Market-leader Tui says it has had “a seat at the table” for conversations with government about the resumption of international travel but insisted it was “not its style” to make public announcements on its lobbying efforts.

Asked on a Travel Weekly webcast why the company had not publicly backed other travel and aviation companies’ efforts to ease restrictions, commercial director Richard Sofer said: “Given the size of our organisation, we’ve had a seat at the table in all the government conversations. But it’s fair to say it’s just not our style to be out in the open, talking around lobbying governments.”

He added: “We’ve chosen to do that behind closed doors with government officials, and have been trying to sway them to make sure that they are making the right decisions to support not just our business, but ultimately the whole of the travel industry.”

Sofer insisted those efforts had paid off as Tui was getting increasingly positive signals around the resumption of travel.

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“We are getting more and more positive noises,” he said. “We’re feeling most confident about Greece and Spain being the first destinations that these air corridors are going to have agreements signed for, and that’s why they’re the first destinations that we’re going to be taking customers to. We’re very hopeful from that point forward, we’ll start to see other destinations be opened up [so] expect the likes of Italy and Portugal to follow.

FCO Advice

“There are clearly still obstacles to overcome and unfortunately, the UK government’s position, particularly with the FCO advice, has not been helpful. There’s been better clarity in other European countries where at least they will give lines in the sand.”

He added: “Not having a date and just having it ‘under review’ makes it very difficult to plan and clearly, ourselves and other airlines and other operators, you need a bit of a lead time; you need a ramp-up to be able to get your operations ready.

“But I guess we’ve got to the point where we are feeling confident, based on what we’re hearing from conversations within government, that we are very, very close to the FCO advice changing and therefore these air corridors and agreements being made, and therefore we feel the timing is right now to put our programme out there, to give customers the certainty.

“We’ve tried to give customers a great deal of flexibility across the summer period so they felt like they had choices and now is the right time to really put down what we think is a programme that we will be able to operate based on all of the information that we’ve got.

“Of course it is still subject to the FCO advice changing and these air corridors  being agreed, so you do have to caveat a little bit that we will need to keep watching how this develops. But it’s great to be able to put, with a great level of confidence, a programme out there.”

Sofer said long-haul would take longer to return than short-haul, but insisted he was still hopeful of operating some of Tui’s long-haul programme from the UK by “the tail-end of summer”.

Long-haul return

“I think it’s fair to say long-haul is probably going to take a little bit longer to come back. There’s clearly more uncertainty and you need those countries to lift their restrictions anyway to allow UK customers to travel,” he said.

“It’s definitely not a ‘no’ and we are reviewing that situation daily. We’re in conversations with the destinations; we’ve got teams on the ground in all the major long-haul destinations, so we have an ear to what’s going on in those areas.

“I’m very confident of the winter programme and I’m hopeful of a kind of return towards the tail-end of summer as well. Long-haul is a very important part of our programme but today the focus is around the short and mid-haul programme where we have a huge, huge level of volume.”

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