The travel industry has been seen as “expendable” by a government that has let the coronavirus crisis destroy businesses, Aito claims.

The umbrella group representing 120 specialist operators and 100 agents says the sector has been forgotten amid the Covid-19 pandemic.

Many members have handled just 5% of their usual number of holidaymakers this year and face a bleak winter.

A dedicated minister is needed who understands the sector to represent the issues it faces.

Aito chairman Chris Rowles issued a plea for urgent financial aid for the travel industry, pointing to billions in euros from German government bailouts for Tui.

“Travel hasn’t been ‘forced legally to close’ – it’s been abandoned and left high and dry,” he said.

“The plight of the aviation industry is often mentioned, but tour operators and travel agents seem to have been forgotten, despite the best efforts of the travel trade associations, including Aito.

“European countries have offered the travel industry – airlines, tour operators and travel agents alike – a decent level of government support during the pandemic; just look at the massive €3 billion handed out to industry giant TUI by the German government.

“But the UK government policy has destroyed our businesses, making it impossible for us to trade.

“UK PLC has closed a virtual door in our faces by setting up quarantine rules at short notice while failing to take the simple, common sense step of enforcing testing at airports, despite many requests by airport authorities.

“UK PLC has given the public no confidence whatsoever to travel.  Many of our members have carried just 5% of their normal client numbers this year, with little to no peak season business – the only time of the year when we normally make money to keep us going through winter.

“At the same time, they have been faced with blanket refunds clearing out their bank accounts while having to struggle to keep staff on – unfurloughed – to be able to handle the huge number of enquiries and refunds in a responsible manner.

“Meanwhile, we’ve been encouraged by the government to take out enormous loans, but given no way of earning money to pay them back.”

Rowles added: “We are seen as expendable – yet we delivered huge sums in tax to UK PLC’s bottom line pre-Covid, and employed huge numbers of people in a formerly vibrant industry.  It is, quite simply, soul-destroying – and the government is guaranteeing that huge numbers of travel industry people will be on the dole, needing massive government support, as a direct result of its policy to ignore the travel industry’s pleas for financial help.

“Ordinary people will be denied the option of a good-value, financially-protected annual holiday put together by our specialist tour operator members and travel agents because we will all have been pushed out of business by government inaction and lack of consultation with us.”

He said: “I have to repeat what we have said all too often to no avail – the travel industry needs a minister with clout and an understanding of the travel industry to represent it rather than reporting to four major ministerial departments – Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy, Department for Transport, Civil Aviation Authority and Foreign Office – which seem to have little-to-no idea of how travel and tourism works and which fail singularly to consult with us.

“We are still waiting for Refund Credit Notes post 30 September to be endorsed as having financial protection by the CAA, after the fiasco of earlier in the year when it took government two months to take such a simple but essential step, despite such Refund Credit Note protection already being enshrined in the Atol rule book. This simply creates still more lack of public confidence to book holidays. Nothing makes sense.”

Rowles urged chancellor Rishi Sunak to talk to the industry and accused transport secretary Grant Shapps and business ministers Alok Sharma and Kwasi Kwarteng of ignoring the sector.

“There is no joined-up thinking between the DfT, BEIS, the CAA and the FCO,” Rowles claimed.

“We need the Exchequer’s ear and your understanding, and we need action and financial aid for the travel industry immediately.”

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