ONS data shows travel is service sector worst-hit by Covid

Travel agents and tour operators have been the worst hit services sector by the pandemic, according to Office for National Statistics figures published today.

Abta highlighted the findings and said they bolstered the industry’s case for tailored support from the UK government.

The ONS figures assess the impact on output in the UK economy for October 2020, and show travel agents and operators are 90% down on where they were in February 2020. They ranked above creative arts, and hospitality, which have both had sector-specific support measures.

Agents and operators in Scotland received a pledge of dedicated money from the Scottish government yesterday, but Abta said this type of arrangement must be mirrored across the entire UK and called on Westminster – and the devolved governments of Wales and Northern Ireland – to act.

It reiterated its point that, while travel companies have been able to access the furlough scheme, and it has served to save jobs, they have been unable to take full advantage as travel staff need to be employed to deal with re-bookings and refunds, a constant feature of the pandemic due to ever-changing travel advice.

The government currently advises against all but essential travel to the majority of destinations. Abta is calling for a review of this and encouraging government to allow for travel to countries where infection rates are comparable to or lower than the UK and where they have developed public health responses to the pandemic.

Mark Tanzer, chief executive of Abta, said: “While the recent developments around a vaccine and test to release have provided a boost to consumer confidence, with more enquiries and interest in booking holidays for next summer and into 2022, the start of 2021 will still be very challenging for the industry.

“All of the travel industry is struggling, but for some parts, like ski and long-haul operators, the coming months will be even more difficult. Nine months into this crisis, and with the ONS now clearly showing we’ve been the hardest hit service sector in the UK, travel businesses need help to get through the difficult months ahead.

“The government also needs to ease its travel advice, allowing people to travel more freely. Yesterday the Scottish Government led the way by introducing specific funding for the travel industry – the UK Government, as well as those in Wales and Northern Ireland, needs to follow suit.”

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