Cabin crew, pilots and travel agents have called on the Government to relax the rules around international travel and provide financial support for a sector facing “chaos”.
Hundreds of people employed in the travel industry joined a day of action organised by industry body Abta outside Parliament in Westminster, Holyrood in Edinburgh and Stormont, in Belfast.
The demonstrators, many wearing uniform, took over College Green in central London carrying placards reading “speak up for travel” and “allow safe travel overseas”.
And they demanded transparency over why the Government has failed to put countries with low rates of Covid-19 on the foreign travel green list despite those countries apparently meeting the criteria for doing so.
Among those taking part was Paul Naylor, 49, from Steppes Travel, who said: “We need targeted financial support because our industry is probably the most in-demand now.
“We’ve got people crying out for a holiday whether short or long-haul and our industry is totally and utterly dependent on the Government regulations.
“We understand safety comes first but we just need the help and support to get us through because an industry in demand should not be allowed to go under.”
Travel operators said they had been hit with costs and had not been able to take full advantage of support measures such as the furlough scheme because staff were needed to manage bookings and process refunds for cancellations in accordance with Foreign, Commonwealth and Development Office advice.
Bharat Gadhoke, head of commercial at the Association of Independent Tour Operators, said: “Specialist travel companies have been around for 40 to 50 years, you cannot start another one up and get to the same level.
“People have sold their house, their car, taken their pension out to pay (refund) money back and we are still in the position where the Government still slops around what they’re going to do. It’s been chaos.”
And Arron Mitchell, director of Syte Travel, said: “What we really need is a tourism minister that understands the entire outbound tourism industry because no one in Parliament understands how travel works.
“They refuse to meet with the industry leaders.
“We need tailored support for the travel industry, an expansive green list and freedom to travel for those that are double vaccinated.”
Mark Tanzer, chief executive of Abta, said statements from ministers on the issue of foreign holidays had had a “real effect”.
“You can see almost instantaneously that bookings slow down or stop if someone comes out and says ‘I won’t have my holiday’ or ‘I won’t book a holiday’,” he said.
“Of course what really frustrates people is the general statement that people shouldn’t travel for leisure purposes.
“They’ve created a traffic light systems which has tests, it has quarantine, it has checks and is risk-assessed and we understood that and then it is suddenly overlayed by ‘you shouldn’t be travelling anyway’ and that has dented consumer confidence and bookings.”
The protest comes ahead of an expected update to the traffic light lists on Thursday, with Malta and the Balearic Islands reportedly under consideration to be added to the green list and cleared for quarantine-free travel.
On Tuesday, Health Secretary Matt Hancock indicated the Government is actively looking at changing travel rules for those who have received both doses of their Covid vaccination.