Transport union TSSA’s general secretary has slammed the government for failing to offer sector-specific support for the travel industry during the coronavirus pandemic.
“We’ve seen nothing from the government,” said Manuel Cortes, speaking to TTG’s editor Sophie Griffiths during ITT’s virtual conference.
Speaking at the conference’s The Future of the Travel Trade session, the trade union chief added that specific government support was vital to ensuring the longevity of the travel industry, including high street travel agents.
“Sadly if the government doesn’t take measures to support the industry, [it] won’t be around and travel trade shops on our high street could become a thing of the past,” he said.
Cortes advocated support measures including business rate relief and lower rents for high street agents, the nationalisation of airlines to rescue failing companies and a reduction or elimination of quarantine measures for Brits returning home from abroad.
“The government has been very clumsy when dealing with quarantine and this has affected consumer confidence,” he said.
He urged the government to “step in and hold the industry’s hand so we can recover and emerge from the crisis stronger than before.”
Cortes, who has been liaising with both the Secretary of State for Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy Alok Sharma and transport secretary Grant Shapps, said one of the main issues travel faces is a lack of representation in government in the form of a dedicated tourism minister.
“No one is there to take responsibility and everyone seems to pass the buck at the moment,” he said, adding that travel “falls between two stools” in government – the Department for Business, Energy and Industrial strategy and the Department for Transport.
Cortes also spoke of the Thomas Cook collapse and called for government intervention to avoid more travel company failures due to the pandemic.
“There has been government intervention previously in the travel trade. Thomas Cook was in public hands for over three decades and it operated very well during that time,” he said.
He criticised the government for failing to follow the recommendations put together by select committee MPs following the collapses of Thomas Cook and Monarch, which he believes could prevent further company collapses.
“The government needs to listen to its own select committee MPs, who have created two reports on preventing collapses in future,” he said.
Cortes also expressed his hopes for a brighter, more sustainable future for the travel industry. “We have a moment to see what travel will be like post-Covid. We need to use the lapse [in bookings] to look at low-carbon alternatives and a more sustainable model of travel going forward.”
He also praised the travel industry for its enduring dynamism and innovation. “There’s been lots of innovation in travel since its inception. The industry is very dynamic and that dynamism will catch up again once this terrible virus is conquered.”