“The tone of this meeting has not been what I would have liked,” the tourism minister Nigel Huddleston told TTG editor Sophie Griffiths, towards the end of his interview for TTG’s Agenda 2021 conference this week.
You made a serious mistake there, minister. It sounds very much like you – or more likely your “people” at the Department for Culture Media & Sport – thought that an interview with the trade media would somehow be a soft touch.
That like the rest of Boris’s ministers (with one or two recent exceptions) you’d continue to avoid Piers Morgan on Good Morning Britain, but you would happily speak to the good old trade press in the belief that we wouldn’t stand in the way of your platitudes to the industry.
But our allegiance isn’t to you, minister.
Our allegiance is to our audience. To the travel agencies, tour operators, cruise lines, airlines and many more travel companies devastated by the ongoing effects of the Covid crisis – as well as to the hundreds and thousands of those who have already lost their jobs.
And for that we make no apologies at all in putting their questions to you, minister, and for persistently looking for answers where none were forthcoming. We make no apologies at all for challenging your opinions and the decisions of government not to offer sector-specific support for travel this year, and for looking to hold a public servant to account.
We refused to let the key questions go:
Sophie was simply doing the same job that she, and the entire TTG Media team, have done this year in supporting the industry, in championing the industry, in standing tall alongside a business sector on its knees.
It’s certainly been a year in which not just TTG, but the entire trade media has grown throughout the crisis in our purpose and closeness to our industry – government ministers underestimate us at their peril.
Your second mistake on show during this interview was more fundamental, minister.
This year has been an absolute horror show for most business sectors – but there are very few that have been forced to not only effectively shut down, but to pay back what money they had made in the months prior to Covid too in the shape of customer refunds.
Saying “I don’t think there’s a lot more that could have been done for the travel industry” while simultaneously highlighting the fact that the support had been the same ‘one-size-fits-all’ benefits available to others, belied a fundamental misunderstanding of the unique set of pressures that travel companies have faced this year.
Huddleston’s interview at Agenda 2021 came just a few hours after Huw Merriman MP, the chair of the Transport Select Committee – the committee that scrutinises the government’s decisions on travel, unfettered by Boris’s puppet strings – spoke at the same conference.
Merriman told Sophie that it was wrong to keep paying furlough money to companies in sectors that were approaching some sort of normality, and that more support should go to sectors such as travel that had clearly been affected disproportionately.
Moreover Merriman added that it was clear there was now an urgent need for one minister looking after travel’s interests.
We are fortunate that the power and persistence of the TTG brand gives us the ability to attract the likes of Huddleston, Merriman and aviation & maritime minister Robert Courts, who also spoke at our event although more circumspectly. It may be a while, however, before the tourism minister agrees again to our requests.
We may not always get the answers we want. But you can rely on the good old trade press – and the modern-day TTG Media – to keep asking the right questions.
The full interview with tourism minister Nigel Huddleston can be viewed here.
Plus all of our content from Agenda 2021 and a 34-page report produced by PwC and TTG based on fresh consumer and trade research is available to TTG+ members here.