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MPs speak up for north London agency after protest

A north London travel agency boss has been lobbying local MPs to raise the plight of the industry in Parliament – and urges fellow trade professionals to back her campaign against travel restrictions.

Tara Hawkins, managing director of Authentic Villa Holidays, held a protest on Sunday (December 5) outside her shop on Myddleton Road, Bowes Park, which attracted attention as it coincided with a Christmas market and winter festival attended by local celebrities such as actor Neil Morrissey and X Factor singer Melanie Masson.

She used to have seven members of staff but now has just one and is using up her savings after losing an estimated £1 million in revenue over the pandemic.

Hawkins says her shop faces closure in the new year if no specific support for the sector is given by the government.

“A lot of people turned up,” she said, noting that Labour MP for Hornsey & Wood Green Catherine West spent 20 minutes chatting in the shop and “said she would put a question in Parliament about the lack of support for travel”.


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Hawkins was also invited to a reception where she met Theresa Villiers, the Conservative MP for Chipping Barnet, and told the MP that agents need restrictions on international travel lifted, or financial support from the state.

After their conversation, Villiers made an urgent call to transport secretary Grant Shapps about the latest problems faced by the travel sector, and also raised the issue in the House of Commons in a question to health secretary Sajid Javid.

“Shapps told her he is fighting to get restrictions lifted but it is all up to the Department of Health, so I said we have to start talking about financial compensation,” said Hawkins.

Villiers told the Commons about the sector’s “despair” with new curbs on travellers and asked Javid: “What will we do to help the travel sector, and when will we get to a stage where we deal with Covid without having to damage such significantly important parts of our economy?”

Javid said the answer lies in “making a quick decision about Omicron” and he hopes to have more data on the variant by next week.

“Hopefully, if that data is helpful, then pressures can be eased in the travel sector. Should it be less helpful for the travel sector, the government will have time to review what other measures they might be able to take to help,” he said.

Hawkins told the MPs about losing staff and revenue over the pandemic and urged agents to join her #freedomtotravel campaign, on freedomtotravel.co.uk.

She warned: “Customers are saying now that they are not going to book, because of Omicron.

“The MPs have to listen, we have to hit them hard with facts. I am not going away, I have to be pushy and not accept wishy-washy answers.

“We have to apply pressure day after day and we have to get in their face.”


Pictured: Catherine West MP outside the Authentic Villa Holidays shop.

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