The travel sector must continue its fight for sector-specific support from the government as the economy opens up, say industry bosses.

Speaking on a Travel Weekly webcast, Gary Lewis, The Travel Network Group chief executive, said the sector has been lobbying ministers throughout the pandemic to explain why furlough “doesn’t properly help our industry” and why agents don’t earn income until holidaymakers depart.

He said businesses such as barbers and restaurants can open on Monday (April 12) and immediately start earning but travel agencies cannot.

“They have been told, individuals understand it, but there is such a quagmire of different government departments making different decisions in the middle of this crisis that they get things wrong…they’ve fully not understood it as a government.”

He highlighted how agents were classed as retail rather than hospitality and leisure, so they were only entitled to restart grants of up to £6,000 instead of as much as £18,000.

The Save Future Travel Coalition has made the point to government about this issue, he said.

“We have made the arguments time and time again. And we’re embarrassing them every single time when they trip over themselves through this quagmire of different departments trying to make decisions quickly,” he said.

“So we’ve got to keep making the arguments, we’ve got to keep shouting about it.”

Joanne Dooey, president of the Scottish Passenger Agents’ Association (SPAA), highlighted how the association has built “a really strong relationship” with the Scottish government and agents north of the border have received grants.

But she pointed out that elections are looming on May 6, so the politicians that the SPAA has worked with could no longer be in office next month.

She also flagged up the problems faced by homeworkers, many of whom have not qualified for grants because they are not self-employed or have not been trading for long enough.

Lewis estimated that 60-65% of the industry might not still be around if it weren’t for some of the grants and furlough payments that have been available.

The extension of furlough until September will help tide over some businesses until they see revenues come in again in the summer – but having staff on furlough “doesn’t help you take advantage of the marketing and the sales and the demand that’s going to come back”, he added.

He said more cancellations will cause more work, and agents are “loaded with debt” and “their balance sheets are shot”.

“It’s a terrifying place for lots of people in our industry, for a product that’s absolutely [what] consumers want; it’s not a broken product, they absolutely want to travel,” he said.

“And that is why it is so important to keep passionate, making these arguments consistently to government, that this is why we need that support and help specifically.”