The boss of Travel Counsellors has called on the government to boost consumer confidence for travel when the pandemic is over, saying minister “must act”.
Steve Byrne, chief executive of the group, which supports 1,900 home-based travel agents, has written to small business minister Paul Scully and aviation minister Robert Courts.
He urged them to “inject confidence, unlock demand and boost the economy” saying travel legislation and support for the self-employed is required.
Byrne wrote: “Travel Counsellors supports the difficult steps the government is taking on international travel restrictions and travel corridors, recognising the vital importance of taking all necessary actions to protect the nation’s health and wellbeing.
“Yet now is also the time we believe government must act to boost consumer confidence. Words must be matched with deeds to ensure that Britons can travel again when this pandemic is over.
To indicate the scale of small businesses affected, Byrne explained that Travel Counsellors’ network of self-employed agents made more than 300,000 global bookings for 611,000 passengers worth £650 million in 2019.
“Our hard-hit franchisees look to January as a vital time on the travel calendar,” he added. “I write on behalf of all of them to seek government support for the small self-employed business owner. Whilst the SEISS scheme has supported some, businesses that have been recently set-up and may be operating via limited companies as directors are excluded. There are around three million of these businesses in the UK and these include travel entrepreneurs who have received no financial support during this pandemic and continue to face very challenging months ahead.
He added: “We also need to instil consumer confidence in the industry with a change in legislation allowing a scheme of financial protection whether consumers book directly or indirectly with an airline. I firmly believe that confidence can be secured by removing one of the biggest fears that consumers have: that if their travel plans change their money is safe.”
Byrne said 2020 “gave consumers a clear message”, that: “Neither current legislation nor the terms and conditions of business allowed for the unprecedented events unleashed by the pandemic.”
He championed the use of trust accounts, noting Travel Counsellors has used the model since 2004, putting customers’ money in trust until the itinerary is completed – and noted the firm refunded or credited nearly 60,000 customers last year.
“Moving to trust accounts may of course require a transition period and support as some businesses build up their cash reserves,” said Byrne. “But this will ultimately allow consumers to plan for the future in sure confidence that if the worst happens they can re-book quickly and easily.”
Byrne asked to discuss the issue with ministers, and added: “A change in legislation and financial support for the self-employed would send a strong message that government supports our sector and our talented business people, freeing them to do what they do best: tailoring perfect holidays to get Britons travelling again and driving the economic recovery of the UK. At the very least, the end of the furlough and SEISS schemes on April 30, 2021 need to be reviewed urgently.”
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