The bosses of the UK’s largest tour operators have questioned the whether the government has been truly listening to their concerns over the course of the pandemic.
The chief executives of Jet2holidays and easyJet holidays, and Tui’s UK boss, appeared on a panel together for the first time at Travel Weekly’s Future of Travel conference yesterday and joined forces in criticism of the government ahead of its expected traffic light system review.
Tui’s UK and northern Europe managing director Andrew Flintham said there have been “two types of meetings” with government over the course of the pandemic.
One he said was a “window dressing exercise” and the others, with the treasury, “have a caveat saying they will listen but don’t promise they will do anything”.
“Our problems are really well-understood,” said Flintham. “And in some ways they have been cynically managed.
“The cynic in me would say the government thinks furlough for the aviation sector is a bigger problem than opening up travel. They can then say we got what we wanted.
“So, cynically, I hope October half-term will be better than we had expected”.
Jet2holidays chief executive Steve Heapy said: “All of us have continued to use the opportunity we have with government to push what we [the industry] wants. They say they are listening but the results of that of that have been far from what we are looking for.”
He noted how there has been more than 50 changes to the traffic light lists since they were implemented in May. “It’s impossible for customers to plan,” he said.
Heapy noted that “winter is very popular for with city breaks and short breaks,” but cautioned: “People are just not going to risk it for two or three days as long as this complexity remains.”
He urged the industry to keep lobbying government for what it wants, and suggested individuals and companies “distil it down to the two points we want to make and keep reiterating it to [government]. We need to be clear and concise as an industry.”
Heapy believes the industry “has been heard” by government but suggested: “Listening is a different thing. A lot of people might smile and say they will take it away and look at it, but I don’t think a lot of is being done.”
He compared travel’s restrictions to those on mass events like football and said “aviation has been demonised” in comparison, with aircrafts “one of the safest places you can be” and that “when you are on holiday you are on the beach, where there’s more space than in the crowd at Old Trafford”.
EasyJet holidays chef executive Garry Wilson said the UK is in “splendid isolation from the rest of Europe” in terms of reopening travel.
He said easyJet’s capacity in its European markets is “back to pre-pandemic levels” and called for the government to allow for a similar, less restrictive approach to international travel from the UK.
“The government throwing us scraps and expecting us to be grateful for that isn’t good enough,” he added. “They may continue not to listen but it shows the disconnect between the government and the industry.”