Comment: Green light for business travel

Now we need a furlough extension, says BTA chief executive Clive Wratten

At last the government has lifted its blanket travel quarantine.

It is a welcome relief to the business travel sector, which remains in danger of losing one in two jobs in the coming months, and to businesses which have been deeply frustrated as they were unable to travel, trade and start to rebuild their balance sheets.

The new solution of ‘traffic lighting’ destinations will help get business travel underway once more and allow millions of Britons a summer break.

Despite the ill-advised imposition of a universal quarantine at the beginning of June, the Business Travel Association (BTA) recognises the government responded positively to its representations.

The BTA worked hard to get a green light for crucial routes to Germany, France and further afield. Ministers have listened and acted.

Equally, the BTA never supported the quashing of quarantine. We believe it is a necessary mechanism for controlling arrivals from countries across the world with high ‘R’ rates.

In the coming weeks, many airports will come back to life, as will the raft of businesses whose employees travel through them. But there are still many dark clouds hovering over our industry.

Months and months of economic inactivity, extensive loss of companies’ revenue, uncertainty about jobs and the need for long-term social distancing, all mean we have only made the first step on a very long road to recovery.

The Chancellor boldly stemmed the collapse of the UK economy with his furlough scheme, and its extension to the autumn has to be welcomed.

But not all sectors of the economy have been hit as hard as the business and leisure travel industries.

And as Carolyn Fairbairn, director general of the CBI, suggests there is nothing special about October as the date to end the furlough scheme.

What is needed now is not a blanket end to furlough in October, but a targeted extension for those industries which are struggling most.

The business travel supply chain – in which revenues have fallen to a fraction of previous levels – along with the leisure tourism and hospitality industries, must be viewed as sectors deserving furlough support beyond October.

This vitally needed extension will help us to retain talent and to get business travelling, thereby accelerating the economy along the road to recovery.

Let’s not forget it’s our industry, with appropriate support, that will lead the ‘new deal’ charge for Jet Zero – the government’s commitment to getting the first transatlantic carbon-free flight.

The traffic light scheme will stimulate the early steps to recovery. But only a timely extension to the furlough scheme will provide stability for the business travel sector, and the economy it serves, this year and next.

Clive Wratten is chief executive of the Business Travel Association (BTA)


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