Tui’s UK boss has slammed government inaction, declaring “the pandemic has shown what happens when you have a government that simply does not understand how an industry works”.
Speaking during Abta Travel Matters on 22 June, Andrew Flintham said the mixed messages from ministers and lack of government support “had to stop”.
“Words like unprecedented and phrases ‘the greatest crisis we’ve ever faced’ were used in March 2020,” he told delegates. “And as I stand here, on the 22 June 2021 they feel as relevant today as they did then. And it didn’t have to be that way.
“Unlike crises that we’ve faced before, the pandemic has shown what happens when you have a government that simply does not understand how an industry works. In the time I’ve been managing director at Tui we’ve had five aviation ministers. Each one has told us that they are a pro-aviation and pro-travel.
“This week we need to see these words and intentions become actions.”
Flintham said he understood the challenges government had faced when dealing with Covid-19, “the difficult decisions that had to be made and of course the importance of protecting public health. This will never be disputed.”
But he added that the industry had placed the health and safety of customers and employees as the highest priority and said the company had worked closely with the DfT throughout.
“We have now worked on two Global Travel Task Forces, attended 103 Working Groups, been present at 36 Expert Steering Group and Round tables and had eight meetings with ministers and officials,” he said.
“All alongside other airlines, tour operators, airports and industry bodies. We are all fighting for one common goal – and that’s to safely re-open international travel.
“However, as an industry worth £37 billion a year to the UK economy, accounting for nearly 2% of GDP, and supporting over half a million jobs across the UK we have not managed to get even one meeting with our prime minister or chancellor.
“Instead, we’ve had ministers giving mixed messages about not booking holidays, telling people not to travel and ministers announcing that travel is dangerous.
“Add that to experts predicting where will and won’t be open and you have a confused, frustrated and despondent consumer. This has to stop.”
Flintham stressed this was why the Travel Day of Action on 23 June was “so important”.
“We must stand up and have the real people who make our industry great explain the importance of our sector and the need for a safe return to international travel this summer.”
Flintham also highlighted frustrations with transparency around the methodology and data when deciding green, amber and red destinations.
“At the time of the last country review, many destinations such as Malta, Greek Islands and the Balearics had much lower rates than the UK. It was inexplicable as to why these were not added, and instead Portugal was moved straight from green to amber without the slightest sign of stopping at the much-vaunted green watch list.
“We must understand the criteria we’re all working towards so we can pre-empt when countries will move into different categories and help our customers. And we must understand how that framework is being applied.”
It was for this reason he said Tui had become an “interested party” in the legal action launched by Manchester Airports Group against the government, alongside Ryanair, IAG and Virgin Atlantic.
Elsewhere Flintham pointed out the UK’s “incredible vaccination programme”, insisting “it’s time for common sense to prevail”.
“Being double jabbed must remove all quarantine requirements for amber and therefore become the key to unlocking travel this summer, “ he added. “We need to see this at the first Global Travel Taskforce check point on the 28 June.”