Agents call for review of furlough scheme for travel sector

The government’s job retention scheme needs to be reviewed and extended for the travel industry because it is “disproportionately affected” by the coronavirus pandemic.

The call came during a Travel Weekly agent webcast in which retailers agreed a ‘bounce-back’ in travel bookings was unlikely this year – and might not even occur until the second half of 2021.

Travel Bureau joint managing director Jeanne Lally said she believed the government needed to extend its furlough scheme specifically for travel companies because the industry will take longer to recover.

The current scheme is for three months, until the end of May, but Lally said this would not be long enough for travel businesses struggling in the current climate and with no change to the Foreign Office’s current ‘indefinite’ advice against travel.

She said: “I think the travel industry is disproportionately affected by this. I will be lobbying through our MP to get some form of dispensation for travel.

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“I think the furlough scheme will have to be extended for the travel industry specifically. Other industries will bounce back but we are not one of them.”

She admitted she was pessimistic about a travel ‘bounce-back’ until the second half of 2021. “I think you can write off 2020. We need to look to the second half of 2021 until we are fully operational,” she said.

Barrhead Travel president Jacqueline Dobson agreed the travel sector was not benefiting to the extent other industries were from the government’s furlough scheme.

She said: “It has been a lifeline for a lot of business but not so much for travel. We are not a coffee shop or a shop that can just shut shop and not service our customers. That’s been one of the hardest things as we are still having to work two, three times or sometimes ten times harder than we have ever done. I think that definitely needs to be looked at.”

Barrhead Travel is also lobbying the Scottish government for changes to the support grants which currently do not allow Scottish agencies access to the same funding as in the rest of the UK.

Dobson said she hoped to see customers returning to book holidays for 2021 in the autumn of this year.

Spear Travels group operations director Trevor Davis agreed the industry faced a “real challenge” for 2020, admitting: “Deep down we are probably thinking there is not a cat in hell’s chance [of a recovery this summer].”

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