Travel chief scorns 'puerile' holiday plan warning

By Robert Plummer
Business reporter, BBC News

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Transport Secretary Grant Shapps' call for people to stop making summer holiday plans has been branded "puerile and nonsensical" by a senior travel industry professional.

"We're talking about the end of May or June, which is a long way off," said Sue Ockwell of the Association of Independent Tour Operators (AITO).

Mr Shapps said there was too much uncertainty because of Covid.

But Ms Ockwell said booking breaks gave hope to holidaymakers and the industry.

"It's something for people to look forward to and to keep travel companies going," she told the BBC.

Earlier, Mr Shapps told BBC Radio 4's Today programme: "Please don't go ahead and book holidays. I simply don't know the answer to the question of where we'll be up to this summer.

"It's too early to give that information. The best advice to people is: do nothing at this stage."

'A little more patient'

Prime Minister Boris Johnson later said it was "just too early for people to be certain about what we'll be able to do this summer".

He added that he understood "why people want to make plans now, but we're just going to have to be a little bit more patient".

Mr Shapps' comments have been seen by many in the travel sector as dealing a blow to hopes of a swift recovery for tourism.

For Ms Ockwell, they are symptomatic of a government that has failed to listen to her and her colleagues.

"It's highly frustrating. The government doesn't compare notes with anyone in the travel industry," she said. "They could save getting a lot of egg on their faces if they did."

Common sense

AITO represents about 120 specialist and independent tour operators in the UK.

Ms Ockwell said the industry understood "the scale of the challenges" facing the government over coronavirus, but added that tourism brought great benefits to the UK economy and was in need of sector-specific help.

"Holidays bring in a lot of money, holidays employ a lot of people and they're good for us," she said.

"We just want to be allowed to trade. That's all we're asking," she added.

"We're not forcing people to make bookings. We want people to be allowed to make their own common-sense judgements."

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image captionRyanair's Michael O'Leary is "optimistic" British people will be allowed to travel from May onwards

Other travel industry figures have echoed Ms Ockwell's dismay.

Brian Strutton, general secretary of pilots' union Balpa, said: "Airlines are drowning but, rather than throwing us a life raft, the transport secretary has just thrown a bucket of cold water at us."

And trade organisation Abta said waiting until the UK's vaccination programme was completed before allowing people to travel abroad meant "we'll lose another summer season to the pandemic".

Several big travel companies, including Tui and Ryanair, have said they expect to see a strong rebound in bookings this summer.

Ryanair chief executive Michael O'Leary told the BBC he remained "optimistic" that British people would be allowed to travel from May onwards.

"Many companies will not see their way through next winter if we go through a second summer of no bookings," he added.

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