A Current Affair host Tracy Grimshaw has issued a scorching response after a travel industry boss said she needed to be given a “firm uppercut or a slap across the face” over the show’s reporting of a refund scandal.

“Jayson Westbury’s language was appalling and he’s paid the price for it,” the presenter said in a statement during Wednesday night’s program.

Mr Westbury, the chief executive of the Australian Federation of Travel Agents (AFTA), resigned yesterday and apologised for his “poor choice of words” after last week telling members during a webinar: “I think that Tracy Grimshaw needs to be given a firm uppercut or a slap across the face”.

“I mean that virtually, of course. I wouldn’t want to invoke any violence on anyone,” he added. “But, I mean, some of the behaviour and some of the language that’s being used on that program is just outrageous.”

The comments sparked anger from women’s groups and others who took to social media calling for him to stand down.

“As CEO of the Australian Federation of Travel Agents he was supposed to help them navigate the devastating effects of this COVID-19 pandemic and somehow address the scathing criticism from customers who now couldn’t travel and couldn’t get refunds,” Grimshaw said in her response.

“Instead, he chose to shoot the messenger in a disturbing personal attack on me.”

Mr Westbury’s comments were made during a webinar that addressed how the travel industry was dealing with negative publicity during the coronavirus pandemic.

The travel industry has been hit hard by the crisis, with widespread travel bans forcing holiday-makers to cancel their plans and seek refunds.

But some customers have reported having trouble getting their money back, with travel agencies either refusing to pay up or offering only credit notes instead.

“We know travel agents are hurting. And while I’ve no doubt many individual operators are doing their best in terrible circumstances, industry-wide, the fallout has been badly handled,” Grimshaw said.

“Unfair cancellation fees, refusals to offer refunds, unreasonable delays to refunds and a failure to explain to customers why.”

“His members deserved better representation, and the board obviously came to the same conclusion today,” she said.

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In a statement on Wednesday, AFTA said: “While Mr Westbury stressed that his comments should not be taken literally and has apologised publicly and to Ms Grimshaw, he has also acknowledged that the comments were inappropriate and unacceptable in any circumstances, as well as being at odds with the views of AFTA and its member companies and agencies”.

AFTA chairman Tom Manwaring said: “His choice of words cannot be condoned. His work history stands in good stead for the service he has provided the travel industry and AFTA’s members”.

An interim CEO has been appointed while his replacement is sought.