery later this year”.
But this is precisely the problem. A “chance of a recovery” is just not good enough for an industry that has been battered and bruised for the best part of 11 months – and has still not received any sector specific support. Travel needs certainty, or at the very least, dedicated financial support.
The good news is that we do at least now have a roadmap, however vague it may be.
The “successor” to the Global Travel Taskforce (the original taskforce was disbanded in January, just a month after being formed) will report on April 12 with recommendations to facilitate international travel as soon as possible while still managing the risk from imported cases and “variants of concern”.
Following this, the government will determine when international travel should resume, although it insists this will be no earlier than 17 May.
The taskforce, the government says, will report to the PM and will “work with UK representatives of the travel sector, including airlines and airports.”
Given the original taskforce’s failure to feature any industry representation whatsoever, travel must push to ensure this latter point is realised.
It must also continue to push for dedicated support, including an extension to the furlough scheme (another notable omission by Johnson in his speech). Many in the sector are hoping the chancellor will have more positive news on this in his Budget on 3 March.
And what of the rest of the travel industry’s reactions to Johnson’s roadmap? The press releases were quick to flood in but seemed mixed in their reception – some breathed sighs of relief at the fact there was now some kind of plan, others were quick to lambast the PM for his lack of detail.
The crux of it is that this is positive news. The industry has been clamouring for a roadmap for the last two months, now we finally have one, the sector can get to work on shaping the details of what this roadmap should look like.
As Theresa May highlights though, this must be agreed sooner than later; 17 May might herald the start of the summer season for a British public itching for a holiday after the annus horribilis that was 2020, but there is a whole lot of planning the industry needs to prepare for ahead of that date – and 12 April may be too late.
Sophie Griffiths is editor of TTG.