Is the Transport Secretary Grant Shapps friend or foe, what the hell is amber+ , why do we have to quarantine when we come back from France, and does the Prime Minister only listen to The Telegraph?
These are just some of the question’s Noel Josephides and other AITO members put to MP and Chair of the Transport Select Committee Huw Merriman at the Association’s first in-person general meeting since the start of the pandemic.
Q: Is Grant Shapps’ paying any attention to the travel industry’s problems?
A: I have a really good working relationship with Grant Shapps. Grant is a big supporter [of travel]. You don’t see the arguments he is having behind the scenes with the Department of Health.
Grant is really enthusiastic, he is really positive, I genuinely think he wants to see travel back.
Round the table (in the Cabinet) the Department for Transport (DfT) is relatively small. You need the support of the Chancellor and the DfT.
I would be pushing Rishi Sunak [the Chancellor] to open up travel and support Grant.
Q: Isn’t the real reason for the travel restrictions that the Government wants furlough money to be spent in the UK?
A: I don’t hear that argument, we don’t have the supply in the UK and look at the UK overseas market, it’s worth billions and we’ve lost it all [due to travel restrictions]. Staycations can’t make up for lost international travel.
But the big problem is border control. We should have been making sure that we had digitalised Passenger Locator Forms and COVID passports during the downtime, that time wasn’t properly used.
Q: Can you explain the logic behind amber+?
A: No because amber+ doesn’t make any sense to me. Beta numbers are three times higher in Spain [than France, which was the first country to be placed in the new amber+ category].
I genuinely think we have counted [Beta] figures from [France’s] two overseas territories in the numbers. It is safer going to France than staying in this country.
The very fact we cannot get hold of the data should tell you everything. A lot I think harks back to India and the question did we put India on the red list too late.
Q: Why are hairdressers getting bigger restart grants than travel agents?
A: I think at the start of the pandemic it was fair enough to take a one-size-fits-all approach, we were in panic mode, but we should have gone back and rectified that, and your industry should have had a lot more support.
After all, if the government takes your land, they compensate you.
Q: Is there a chance furlough and loan repayments can be extended for the sector?
We will certainly be calling for you to get more support, but I would rather our effort went to getting travel restrictions eased so you can start trading.
We must look back at this period and see where we were unfair on you, but my priority is not to get you bail outs but to get you trading again.
The demand is there, you just have to unlock it.
Q: Will the easing of restrictions come soon enough to prevent the collapse of travel companies?
A: The Government has gone against the grain [in easing national lockdown restrictions], so I do feel that the trends are looking good.
Q: Can you reassure us you will lead a group of MPs to push for furlough to be extended for the travel industry?
A: You have my word that is going to happen. I am absolutely committed to doing that. The point I will be making to the Chancellor is that if they don’t allow your sector to do business you have to have more support.
The first call for us is that you have to be allowed to do business.
Q: Can you guarantee there won’t be a repeat of countries suddenly changing category, such as happened with France and Portugal?
A: No, because the Government’s ultimate concern is the [COVID] variants, so as soon as they detect a variant of concern they will shut a destination down.
Our biggest focus is stopping the bureaucracy and dealing with arrivals on a country-by- country basis, so when one country is vaccinated they can come in without needing to check all the different government apps.
Q: What does the travel industry have to do to be heard?
A: If you all push hard enough, the walls will come down. A good example of this is the end of quarantine for the double jabbed. That has happened because of pressure. That was supposed to happen in August, but the sheer pressure brought it forward.
Get the help of your MP. Bring him or her down to your business, ensure they see what the problems are. If enough people do that, the walls will come down.
If you write to your MP and get a rubbish response, send it back and say it’s not good enough. Make sure they come to your organisation and do something about it afterwards.
If enough MPs are going to Ministers and saying the Package Travel Regulations don’t work, they will change because it’s a popularity contest. That’s the way MPs get elected. Make them work.
Q: Does the Government listen to him – or just the Daily Telegraph?
A: Yes I think so. MPs rely on me because I am in the weeds of this.