The UK’s tourism minister insisted the voice of outbound travel is being heard “strongly, loudly and clearly” by government, as he launched a staunch defence of its strategy and support for the industry during the pandemic.
Nigel Huddleston was put on the spot during an at-times heated interview with TTG editor Sophie Griffiths during TTG’s Agenda 2021 conference.
Huddleston, who took on his role in February and has previously worked as Google’s industry head of travel, said “billions upon billions” of pounds had been given to help hospitality, leisure and tourism businesses.
He said claims government was not listening to the outbound sector were “100% not true” and insisted the industry’s support within Westminster had “never been stronger”.
“There are multiple champions of the international tourism sector [within government],” he said, although he admitted there was a “case to centralise a bit more” with outbound currently straddling three departments.
He disagreed a dedicated minister for travel was the solution, saying such a move would prompt calls from other industries. “You’re then talking about hundreds and hundreds of extra ministers.”
He also refuted travel had received a lack of targeted help, saying there was “a difference between ‘have we had our voice heard versus have we got everything we asked for?’.”
“No industry has, that would be impossible,” he said. “If we did sector-specific support packages for every industry and sub sector it would’ve taken us months to do anything. It would have been crazy to do that.”
Huddleston also denied the announcement of the Global Travel Taskforce in October demonstrated a lack of engagement until that point.
“Government is listening – I’ll push back strongly on this,” he said, insisting ministers had “tried to get the right balance” between enabling international travel and limiting the spread of Covid-19.
“We’ve moved at a decent pace, but I’m not going to pretend we’ve done everything the industry wanted or expected.”
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