Travel industry begs for ‘route out of crisis’

Holiday plans

The travel industry has urged the prime minister to provide a “roadmap” to get people travelling again this summer.

A number of travel organisations and businesses have written an open letter to Mr Johnson begging for tailored support to prevent more jobs being lost and businesses going bust.

“We urge you to provide a route out of the crisis for the travel industry,” it says.

Mr Johnson will set out his plans for easing lockdown rules this evening.

Under the current national restrictions, holidays are not permitted anywhere in the UK. International travel is restricted to essential purposes, such as for work, medical appointments, or education.

A government spokeswoman said it has already put in place “one of the most comprehensive and generous packages of business support in the world”.

But signatories of the letter have asked for further help to safeguard the livelihoods of the hundreds of thousands of people employed in the sector and rebuild the £80bn contribution the sector makes to the UK economy.

It was organised by the Association of British Travel Agents and the Save Future Travel Coalition and its signatories include organisations and businesses across the travel industry, such as Tui, EasyJet Holidays and Airlines UK.

About 160,000 jobs have been lost and many businesses have closed their doors for good during the pandemic, it says.

The economic output for travel fell by 86% for travel agents and tour operators and 90% for aviation, between February and December 2020, according to recent figures from the Office for National Statistics.

There has been little opportunity to recover or generate cash since Covid-19 first hit the sector 12 months ago, the letter pointed out, with restrictions in place on international travel for much of the last year.

Financial support

The industry said the government needs to provide tailored financial support to help travel businesses through, including grants that take account of the impact of international travel restrictions, and the extension of other support measures, such as business rates relief, into the next financial year.

“We also know that the recovery of travel is likely to be gradual, which will require the maintenance of flexible furlough support throughout the summer season, as well as other regulatory alleviations and support measures to help businesses meet their fixed costs,” the letter added.

On top of that it asked the government to:

  • Recognise that the industry “cannot wait” for the full roll-out of the vaccination programme before people start to travel again.
  • Facilitate travel through a recognised certificate to enable restrictions to be relaxed for vaccinated travellers.
  • Return Foreign Office travel advice on Covid-19 to a regional basis, as opposed to a whole country.
  • Ensure advice focuses on the risk to people in destinations.

A financial support system for airports in England opened in January, as all UK travel corridors – which had been in place to allow arrivals from some countries to forgo quarantine – were closed.

Aviation minister Robert Courts said at the time that the Airport and Ground Operations Support Scheme “will help airports reduce” additional costs faced due to the pandemic.

The scheme had first been announced in November, but without a set start date. It involves grants of up to £8m per applicant, to be used to cover fixed costs, such as business rates.

A spokeswoman for the Department for Transport added: “There is continuous work taking place across government looking at how best to support all sectors of the economy, including the travel industry, and the Budget on 3 March will set out the next phase of economic support.

“On Monday, the prime minister will set out the roadmap for easing restrictions, which we are seeking to do in a cautious and irreversible way.”