The UK Office for National Statistics has laid bare the impact of the Covid pandemic on travel as the industry ratchets up demands on the government for targeted support and a pathway to recovery.

The ONS brackets travel agency and accommodation businesses together and reported these “saw the sharpest decline in turnover” of any sector during the first national lockdown. Data released on Monday showed turnover fell to 9.3% of February levels last May. However, the comparison with February downplays the impact. A year-on-year comparison shows turnover last May fell below 7%.

Travel agency and accommodation turnover in November remained at just 21% of the February level and 20% of that in November 2019.

The wider impact across travel and tourism was less pronounced, with turnover across all parts of the industry hitting a first-lockdown low in May of 26% of February’s level, but that compared with 74% across “all other industries”.

Travel and tourism also saw “the largest fall in employment of any age group” in any sector among 16-24-year-olds, with more than 40% of all jobs lost to workers in this age group in the three months to September.

The number of people reporting their main job as in travel and tourism fell 10.8% year on year in the summer.

Employment in all other sectors rose slightly by 0.1% in the same period.

This was despite the fact that the proportion of travel agency and accommodation businesses trading last summer rose from 43% in early July to 98% in late August. The proportion trading then fell back to 51% in November and by mid-January had fallen further to 37%.

Travel and tourism businesses also had a higher proportion of workers on furlough than other sectors, with 45% of staff across the travel industry on furlough in January but 72% on furlough in travel agencies and accommodation. That compared to 40% in the food and beverage sector and 12% in other industries.

Separate ONS data published at the end of last week recorded the impact of Covid-19 across the economy. It showed air transport turnover fell 89% year on year to December 2020, travel agent and tour operator turnover fell by 86%, and accommodation turnover was down 73%.

The ONS found travel and tourism-related sectors comprised eight of the 10 most‑impacted by Covid-19. The only others sectors suffering contractions of a similar magnitude were rail transport (-64%) and domestic work (-51%).

Support calls

Tim Alderslade, chief executive of Airlines UK, said: “It’s clear not all sectors of the economy have been affected in the same way, which is why it’s so important the sector receives economic support that recognises the particular impact the virus has had.”

Travel agency consortium The Travel Network Group said its members’ revenues fell by 85% on average from March 2020 to February 2021 compared to the same period in 2019-2020.

Chief executive Gary Lewis: “What this data from the Office of National Statistics confirms is the devastating impact that the Covid-19 pandemic has had on the travel industry.

“Most other industries have had some respite from the effects of the pandemic but the travel industry has not, with revenues during peak months still being a fraction of what was experienced pre-pandemic. We’re asking the government to create a sector-specific support package to help keep the industry afloat until travel can safely reopen again.

He urged government to consider targeted grants “to help businesses stay liquid until travel can reopen again”, extend support mechanisms such as furlough, VAT deferrals and business rates relief, and “provide clarity on when travel can safely reopen, to help the industry build consumer confidence and open up trade for the future.”