Prime Minister’s road-map out of lockdown ‘must help travel industry’

Catherine Wylie, PA
·3-min read

The Prime Minister’s plan for the easing of coronavirus restrictions in England must include a way forward for the travel sector which says it is “on its knees”, according to industry leaders.

Leisure travel is prohibited under the UK’s Covid-19 lockdown, but the travel industry is desperate for rules to be relaxed in time for the vital summer season.

Ministers will begin their review of the lockdown restrictions ahead of an announcement by Boris Johnson on February 22 setting out his “road-map” out of lockdown.

Travel trade organisation Abta said many travel agents and tour operators have not been able to operate or generate income since the start of the pandemic last March, due to the Government advising against travel to the majority of destinations.

Abta and Seasonal Businesses in Travel (SBiT) estimate that in a normal year around 500,000 people would be heading off to the slopes over the February half term period.

Half term represents around 15% of Abta ski members’ total bookings for the winter season.

For companies providing ski and snow trips to schools, the same period would usually bring 40% of their annual revenues, but this year that revenue will be lost, Abta said.

The Save Future Travel Coalition – made up of 12 leading travel trade organisations – says it is vital that the Government works with the industry to develop a roadmap to reopen travel.

The coalition warns that the industry cannot afford to wait until everyone in the UK is vaccinated before people start to travel again – otherwise insolvencies and redundancies will be inevitable.

The industry argues that a risk-based approach to travel, including a co-ordinated approach to vaccine certificates and use of passenger testing will be critical in opening up the overseas travel market.

Mark Tanzer, Abta chief executive, said: “In a week’s time the Prime Minister is due to update the nation on a route out of lockdown.

“That must include a way forward for the travel industry to ensure that people are able to take an overseas holiday this summer.

“We completely understand the need for the Government to bring in temporary restrictions, like the additional measures around quarantine being brought in today, but we also need a route out of this crisis and some tailored financial support to help businesses get through what will be very difficult months ahead for the sector.

“Travel is vital for the economy. It has been a powerhouse of economic growth and employment.

“In normal times travel contributes £80 billion to the UK economy and supports close to one million jobs.

“It also underpins UK aviation and trading routes, with travel agents and tour operators putting the passengers on the planes.”

Charles Owen, director of SBiT, said: “The UK may be in its third lockdown but, for SBiT members, this is still their first lockdown which started 11 months ago.

“In March 2020 we completed an emergency repatriation of 40,000 guests and staff back to the UK, and then set about refunding or rebooking holidays for hundreds of thousands more guests.

“With this winter season all but cancelled, virtually no new bookings and the outlook uncertain this is an industry on its knees financially.

“There is huge demand for ski holidays in the 2021-22 ski season but our members need financial support from the Chancellor now, to continue trading and delivering the future holidays that our guests love.”