Coronavirus: Travel agencies move for government ‘furlough’ support

Travel agencies of all sizes are taking up the government’s offer to pay 80% of wages of staff left out of work due to the coronavirus crisis.

Chancellor Rishi Sunak told businesses the state will cover up to £2,500 a month of salaries for firms to furlough staff through the Coronavirus Job Retention Scheme.

Kuoni, which had revealed 70 redundancies before the measures were announced on Friday, will now be able to retain staff. Derek Jones, chief executive of parent company Der Touristik UK, said the “lifeline” meant “we can now protect as many of our team as possible” and that letting staff go “was a very difficult [decision] but at the time I believed we were left with little option”.

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Barrhead Travel president Jacqueline Dobson said the agency was “liaising with the government for access to the Coronavirus Job Retention Scheme” as it operates with a “reduced team”.

Mark Swords, co-director of one-branch Wimbledon agency Swords Travel, said he would look to furlough two members of the team but said the chancellor’s announcement had been “a little bit confusing at first”.

“We were really excited we were going to get our staff covered but it actually means they have to remain off work, which is not ideal because we need them in the business,” he said. “They also apparently won’t get paid until at least late April.”

Other companies are also utilising the wage support. Cosmos and Avalon Waterways chief executive Giles Hawke said it looked “really valuable” at “headline level”.

Sunak’s announcement came alongside a deferral of VAT for businesses until the end of June, and followed measures introduced last week. They included a business rate ‘holiday’ for the retail, leisure and hospitality sectors, an extension of the Business Interruption Loan Scheme to 12 months, interest free, for up to £5 million, and cash grants of up to £25,000 for smaller firms.

Mark Johnson, operations director of 19-branch agency Polka Dot Travel, said agencies would be “crazy not to” look at the loans. He added: “They’re on favourable terms in an unprecedented situation, so I think a lot of companies will apply for them.”

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