The government’s COVID-19 Staff Retention Scheme does not fully work for travel businesses and would lead to an “unholy car crash” if agencies were to furlough all their staff.
Speaking on Travel Weekly’s latest Coronavirus Webcast, Tailor Made Travel chief executive Simon Morgan said: “The Tourism Minister recently classified destination management organisations as crucial business support workers. Travel agents should be viewed the same. We have furloughed about 85% of our staff and the team we have left definitely aren’t making money. They are processing refunds and battling with clients’ arguments with tour operators.
“They are crucial to the business and to the pipeline of client funds. There would be an unholy car crash if we all closed our doors and all went home on furlough. We wouldn’t be able to service the bookings, the refunds, the finances and we would just return to a ton of chargebacks.
“This is an essential service we are providing to the public. There is definitely room for further support by the government and it shouldn’t just look at the domestic tourism industry.”
Steve Witt, co-founder of Not Just Travel, added: “I was pleasantly surprised by the level of support the government has given but travel seems to sit outside of that support. We have never been busier and yet we have no income.
“We have fallen in a gap. Furlough assumes you have got no work to do, and hence you can be furloughed. It’s the same for our homeworkers. They also fall between the gaps of most of the support that’s available as they either haven’t been in business long enough and are self-employed or a lot of their income is based on bookings with future commissions.
“So there is a lot more that could be done to help the industry. I understand healthcare is the priority, but the whole world relies on travel and the government probably hasn’t realised that yet.”
Paul Hardwick, head of commercial at Fred Olsen Travel, added: “If you work for Costa Coffee, they close the doors and you have to go home and there’s nothing you can do until they open the doors again. But with travel, every day there’s a new challenge, a new change, new extensions to suspensions, or new terms and conditions. We have to still work. We have to look after our customers.”
Hardwick said about two thirds of his staff had been furloughed in head office, along with all shop staff except one manager for each of his 14 branches who was still working from home. A small e-commerce team to create and send emails and accounts staff have been retained.