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MPs plea for travel sector support after shutting of travel corridors

More than 80 MPs have backed a call for the prime minister to “urgently support” the aviation, travel and tourism industries following closure of all travel corridors.

They have called for a comprehensive ‘Aviation, Travel and Tourism Recovery Package’ to provide immediate financial and additional support alongside a pathway to allow aviation to come out of these restrictions when safe to do so.

The plea came in a letter to Boris Johnson from the All Party Parliamentary Group for the Future of Aviation.

While acknowledging that the latest restrictions are a necessary measure to protect the UK public from the spread of new variants of Covid-19, the cross-party group highlights that these industries need help to recover from the devastating impacts of the pandemic.

The letter, which was organised by the group and its chair Henry Smith MP, is also signed by former aviation minister Paul Maynard, ex-transport minister Stephen Hammond, DUP Westminster leader Sir Jeffrey Donaldson MP, and SNP transport spokesperson Gavin Newlands.

Smith said: “The closure of all travel corridors was a necessary measure to protect the public from new variants of Covid-19 but will be another hammer blow to industries which have faced the pandemic without the same levels of support afforded to other sectors.

“It is now or never, action must be taken to support the businesses, their supply chains, employees, and communities who have borne the brunt of the near total collapse of UK passenger numbers.

“Our aviation, travel and tourism industries will be vital to our long-term economic recovery and the Government must urgently deliver a full and comprehensive package of support and a pathway for the reopening of international travel when it is safe to do so.

“After nearly 12 months of historically low passenger numbers our world class aviation, travel and tourism industries are running on empty and the consequences of failing to support them are unthinkable and will put the brakes on our economic recovery before it has even begun.”

Clive Jacobs, chairman of Travel Weekly parent Jacobs Media Group, compared the introduction of tighter border restrictions such as quarantine hotels to “shutting the door after the horse has bolted”.

Appearing on Sky News this morning, he said: “That’s a measure that should have been put in place right at the outset [of the pandemic].

“Putting it in place now will be incredibly damaging to the industry. When the government puts restrictions in place it doesn’t ease them. If this carries on indefinitely, the economy will completely collapse.”

Pointing out that the travel industry is “not just airlines and airports”, but also travel agents, tour operators and business travel, Jacobs said: “If these companies go away, we will have huge problems going forward.”

Jacobs explained that many businesses in the sector had suffered nearly 11 months of “not operating at all”.

“The chancellor will say ‘furlough’, but we are still paying national insurance, rent and other costs,” he said, noting the government-backed Coronavirus Business Interruption Loan Scheme (CBILS) was only in place “for a very short period of time”.

“It needs to be more balanced,” said Jacobs. “Not just constantly demoralising people.”

Asked if it was “impossible” for governments to give more clarity on when travel might return, Jacobs argued that the rollout of the vaccination programme should be used to encourage a rebound of the economy later this year.

“We are told the vaccination programme is working,” he said. “And we are vaccinating more people than anyone else.

“The ability to come out of this will largely come from vaccinating the population, and mass testing.

“We have to remember that travel and hospitality are businesses that are a significant part of the UK economy. We talk about essential workers, but all workers are essential. If we don’t work, we don’t pay tax and if we don’t pay tax we don’t have an infrastructure, we don’t have an NHS.”

Jacobs added: “The problem I have generally with government is that they don’t consider the implications around any business in terms of what they suggest. In terms of hospitality and travel, we need lead times to be able to operate. Businesses need to gear up to actually make it possible for people to travel – it’s not just an on-off switch.

“This is where both travel and hospitality are struggling. There is no clear pathway or plan. No discussion with us on how we best navigate through this crisis.”

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