Abta has welcomed the level of support from MPs of all parties at Monday night’s Westminster debate on international travel and Covid-19 and pledged to keep the issue of financial support for the sector on the government’s agenda.
Luke Petherbridge, Abta director of public affairs, hailed the contributions of MPs despite the government rejecting calls for a relaxation of travel restrictions and additional support for travel agents.
The debate came in response to an Abta-backed petition which also called on the government to class international travel to visit partners and family as “an essential reason to travel”.
Petherbridge said: “Abta and the industry engaged proactively with MPs before the debate, and it was welcome that almost every speaker spoke in support of tailored assistance for travel companies.”
The government designated health minister Jo Churchill to respond to the petition rather than a transport minister and she emphasised the public health requirements which lie behind the restrictions.
Most MPs backed the petition although speakers for both main opposition parties argued against lifting travel restrictions.
Petherbridge told Travel Weekly: “Of course, we know there is support across all parties for a cautious and risk-based approach to a restart, which was reflected in the interventions.
“However, there was widespread agreement that the government needs to rethink its approach, as the domestic unlocking progresses, and to bring forward tailored financial support for travel companies that reflects the constraints the government is imposing on trade.”
He said: “Abta is following up with speakers and will continue to engage with MPs to ensure this stays on the government’s agenda.”
An industry source said: “The health minister’s contribution was ‘This is all in place to protect public health’. That is how the government wanted to frame the debate. That is why they sent a health minister.”
Churchill told MPs: “I feel for travel agents. However, they are supported by the Treasury and the different interventions in place and those are ongoing as we open up.”
She dismissed calls to relax travel restrictions, saying: “There is a large proportion of the population who’ve not been vaccinated so it’s vital we retain restrictions. We’re opening up, but we’re going slowly.”
Moving the motion, Nick Fletcher, Conservative MP for Don Valley, noted the pressures on the industry and argued: “Travel agents have been disproportionately impacted.
Agents are in a particularly perilous position because they don’t receive commissions until customers travel and, when customers cancel, have to issue refunds out of their own account.
“They’re [also] concerned what support is available will be wound down too soon.”
He insisted: “There are a range of measures ministers could consider.”
Conservative MP for North Norfolk Duncan Baker called for additional support for the sector despite arguing against relaxing restrictions.
He said: “We understand the traffic light system could still be in place in 2022. When leisure and hospitality receive specific support, it seems only reasonable we consider specific support for the travel industry.”