The SPAA has blasted Scottish first minister Nicola Sturgeon after she urged Scots not to book overseas travel during the October school holidays unless the trip was essential.

Sturgeon made her comments as she announced stricter measures in Scotland to limit the spread of Covid-19, including banning interaction between households.

Saying that the school holidays were an opportunity to “further limit social interaction”, she added: “Given that this is a global pandemic, please do not book travel overseas for the October break if it is not essential.”

Mike Tibbert, vice president of the SPAA said: “The first minister’s comments in the Scottish Parliament today were unnecessary, wholly gratuitous, and extremely damaging for the Scottish travel industry.

“This year has been catastrophic for travel agents and the entire travel sector and today’s comments could well be the final nail in its coffin.

“It’s utterly short-sighted to consider that this story ends with our members having had no 2020 income, but the stark facts are that, without immediate and targeted stimulus for the travel sector, Scotland will lose its global connectivity as airlines cut routes. It’s no idle warning. It is probable, that loss of connections would cause irreversible long-term damage to our whole economy.”

Tibbert added: “It’s becoming ever clearer that our entire travel sector – and consequently our economy – is in real and immediate jeopardy. This is absolutely no exaggeration, yet there appears to be no support either at ground or strategic level to prevent this. Indeed, we seem to have government announcements actively designed to destroy travel jobs and the whole industry when there are destinations which it is safe to travel to such as Turkey.

“It’s clear that the financial model of the travel industry is neither understood nor differentiated from the domestic hospitality and tourism sector.  Travel agents have had virtually no income at all in 2020, as, even for holidays booked prior to the initial lockdown, travel agents will have had no income at the time of booking.

“Many have had negative income due to the level of refunds and the credit card charges they have been obliged to process; some of these before they were refunded by the airline or travel operator. Increased job losses are on the horizon for the whole sector.”

Rory Boland, editor of Which? Travel, said: “While the advice for people in Scotland not to book holidays abroad over the October break may be sensible to prevent further spread of the virus, it does not help those who have already booked a holiday, many of whom will have done so several months ago.”

He warned airlines would continue to fly and not refund customers, adding: “There cannot be one rule for holidaymakers and another for airlines. If people are being asked not to travel, then airlines should be made to provide rebooking at no additional cost or refund options to their customers, to prevent them from being left out of pocket or putting public health at risk by taking a holiday they can’t afford to cancel.”