Travel needs government support ‘in absence of clear policy’

Sector-specific support should be offered by the government if it doesn’t provide the travel industry with an official policy on international travel, says the boss of Jet2holidays.

Steve Heapy told a Travel Weekly webcast that calls for sector-specific support should be “part of” lobbying efforts, but said the industry would rather know how policy would influence it first, so it can plan.

Asked if Thursday’s traffic light lists decision, when Portugal was moved to amber and no countries were added to the green list, strengthened the industry’s case for bespoke support, Heapy said: “It’s very easy to ask for additional support, like Oliver Twist asking for more.”

“I would hope they would consider additional support [but] what I’d like to do before we consider getting there is understand what the government’s policy is, because if you can understand what the policy is you can work out what the impact on your business will be and then come to a reasoned decision as to how that will impact you and what support you’ll need.”

Heapy stressed that support would be needed “in the complete absence of a clear policy from the government for travel”.

“If they are keeping a major industry in the UK shut, then they have to consider additional support for that industry otherwise they’re just going to drive it into the ground.”

He said Jet2 was in a “fortunate position” having just raised extra funding, but that he does “really feel” for smaller companies such as independent travel agents with “no salary, big loans, having to furlough people”.

“Some of these people have built businesses over 10, 20, 30, 40 years,” he said. “It’s their life, and it’s now hanging by a thread and I have the utmost sympathy for them.

“The travel agent model is affected even more than other businesses because they don’t actually get use of the profit from the transaction until the people have travelled.

“So they might be taking loads of bookings but that money doesn’t actually crystallise until the people travel – and with no travel it’s very difficult. It’s impossible at the moment.

“We’re doing what we can to help them but there’s not an awful lot we can do. We need the government to step up to the plate.”

He urged travel agents to lobby their local MPs.

“Don’t forget the government was elected,” he said. “Don’t forget MPs are there to represent you, and you have an absolute right to contact MPs to register your concerns, dissatisfaction and, if you’re in an area where the MP is representative of the government they should be able to say what the policy is.

“And, if they’re not in the government, they should be challenging and asking what the policy is, because this is so worrying for a lot of people.

Asked if the government’s latest traffic lights decision would push businesses over the edge, he said: “Yes. It’s another period of time where there is no income. Unfortunately, people will be going through severe hardship.

“The other danger, of course, is when we come out the other side of lockdown that the government says, ‘everything’s fine now, you can all travel again’.

“For some companies it’s going to take years, decades, to repair their balance sheet. You’ll have independent travel agents that have taken loans to be able to carry on the business, and they’re going to have to pay those back for years.

“The owners of these businesses, that are existing on almost no salary at the moment, are going to continue existing on low salaries because they’re going to have to pay these loans back.

“I would hope [the government] don’t say, ‘that’s it guys, off you go’ because almost every company will have geared its balance sheet open is going to have to start paying debt off.”

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