Business travel chiefs lobby government departments over Covid curbs

Government departments have been directly lobbied by business travel firm chiefs over the lack of engagement with the sector over Covid restrictions.

Advisors from the Department of Transport, Department of Culture Media and Sport and the Department of Business Energy and Industry Strategy fielded questions covering the traffic light system, entry requirements and the cost of Covid-19 testing.

The delegation stressed that consumer and business confidence had been severely knocked during the last couple of weeks with spikes in infection rates and the emergence of the Omicron variant.

Focus Travel Partnership chef executive Abby Penston and non-executive chairman Adrian Parkes led the online meeting comprised of TMC partners, the Federation of Small Business and Business Travel Association chief executive Clive Wratten

The DoT answered the delegation’s concerns with an apology for the level of frustration.

The BTA and Focus Travel Partnership will be added to its key stakeholders list along with a commitment to escalate concerns to ministers.

Testing processes are being sped up and bad practice is being stripped out, the DoT insisted.

Further, UK travellers can use just one test for short return, short-haul business trips, the meeting heard.

Parkes pointed out BTA projections that the UK’s GDP is losing £3.38 billion a week under current travel restrictions.

“Despite this, for the most part, our sector has been ignored,” he argued. “Government seems to have little understanding on the implications of a Saturday evening tweet containing significant travel policy change and the roles our TMC partners play when it comes to implementing and fulfilling these policies to travellers with immediate effect.

“The issue we have is that TMCs are central to the organisation of business travel but we are not part of the conversation with government.”

Focus Travel Partnership, as a member of the Business Travel Association, reiterated the association’s  lobbying points to the government advisors:

  • To cap the price of PCR tests at £55
  • For the government to provide a dashboard for the travel sector on Government website to flag countries that are moving towards the red list
  • For the government to provide an exit plan so that businesses can future proof.
  • A request for government to be more engaged with the business travel community including Focus Travel Partnership and the Business Travel Association given that the BTA estimates that each international business trip is worth £34,000 for the UK economy.
  • For the government to provide financial support for TMCs if trading is restricted

Cilla Goldberger, a director of Focus Travel Partnership and managing director of ABT-UK, told the government departments: “Business travellers and TMCs are faced with exorbitant and unexpected costs, when government travel policies change suddenly, and consumer confidence is peeling away.”

She added: “As a sector, when we are following the rules and doing everything right it is galling that with a flick of a switch travellers are faced with exorbitant and unexpected costs – especially when we find out from scientists that closing borders is not helpful.

“The travel industry is being hammered again and consumer confidence is peeling away. This not only damages us, but our clients’ business and the UK economy too.

“If we were given more time or a heads up, these costs and losses could be mitigated.”

BTA chief executive Clive Wratten said: “We have not had enough engagement with government to allow us to manage the situation correctly and arm us with all the information our clients need. We feel very ignored.”

Paul Cronje, chief executive of Clyde Travel Management, who joined the meeting from South Africa, said: “I’ve been stuck in South Africa, but the country is managing the Omicron crisis well and I feel safe. The country is getting a raw deal from following the rules.

“My sector of marine travel and off-shore has continued to travel throughout the pandemic, but have borne astronomical costs due to its need to follow stringent health and safety protocols. These costs will ultimately hit the end user.”

Katrina Pierce, from the Federation of Small Business, added: “SME companies are exhausted from the impacts of these most recent Covid-19 restrictions and morale is low.

“The government needs to provide a road map out of these current restrictions to build back confidence. We have seen the positive impacts of this before, and it needs to happen again.”

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