Aito has produced an eight-point roadmap for how it suggests the government can help the travel industry recover from the Covid crisis.
The Specialist Travel Association’s plan includes calls for financial support for the sector, clarification from ministers that booking a summer holiday is not illegal, airport testing, and reintroducing travel corridors from May.
Aito said small and medium-sized tour operators, both outbound and inbound, as well as travel agents, have been “abandoned” by the UK government, which it accused of “failing to take the right courses of action” during the pandemic.
The association noted that while the government has acknowledged the plight of airlines and airports, holiday companies which help fill their aircraft and airport shops “continue to be totally overlooked” and are deemed “expendable” by ministers.
Announcing its plan, Aito said ministers “wrongly assume that, once SMEs have exhausted all avenues trying to keep their companies afloat and their staff employed throughout a year with only 10% of normal income, and subsequently fail, then others with fresh money will simply replace us.
The statement added: “This demonstrates complete ignorance of the role we play. Decades of expertise will disappear, destinations dependent on our efforts will suffer, as will the sustainability and conservation projects they support, and consumer choice will be severely restricted.”
Aito criticised government for “pushing very strongly the staycation message, while frightening people into not booking – or even into cancelling – an overseas trip”. It’s statement pointed out “staycations are not yet legally permitted either”.
Chairman Chris Rowles added: “Ministers forget the physiological and educational benefits of foreign holidays, they are unfairly demonising the outbound tourism sector and they are also confusing the public with their contradictory messages.”
Aito’s eight-point plan is as follows:
- On government financial assistance: “Although we desperately need and hope to receive financial help from the government, it’s a very long time coming; please do us the decency of telling us when we’ll get financial help appropriate to our situation (ie 13 months without income); don’t treat us as expendable. Meanwhile, we have to be able to trade. Without the ability to earn our living, taking out more loans – as government suggests – makes no sense whatsoever, as we won’t be able to repay them.”
- On lockdown: “Please, ministers, make it crystal clear that holidays to look forward to can still be booked without breaking the law. We accept that the current lockdown is unlikely to finish until the end of March, of necessity and to protect everyone. But this does not mean that booking a summer holiday is unlawful. Overseas summer holidays can still be booked, as they would be in a normal year, and this key message must be communicated clearly and accurately – by government ministers, MPs and the media – to allow us to trade. It’s wrong to panic people by miscommunication into believing, incorrectly, that the law allows only staycations in the UK to be booked.”
- On the virus and vaccine rollout: “Infection is falling, while vaccination rates are soaring. By the last day of January, nine million UK adults had received their first dose of the vaccine. Efficacy is substantial within two to three weeks of the first dose, and continues to build. The government has demonstrated that it is capable of vaccinating two million people a week. By the end of March, a further 18 million adults will have been immunised – 27 million in total, close to 30% of the population – and, by the end of April, 35 million adults will have been vaccinated – more than 50% of the UK’s 68 million population. Many will be over 50 – and those people are very much Aito members’ key clients. They will be confident to travel as soon as it is permitted, and safe, to do so. Keep up the good work, government.”
- On preventative measures: “Social distancing, hand washing and mask wearing will continue to be essential, at home and worldwide; we all understand and expect to continue following these practical steps to ensure safe living for the foreseeable future, whether in the UK or overseas. Mandatory government enforcement of mask wearing (including nose covering) – especially on public transport, in taxis, at airports and on planes – is essential.”
- On destinations: “Major European and Mediterranean destinations – and some long-haul destinations – are working towards reopening their borders by the end of April. While currently running behind the UK’s vaccination schedules, all will have Covid-secure rules to follow for the safety of residents and visitors alike in time for their first visitors’ arrival. Government-to-government liaison on this front is vital to ensure procedures are pre-agreed and run smoothly.”
- On travel corridors: “Corridors in May – in just three months’ time – must bring the easing of travel restrictions and the ability to enjoy an overseas vacation once more. Our government ministers should already be working towards this.”
- On airport testing: “Testing will be simpler, cheaper and more accurate. Quarantine will become unnecessary with the increase in simpler, cheaper and more accurate testing. We urge government to mandate our airport authorities to continue full speed ahead with airport testing methodology and all the associated practical issues.”
- On Covid insurance: “Both Government and the insurance industry need to make serious progress on this important issue, as soon as possible; currently there is no true Covid-proof travel insurance to cover cancellation if a would-be traveller is infected with Covid prior to travel. The protection offered by vaccination may, in due course, invalidate this concern.”
Rowles added: “There is a lot riding on our Government’s key initiatives at present, and on government getting it right.
“We urge all Cabinet ministers in particular to pay attention to our eight-Point Road Map and not to make flippant remarks that, as in times of war, cost jobs and lives.
“And we hope that the chancellor, Rishi Sunak, considers carefully his budget options and includes a suitable leg up for outbound tourism, to keep not only many thousands of people’s jobs secure in the UK but also to help us deliver economic support to UK inbound travel (see statistics, below) as well as to host countries overseas.”
Aito chief executive Martyn Sumners said: “The vaccine can’t solely be about preventing death – it has to be about living life to the full, too. All expectation is that vaccination allows a lifting of restrictions, and that must include holidays.
“It is only common sense to allow some sort of hope, and extraordinary that those who represent us should sabotage that”.