20 JUNE 2022


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Article from BTNews 20 JUNE 2022


AITO, the specialist travel association, is angry as Government denies its major role in airport chaos.

Chris Rowles, Chair, Association of Independent Tour Operators (AITO), explains why the trade body, representing 200 specialist tour operators and specialist travel agents, is angry with Government for blaming the travel industry for the current flight cancellations and chaos reported in the media, at Gatwick and Manchester airports especially.

"I suppose that I should not be surprised when I consider how often we tried to get the Government to listen to us during the two dreadful Covid years, but it still gets my goat that the Government claims that the current problems are all down to the travel industry.  

It is simply trying to avoid taking responsibility for issues of its own making, and trying to pass the buck to us, which is plain ridiculous.  I’m not alone in being angry with Grant Shapps at the DfT, with Liz Truss at the FCDO and with their teammate Kwasi Kwarteng at BEIS, plus his colleagues at the CAA, along with Nadine Dorries and her co-conspirator Nigel Huddleston at the DCMS.

The industry’s key problem is not having just one Minister to whom to report, of course.  Trying to find a Minister who will take us seriously and actually listen – or even try to understand what we face – is akin to playing a weekly role in the TV sitcom Yes Minister, but without the laughs.

We are talking survival (or not) for many very good travel companies, who simply do not deserve to be treated in this way.  Especially not after two years of zero or negative income.  

Just try to imagine what it is like to have to defer holidays – time after time after time – with no additional payment available for the very long time it takes to do the work properly, especially with tailor-made trips.  We love our clients’ loyalty and determination to enjoy – eventually – that holiday that was created, on a bespoke basis, just for them.  But boy oh boy does it cost the company lucky enough to have made the booking in the first place a lot of teeth gritting, staff time, phone costs and admin hassle, for none of which do they receive any further payment.  

We see the problems as having been caused largely by three linked factors.  Firstly, the Government’s stop/start policy regarding overseas travel.  Secondly, its total lack of sector-specific support for the travel industry over the past two years.  And, thirdly, Government’s complete lack of understanding of the travel industry, despite huge efforts on the part of the travel industry to get key messages to the five – yes, five! – government bodies to which we all report. 

More key problems include Government instructing airlines to return to 70% capacity by summer 2020 (ie now) from a standing start.  Airlines were damned if they did and damned if they did not.

There is the very long security checking process for airport staff.  Clearly there is a need for careful checking, but why couldn’t new recruits be trained during the actual procedures to save time?  It is totally logical, but it was not done until the airports were so far behind that they simply couldn’t catch up.

And, finally, not recognising the need to issue skilled overseas workers with relevant visas to solve this shortage of people needed to work in a wide variety of travel-related occupations.  Government turned down the travel industry’s request to consider this option only last week – yet they continue to blame the travel industry for the ongoing problems.

Brexit is also involved – it forced large numbers of EU workers to return home, causing big shortages in the travel workforce.

Exacerbating matters further are airport and airline workers who are newly-infected with Covid and thus not working – this is causing more flight cancellations, longer security checks and baggage handling problems at airports.  

And the good old CAA is urging travellers to use their ATOL protected deferred holiday vouchers before the end of September, or risk losing the financial protection offered.  I wonder why it did not occur to the CAA that this might cause a huge rush to book and add to the woes of the airports, the airlines and the travel industry overall?

We also need to factor in the fact that experienced workers in travel across many different roles were made redundant by the travel and airline companies during the 24-month period of zero financial income.  Now they’ve largely found new roles in sectors outside travel – why should they return to high-pressure, low-paid roles, with long/unsocial working hours alongside often poor working conditions?

At AITO, we believe Government should acknowledge the major part it has played in the airport chaos that reigns at present – it really should not pass the buck to the travel industry yet again.  Be honest, Government, rather than in denial!

We understand, of course, why consumers are upset and unhappy about changes and cancellations to their holiday flights, but it is important that the issues are explained clearly and properly – ie that tour operators and travel agents have no influence whatsoever over airlines (easyJet and British Airways, for example) and their schedules.  

Despite our lack of any power to help our customers, we are working extremely hard to amend arrangements and to keep our clients informed.  Unlike the airlines, we answer our phones and we email our customers.  We are doing our utmost to help clients in a difficult scenario which is absolutely not of our making.

Government, it is time, please, to take note of all this, and to take action!  

Hope springs eternal – but for how long must we wait for Government understanding and some practical help?"

Chris Rowles, Chairman, AITO


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All comments are filtered to exclude any excesses but the Editor does not have to agree with what is being said. 100 words maximum

Brian Curtis, Manchester

This is fine thoughtful piece. Perhaps it was written before Westminster discovered yet another committee to deal with the air travel problems. Shapps has just to much to do. Flying is the lifeblood of the country. 80m passing through Heathrow in good times can’t be bad. The aviation minister should be at cabinet level.