The SPAA has slammed transport secretary Grant Shapps after he responded to criticism of the government’s support for the sector by insisting: “There has been billions in support to the travel industry.”

Shapps made his comments in an address to Abta’s virtual Travel Convention on Wednesday, prompting the association’s chief executive Mark Tanzer to express his “alarm” and insist “we’ve yet to see evidence” of support.

SPAA president Joanne Dooey added her voice to the criticism, saying: “We’re bound to wonder if our government has any understanding of what’s happened to our industry when we have a minister, at a virtual travel conference,  who talks about bank loan support for the aviation sector and ignores the hundreds of travel agents across the UK who are facing business ruin and mass staff redundancies as the furlough scheme ends.

“His insensitive tweet on the eve of the conference about his government’s support for the space industry shows just how out of touch he is with our plight and his inability to understand, empathise with or support us.

“Space flight may be top of his agenda, but getting international travel moving again is surely more important for the entire UK economy than reaching outerspace?”

Dooey added: “In a week which saw the government giving financial support to bar workers and strip club workers, shouldn’t his focus be on helping the industry which enabled him take his family on holiday to Spain this summer?

“The whole travel sector awaits the domestic test regime he outlined today which aims to cut quarantine time on travellers’ return to the UK. However, we’d prefer that the testing plans were laid out in full for us, without the rhetoric of Grant Shapps calling it a ‘trailblazing’ scheme.

“We cannot stress forcibly enough that we need a testing scheme by the end of the year at the latest to restore customer confidence and save the sector.”