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Inbound sector ‘fighting desperately’ to survive till recovery

The UK inbound sector faces a battle for survival and the government “has not been overly helpful”.

That is according to UKinbound chief executive Joss Croft, who told an Elman Wall Covid-19 webinar last week: “The UKinbound approach is based first on survival, making sure operators and destination marketing organisations [DMOs] are still around when there is a recovery.

“The argument resonates with government, but we’ve not seen much progress on it.

Croft said: “We submitted a proposal to the Treasury to fund DMOs in November. We’re still waiting to hear from them.

“We’ve had good engagement with the government. But the government has not been overly helpful.”

He said: “We’re fighting desperately to make sure the new round of business grants is available to tour operators.”

The Treasury announced an extension of lockdown grants to business worth £4.6 billion on January 5.

Croft highlighted the fact that loans under the government’s Coronavirus Business Interruption Loan Scheme [CBILS] “start to crystallise into being due for payment as we approach March”.

He said: “The challenge is to get sector-specific support, but the UK government is adamant it won’t look at sector-specific support.”

Croft told the webinar that the government should reconsider its removal of tax-free shopping for international visitors, saying: “We do need to re-look at VAT-free shopping.”

The Treasury removed tax-free sales relief for non-EU international visitors to the UK from the start of this year. The relief allowed visitors to reclaim VAT on goods – valued at about £3.5 billion a year –which were purchased but not consumed in the UK.

The government argued the scheme was costly to administer and subject to fraud. But maintaining it would also require it be extended to EU visitors when the Brexit transition period ended.

Croft said: “Removing it for everyone puts us at a massive competitive disadvantage. We’re very likely to see fewer Chinese visitors coming here to shop.”

He said the vaccine roll-out in the UK is positive, but added: “For inbound travel it is also about the vaccine roll-out in international markets.”

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