Abta chief Mark Tanzer laid out a list of industry demands of the government when he appeared before the Treasury select committee on Monday, warning that “if we stay where we are now, a lot of businesses will not be around”.
Appearing before MPs to outline the economic impact of Covid-19 on the travel sector, Tanzer demanded both a lifting of travel restrictions and a series of financial support measures for the sector.
He told MPs: “It’s difficult to understand why we have the highest vaccination rate in Europe but the lowest number of flights coming into the country.”
At the next review [of the traffic light system], he said: “We would like recognition of the vaccination programme by removing the need for people who have been vaccinated to test on returning to Britain and those who have not been vaccinated to take a lateral flow test.”
He pointed out: “The traffic light system when it was announced had the benefit of clarity. Then the government said ‘You should not be travelling to any amber destination.’
“It’s extremely damaging to confidence to book and that is the most essential component at the moment.
“We would like the traffic light system put into practice. We need to get back to clarity so as an industry we can plan.
“We’d like to see more and more countries come into the green category and ultimately the testing requirement to go.”
He argued: “We’d also like to ensure borders working properly so traffic is not stifled by queues at borders.”
The Abta chief warned of “a delayed threat” to businesses’ survival, telling MPs: “There are a lot of deferred refunds out there and companies need money coming in to manage that. It is critical that people are travelling and new money is coming into the system.”
He outlined a series of financial support measures, saying: “We would like to see not just an extension of the furlough scheme, but a more flexible scheme.
“We would like an extension of business rates relief and VAT deferral. We need a dedicated system of grant relief for travel.
“One of the frustrations is that business grants have been tied to physical restraints on opening rather than regulatory restraints. Travel firms haven’t been able to sell, but not because they haven’t been able to open.”
He called for the removal of VAT on PCR tests and the removal of air passenger duty (APD), arguing: “APD is a pretty useless tax. The case for getting rid of it is very strong.”
Tanzer dismissed a suggestion that a boom in domestic travel could compensate for the loss of overseas holidays, noting: “We haven’t the domestic infrastructure to cope. We send 60 million visitors abroad. We simply don’t have that infrastructure here at a price many people could afford.”
He argued: “Businesses need this summer. We’re talking about having weeks not months. We hope the government takes action before companies fail.
“Other countries are showing an appetite to accept British travellers. The obstacles really are on our side.”
Asked about the extent of coordination between Westminster and the devolved administrations, he said: “We’re pleased there is growing conformity between Westminster and the devolved administrations, but they are all hampered by restrictions.”