Shapps accused of ‘undermining confidence’ in struggling travel industry

Transport Secretary Grant Shapps has been accused by the UK’s struggling travel industry of “undermining confidence in it” after revealing he has no plans to book a summer holiday.

Asked on BBC Radio 4’s Today programme about consumers being unsure whether to book a trip, the Cabinet minister replied: “I won’t be booking a summer holiday at this point, let’s put it that way.”

He added that people will “want to see what the trajectory of this disease is in the next few weeks”.

He told BBC Radio 4’s Today programme:

Transport Secretary Grant Shapps (Dominic Lipinski/PA)
Transport Secretary Grant Shapps (Dominic Lipinski/PA)

Abta, which represents UK travel firms, issued an angry response to the interview.

It said in a statement: “It was a thoughtless comment and not based on any facts about what we know today about the future of the pandemic, but it shows complete disregard for the UK travel industry, the hundreds of thousands of people it employs and the struggle it is facing in this current crisis.

“It would be better if the Government focused on taking the necessary steps to support the sector rather than undermining confidence in it.”

Downing Street also suggested summer holidays should not be booked yet as there is no certainty of when travel can resume.

The Prime Minister’s official spokesman said: “As of today, it is a fact that both the guidelines and the official Foreign Office advice do not allow for people going on holidays.”

Abta has warned that many travel firms will not be able to survive unless the Government amends refund rules.

Under EU law, travel companies must refund customers within 14 days if their package holiday is cancelled.

But Abta says the deluge of claims means many firms will collapse if they are forced to pay out cash refunds.

It wants the Government to allow companies to offer credit notes as a short-term alternative.

The Foreign and Commonwealth Office has advised against all but essential international travel since March 17, while domestic holidays are not allowed due to the Government’s lockdown orders issued six days later.

These measures have hit travel firms hard, with trips being cancelled and many people – such as Mr Shapps – delaying making future bookings.

A number of companies have furloughed staff due to the sector grinding to a halt.

Mr Shapps said the Government “won’t be able to save every single business in every single circumstance” but predicted that once the pandemic recedes, there will be “new types of economy in lots of different ways, including the travel world”.