We need stability to move forward, argues Clive Wratten, BTA chief executive
This week marks our seventh in lockdown. Since the lockdown started, companies across the business travel sector and more widely have been focused on the actions necessary to deal with the immediate consequences of the pandemic – from repatriations to refunds, short-term financial measures and, sadly, the need to furlough large numbers of employees.
There is a change of mood across the industry now. We are looking forward and planning what we need to do to get Britain moving again and, plainly, to survive.
It’s crucial for our BTA travel management company (TMC) members to ensure the stability of their businesses so that they can re-ignite operations and scale up when demand returns.
The business travel sector is a huge enabler for UK plc. The six-million-plus trips it organises in a ‘normal’ year contribute more than £220 billion to UK GDP.
As we emerge from this crisis, the business travel supply chain will need to collaborate and work in harmony to enable British business to travel, to trade and to drive the UK economy forward.
To make that a reality, all elements of the supply chain need to be stable now. Cross-industry collaboration coupled with government support have made a significant difference thus far – but that can’t stop now.
A crucial part of this will be an extension of the government’s furlough scheme, currently available for a three-month period until June 30.
As the effects of Covid-19 become clearer and drive the timeframe for a likely return in travel demand further away, the need grows for companies to be able to furlough employees for longer or we risk losing well-known companies and talent from the industry forever.
The introduction of the new 100% government-backed loan schemes for small businesses is welcome, and will suit some of the BTA’s smaller members.
But continuing delays by the banks in approving larger government-backed loans under the Coronavirus Business Interruption Loan Scheme (CBILS) need to be quickly resolved.
Across the industry, increasing collaboration on key areas such as refunds is to be applauded as many carriers and all UK train operating companies are now giving the option of refunds, enabling TMCs to reclaim monies to be passed back to corporate customers who desperately need it.
However, we are also seeing some airlines extending the time they take to process refunds, and that needs to be quickly corrected.
Collaboration between government and industry, and across our industry, is crucial to achieving the stability we need now to start plotting a path to recovery.