Tourism minister Nigel Huddleston has rejected suggestions the travel industry has been "abandoned" by government.
In an interview with The Times, Huddleston reiterated his claim made to TTG last year that government support for travel and tourism had outstripped that received by other sectors, running to "billions upon billions".
Huddleston said while he recognised the sector was facing its biggest peacetime challenge, government support for the sector had been "immense" running to £25 billion across travel, hospitality and leisure.
"There are many sectors that didn’t get the same level of support as tourism," said Huddleston. "While I feel the travel industry’s pain, it also hurts to hear it feels abandoned – I’ve got 25 billion reasons to prove otherwise."
He made specific reference to an overwhelming majority of businesses accessing furlough cash and rates relief, but still travel – outbound travel, in particular – is yet to receive any sector-specific support, a focal point of the industry’s lobbying efforts, most recently in submissions to the government’s Global Travel Taskforce.
On efforts to restart international travel, Huddleston stressed this would depend on the taskforce’s report, due on 12 April.
"If the evidence is that things are moving again in the right direction then we can genuinely start to feel like we can do international travel again," said Huddleston, adding a resumption of international travel would be equally important to the UK’s inbound tourism sector.
"I’m optimistic people will be able to have a summer holiday, [but] my message is we can’t guarantee anything while we’re in the middle of the third wave of the global pandemic."
Unlike many of his ministerial counterparts, Huddleston did not caution against booking, but advised consumers to book flexibly and be prepared for their plans – domestic or overseas – to be disrupted. "Even though we’ve got a plan, no one knows how summer will pan out," said Huddleston.
"Travel companies know they cannot be certain that any holiday will go ahead so it’s now the norm for them to offer guaranteed refunds or allow dates to be changed at no extra cost."