Urgent industry support is required to combat the impact of the third national lockdown as travel firms scrambled to protect the impact on bookings in what would normally be the peak new year period for holiday sales.

Abta repeated a plea to ministers for specific sector aid amid fresh fears of widening company failures and job losses.

A spokesperson for the travel association said in the wake of Boris Johnson’s lockdown 3 announcement last night: “It’s right, of course, that the government takes steps to control the spread of the virus.

MoreONS data shows travel is service sector worst-hit by Covid [December 10]

Scottish travel agents granted £5 million sector-specific support [December 9]

“But this needs to come with the right measures to support travel businesses which have little or no means of operating.

“For ten months now, many travel businesses have been unable to generate income – putting jobs and businesses at risk – and the latest government measures mean this is unlikely to change soon.

“Yet, unlike other sectors such as hospitality, there hasn’t been any tailored financial support from the UK government to get travel businesses through the crisis.

“Other countries, including France and Italy, have established targeted schemes in recognition of the unique challenges facing travel. Similar recognition and support is long overdue from Westminster, and we urge ministers to address this gap urgently.”

Travel recovery

Julia Lo Bue-Said, chief executive of the Advantage Travel Partnership, said: “The announcement of a third lockdown will certainly delay recovery for an industry which has significantly suffered at the hands of Covid-19.

“We had seen some green shoots in terms of bookings for this year and whilst the next three months will be incredibly hard for travel agents, we remain hopeful that the anecdotal feedback indicates some pent up demand which we hope will translate to a bounce back for the industry post-Easter.

“We are a resilient industry and we know the British public will want to travel as soon as it’s safe to do so.

“What’s important is they have the confidence to make bookings at a time of terrible uncertainty.

“The effective roll out of the vaccine is critical to the resumption of normal life and if this happens on schedule we could see confidence start to slowly return.

“For consumers wishing to lay plans for a brighter future once safe to do, our travel agents will be able to advise them every step of the way from navigating country protocols and testing requirements to advising on changes to travel in Europe due to Brexit.”

Travel commentator Paul Charles, chief executive of The PC Agency, tweeted: “Travel companies and airlines now need to focus on taking bookings in the coming weeks, traditionally the business booking period of the year, so that crucial revenues come in well before people actually travel. But many flights in Jan/Feb will now be cancelled.”

Further travel restrictions

The government is expected to announce further restrictions on international travel later today.

Pre-departure testing for international travel to the UK is understood to be under consideration, although there is no confirmation about which types of test will be used or the time frame.

Cabinet Office minister Michael Gove told BBC Breakfast: “We are looking at further options to restrict international travel.”

In a separate tweet, Charles said:  “I understand #UKGov will make an announcement later this week forcing all inbound visitors (not UK residents) to show negative PCR test proof taken within the previous 72 hours. It’s not a border closure but an enforced gate keeping. Quarantine (10 days) will stay.”

Aviation support call

Airlines UK chief executive Tim Alderslade said: “It’s vital that any lockdown is accompanied by measures to support our aviation sector, through grants and further liquidity measures such as APD relief, together with an acceleration of the roll-out of pre-departure testing and the vaccine.

“If we cannot re-open travel the future of UK aviation will be bleak indeed but we’re hopeful government will step in and recognise its importance and contribution to UK plc, so we can continue delivering for passengers.”

Airport Operators Association chief executive Karen Dee warned that the renewed lockdown was “yet another devastating blow to airports” coming on top of the EU’s ban on UK nationals traveling to the EU for non-essential purposes.

“We are fast approaching a full 12 months of aviation being effectively shut down, with only limited support for UK airports provided to date,” she added.

“The government must urgently announce a comprehensive aviation support package, allowing the sector to weather the current dire financial circumstances while protecting jobs and aviation connectivity.

“This must include covering operational losses during the current heightened restrictions and extending all existing forms of support until aviation is able to operate free from the barriers that have prevented any meaningful recovery to date.

“The UK aviation industry will play a crucial role in enabling the UK’s economic recovery and Global Britain, but can only do so if it gets the support necessary to get through the coming months and years.”

Tour operator cancellations

Tui confirmed that all holidays due to depart from today (Tuesday) would be cancelled and refunds offered.

“We’ll update customers due to travel from Wednesday 6 January until mid-February in the coming days,” the UK’s largest operator said.

“If holidays are cancelled, customers will receive a full refund or incentive to amend to any holiday that’s currently on sale.

“Customers currently overseas can continue to enjoy their holidays as planned and we will update them directly if there are any changes to their holidays.”

Jet2 and Jet2holidays extended the suspension of winter sun flights to the Canary Islands, Madeira and Turkey until February 12 “due to the ongoing uncertainty caused by the Covid-19 pandemic and government travel restrictions”.

EasyJet holidays is reviewing all holiday bookings in light of the prime minister’s latest lockdown announcement and the implications for international travel from the UK.

A spokesperson for the operator said: ”We will be contacting customers whose holidays can no longer go ahead with the option of cancelling for easyJet holidays credit which can be used to rebook an alternative holiday, or customers can choose a full refund back to their original payment method.

“We’re really proud that we’ve been able to average 12 days to process refunds. We will also be in touch with customers with later departure dates to remind them of our easyJet holidays protection promise which offers ultimate flexibility and reassurance.”

Thomas Cook is in touch with all customers who are booked to travel up to February 15 to cancel or amend.

It will then start looking at February half-term bookings and said some holidaymakers are keen to travel at that time if possible.

A spokesperson said: “We’re still seeing bookings coming through – they dropped off at 8pm last night but have picked up this morning and been steady throughout the day.

“I think people’s expectations remain the same that a summer holiday is possible and now more than ever they want to get something to look forward to.”

Renewed testing call

Emma Coulthurst, travel commentator at holiday price comparison site, TravelSupermarket, said: “With vaccinations and testing the way forward to fight this deadly virus, cost effective or free testing is key.

“Testing is too expensive at the moment. However, to protect people at home and abroad, it is essential.  While tests before travel are now required before UK travellers go to most countries, also having to take them on return would help to protect people.

“When people can travel again, free or extremely low-priced testing before or after travel needs to be made accessible in the community, rather than having to reply on, in what feels like, in many cases, overpriced private testing solutions.

“With only a small number of testing services on the test to release programme, which reduces the length of quarantine, many of the services were overwhelmed when the scheme launched at the beginning of December.

“Access to testing needs to be increased and be free or no more than £30 each, a much more affordable price.

“The government needs to support travel and travellers. The travel industry is a absolutely vital part of the economy. Travel needs to resume in time in a way which protects UK and overseas’ communities.”

She added: “It is positive to hear from the government that it hopes the most vulnerable including people over 70 will have received the vaccination by mid-February. This gives more hope to people being able to safely travel in future.

“People want to escape and have new, sunny experiences when they can – we see that, with price comparison searches and bookings via TravelSupermarket for package holidays from April onwards and being most popular for June and July at the moment.

“People are looking forward to returning to the beaches in their favourite spots on the Med, with Turkey, Spain and Greece currently proving the favoured destinations for summer 2021.”

The government lockdown advice on international travel says: “You can only travel internationally – or within the UK – where you first have a legally permitted reason to leave home. In addition, you should consider the public health advice in the country you are visiting.

“If you do need to travel overseas (and are legally permitted to do so, for example, because it is for work), even if you are returning to a place you’ve visited before, you should look at the rules in place at your destination and the Foreign, Commonwealth and Development Office (FCDO) travel advice.

“UK residents currently abroad do not need to return home immediately. However, you should check with your airline or travel operator on arrangements for returning.

“Foreign nationals are subject to the ‘Stay at Home’ regulations. You should not travel abroad unless it is permitted. This means you must not go on holiday.

“If you are visiting the UK, you may return home. You should check whether there are any restrictions in place at your destination.”

Scottish travel agents granted £5 million sector-specific support [December 20]