ITT Chair defends hiring Matt Hancock to speak in Qatar amid industry outrage

By Linsey McNeill
01/03/2023
Home » ITT Chair defends hiring Matt Hancock to speak in Qatar amid industry outrage

ITT Chair Steven Freudmann says Matt Hancock is aware of the damage he caused to travel when he was Health Secretary but insists that’s no reason he shouldn’t attend the body’s annual conference.

The decision to pay the disgraced MP to speak at the event in June has appalled travel industry professionals, some of whom were already boycotting the event due to it being held in Qatar and the destination’s poor human rights record.

Responding to ITT’s announcement on Twitter that it was ‘delighted’ Mr Hancock would be joining them in Doha, Newmarket Holidays Head of Trade Sales Richard Forde said: “Read the room?! What an appalling decision and announcement. Have you forgotten 2020?”

Others said ITT had ‘lost the plot’ and that Mr Hancock’s appearance was ‘a very good reason not to attend the conference’ and ‘a waste of members’ funds’.

Travel Village CEO Phil Nuttall said the decision was ‘unbelievable’, while travel recruitment expert Kristina Wallen tweeted: “Yet another reason for resigning my [ITT] membership and not attending this conference.”

However, Steven Freudmann told Travel Gossip ‘it would be a sad day if we only invited speakers with whom we agree’.

In a statement, he said: “ITT has hosted many controversial figures at its events over the years, including Boris Johnson, Nigel Farage, Lord Prescott, Sir Michael Fallon, and George Osborne.

“Inviting guest speakers to address our Conference does not imply that we endorse their views.  Quite the contrary. Indeed, Matt Hancock is aware that he has few friends in the travel industry and is also aware of the damage caused across the travel sector by the decisions made whilst he was Secretary of State for Health.”

He said Mr Hancock will take questions both from the moderator and the audience at ITT, adding that it will be ‘a great opportunity for delegates to tell him what they think of the Government’s handling of the COVID crisis’.  

“It’s only right that politicians should be accountable,” said Freudmann.

Kristina Wallen, Group MD of HARP Wallen told Travel Gossip she was ‘stunned but not altogether surprised’ at the invitation to Mr Hancock, adding: “I resigned my membership of ITT over Qatar #humanrights #lgbtq+ although[Nigel] Farage as a speaker was my watershed.  

“Given everything our beloved industry has been through how can the Board of ITT think this is best use of member funds – an MP under investigation (again)?

“Please don’t say it’s the industry opportunity to challenge him – that’s patronising at best – what will it achieve?”

Steven said registrations for the event are running ahead of those of previous ITT conferences.

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