Tui’s UK boss Andrew Flintham has revealed the company, the world’s largest leisure travel firm, hasn’t had a single meeting with prime minister Boris Johnson or chancellor Rishi Sunak during the Covid crisis.
Addressing Abta’s Travel Matters seminar on Tuesday (22 June), Andrew Flintham said it was indicative of the lack of support and engagement with travel at the highest echelons of government, despite the industry’s £37 billion annual contribution to the economy.
"There’s been no ‘katsu curry’ photo opportunity for us," said managing director of Tui UK and Ireland Flintham during his keynote speech, referring to Sunak’s high-profile photo op serving Wagamama customers last summer ahead of the Eat Out to Help Out scheme.
"As an industry worth £37 billion a year to the UK economy, accounting for nearly 2% of GDP and supporting over half a million million jobs across the UK, we have not managed to get even one meeting with our prime minister or chancellor," said Flintham.
"Instead, we’ve had ministers giving mixed messages about not booking holidays, telling people not to travel, and announcing 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 said during his time as Tui UK and Ireland managing director, he’s seen the back of four aviation ministers. The fifth, Robert Courts, was due to address Travel Matters on Tuesday but pulled out due to what Abta chief executive Mark Tanzer described as a "diary clash", which he and Flintham both branded “disappointing”.
"Each one [of these ministers] has told us that they are a pro-aviation and pro-travel," said Flintham. "We have also been told our airspace is a piece of national infrastructure as important as our roads and railways. And that they recognise the vital importance of air travel to our country.
"This week we need to see these words and intentions become actions."
Flintham said the travel industry understood the challenges government has faced handling the Covid crisis, and that "difficult decisions" had to be made to protect public health to the detriment of industries like travel.
"This will never be disputed," he said. "As an industry we always place the health and safety of our customers and colleagues as our highest priority. That is why we’ve worked closely with the Department for Transport throughout.
"We have now worked on two Global Travel Taskforces, attended 103 working groups, been present at 36 expert steering group and roundtables and had eight meetings with ministers and officials. All alongside other airlines, tour operators, airports and industry bodies.
"We are all fighting for one common goal – and that’s to safely reopen international travel."