Aviation Minister Robert Courts had been due to attend (Image: Matt Cardy)

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A top Government minister pulled out of a major travel conference at the last minute – sparking a furious reaction from an industry boss today.

Aviation Minister Robert Courts had been due to address the Association of British Travel Agents' Travel Matters conference, with his speech pencilled in for weeks.

But he axed his appearance just days before he was due to speak, blaming a “diary clash”.

ABTA chief executive Mark Tanzer said the non-show was “disappointing” and “symbolic” of the Government's attitude to the industry.

He told the Mirror ABTA only learnt Mr Courts would not be attending “at the back end of last week”.

Many British families are desperate for a sunshine break
(Image: Alamy Live News.)

Mr Tanzer told guests he wanted to hear from the senior Tory about plans to rescue the UK's £37billion overseas travel sector, which employs 500,000 people.

He said: “We had hoped to have the Minister for Aviation join us here today, but unfortunately he has withdrawn because of a late diary clash.

“I would have liked to ask him how, as a Member of Her Majesty’s Government, he justifies a position such as this, and, indeed, how he views the outbound sector more generally.

“His absence today – necessary as I’m sure it is – is nonetheless symbolic of a wide – in fact widening – gap between Government and the outbound travel sector.”

Issuing “a heartfelt plea for political change, Mr Tanzer went on: “I know that the pandemic has presented unprecedented political and financial challenges.

“There has been no lack of engagement from our side with Government throughout the pandemic.

Holiday jets have been largely grounded by coronavirus travel restrictions
(Image: AFP via Getty Images)

“At every turn we have been there giving evidence of what is happening on the ground, and working on practical steps to get travel moving again – and yet at our hour of greatest need the Government seem intent on looking away.”

TUI's Andrew Flintham said: “It is incredibly disappointing that the Aviation Minister didn't come to speak with us today.”

Warning it was vital ministers listen to the industry, he added: “This once again feels like a sign they are not.”

The Department for Transport has been contacted for comment.