Abta urges government to rethink change in travel agent lockdown policy

The government is being urged to rethink a decision to remove travel agents from the list of non-essential shops forced to shut due to lockdown as they are being barred from accessing grants.

The removal of agents from the non-essential retailers list means they will not automatically be considered for grant aid from local councils, worth up to £3,000.

The list was issued when the full guidance of the second lockdown in England was announced.

Abta raised the removal of travel agents, which had been mentioned explicitly in the original list, with government on Monday and is now calling for a reversal of the decision.

Government guidance at the time of the second lockdown announcement specifically highlighted travel agents, saying it had ordered specific businesses to close including: “All non-essential retail, including, but not limited to clothing and electronics stores, vehicle showrooms, travel agents, betting shops, auction houses, tailors, car washes, tobacco and vape shops.”

However, they were later removed without any consultation with the industry.

A Cabinet Office spokesperson confirmed on Thursday: “As was the case in March, we have not closed travel agents by law as these businesses can continue to operate remotely and it may be necessary for people to continue to go to their office where they cannot work from home.”

But an Abta spokesperson said in response: “The decision to remove travel agents from the list of closed businesses shows a lack of understanding for how the travel industry works.

“Abta has explained this to ministers and officials a number of times, and we are disappointed that a decision with such serious ramifications has been taken without officials engaging directly with the sector on the practicalities.

“Travel agents are dependent on footfall for a significant part of their trade, and the impact on their trade is identical, or worse, than many of those businesses who have been named as eligible. For example, florists can operate click and collect services in a manner that is not an option to travel agents.”

The spokesperson for the travel association added: “The regulations adopted by the government have removed the ability of the industry’s customers to take holidays at this time, and the policy decisions taken throughout the crisis, while correctly taken with public health in mind, have severely restricted the ability of companies to sell organised travel for the past eight months.

“This is a situation that has not been faced by many other sectors or businesses throughout the crisis.

“This situation is true for all travel businesses, not only travel agents, but also tour operators, and travel management companies, yet there has been no offer of financial support for the travel industry – despite the sector being worth £65 billion a year in GVA and supporting nearly one million jobs.

“Abta urges the government to think again, and to clarify that travel agents are eligible for the Lockdown Restrictions Support Grants, as per the chancellor’s answer when questioned in the House of Commons on 5 November, and the initial information published by the government following the announcement of lockdown.

“We also urge the chancellor to make tailored financial support to all travel businesses, in recognition of the fact that the international travel industry has been experiencing conditions akin to the lockdown since the crisis began in March.

“At this point, we would note that Abta is yet to receive an official response to our letter on this subject.

“We are currently advising members to continue applying for the Lockdown Restrictions Support Grants (LRSG), and to consider the Additional Restriction Grants (ARG) scheme, which is discretionary for each local authority, if their applications under the LRSG is refused.”

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