The owners of Hays Travel have branded the government’s quarantine plans as “ludicrous” and “like shutting the stable door after the horse has bolted”.

Speaking on a Travel Weekly webcast, managing director John Hays said: “We certainly want to see the quarantine plans abandoned. They’re not sensible. It’s almost like shutting the stable door after the horse has bolted.

“I could understand a quarantine two months ago when all of this was starting. But now it’s ludicrous. We live in Sunderland, which I’m told is the coronavirus hotspot for the whole of England, which means we’re the hotspot for all of Europe now, if that’s the case.

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“So if someone was to leave Sunderland to go to somewhere like Portugal, which has had very few cases, and had got everything under control, come back and have to go into quarantine for a fortnight, that’s just not sensible. So hopefully the quarantine will get revoked.”

John Hays said he and his wife and fellow director Irene had declined to sign a petition along with 300 other travel companies to get the plans overturned – but not because they didn’t agree with the position.

“We didn’t say we’ve been doing nothing. But the latest thing around the quarantine, had very political things in, in addition to the quarantine,” he said.

“If it stuck to just the quarantine, we would have added our names to it, but there was quite severe criticism of the government, which isn’t our style. We do things quietly.”

Irene Hays added: “We keep our powder dry and we tend to play the cards we’re dealt with. And it’s very difficult, within a tight timescale, to actually change legislation and go through due process. It’s very difficult to take an announcement that has been made by a minister and change that.

“So I think a partial view is that we have been pragmatic about that and we’ve taken each invitation to participate on its merits and we have a look at the likelihood of it success or otherwise.”

John Hays added: “We tend to say things when we’ve actually delivered them. We’re quite private individuals so we don’t go around shouting.”

Asked what he thought of various bodies’ efforts to support the travel industry through the coronavirus crisis, John Hays said: “The CAA’s mandate is to protect the customer. They haven’t got a remit to protect the travel trade or the travel industry. I think they’ve been consistent in their stance and we respect that.”

But he said Abta was in “a lot trickier” situation because it has “almost a dual role”

Irene Hays added: “The ambiguity has been very difficult at times – difficult for Abta and difficult for the trade, and that’s been apparent from lots of the comments. There is definitely ambiguity and, whenever that exists, it’s very difficult to back one side or the other when you’re serving the interests of both.”

Both agreed the crisis impacted the overall reputation of the travel industry.

John Hays said: “We’ve done our best in difficult circumstances. Every day, probably right now, we’ll have staff – same with agents up and down the country – who will be dealing with irate clients wanting their money back.

“So, it’s tough. We understand where tour operators are coming from – we’re a tour operator ourselves, so we know it’s really hard getting money out of airlines and all of that. But if you’re a customer, I can see how potentially, they would not have a favourable view of the travel industry in its entirety.”