Industry leaders have welcomed the government’s roadmap for reopening the economy, announced today by Prime Minister Boris Johnson.
Tim Alderslade, chief executive of airline association Airlines UK, said: “We’re grateful to the Prime Minister and Department for Transport for providing the clarity the sector was looking for that international travel can reopen this summer, as soon as it is safe to do so.”
Johnson outlined a series of ‘not before’ dates for reopening, starting with a reopening of schools from March 8, with subsequent steps to follow at intervals of a minimum of five weeks.
He also announced a series of reviews, one of which will examine “a resumption to international travel”, with a successor to the government’s Global Travel Taskforce to report by April 12 “so that people can plan for the summer.”
The Global Travel Taskforce was previously set up in October and reported in November, when it was wound up.
Alderslade greeted the taskforce announcement saying: “This will provide much-needed reassurance not only to airlines in desperate need of a summer season but families looking to visit friends and family and take a long-awaited holiday.”
“We know there is enormous pent-up demand for when we can restart operations.
“We look forward to working with ministers as part of the proposed taskforce on the practical detail of how current restrictions can be removed.”
Abta chief executive Mark Tanzer also welcomed the Prime Minister’s “ambition to get people travelling before the summer”.
He said: “We’re pleased the government has responded to our calls to engage with industry on a specific roadmap for travel and we welcome that the Global Travel Taskforce will reconvene to work with Abta and the wider travel industry on a plan for reopening travel.”
However, Tanzer added: “We renew our call to the Chancellor to use his Budget to provide tailored financial support to travel agents and tour operators, recognising the pressing need that travel companies have for financial assistance if they are to come through the weeks ahead.”
Dale Keller, chief executive of the UK Board of Airline Representatives (BAR-UK), pledged: “We‘ll provide our full support and expertise to the revived travel taskforce to deliver the most considered and effective plan for our sector.”
But Keller added: “Our request of Government is to provide targeted support for a sector that supports around 960,000 jobs until we are given the go-ahead to reopen.”
Clive Wratten, chief executive of the Business Travel Association, also welcomed the roadmap, but said: “We urge the Chancellor to extend the furlough scheme and other financial measures in his Budget next week.”
Wratten argued: “The April 12 review is not far away. We encourage the successor to the Global Travel Taskforce to work closely with our industry, business and leisure, so we can get people travelling safely and contributing to the economy once more.”
Karen Dee, chief executive of the Airport Operators Association, also welcomed “the recognition of aviation’s important economic role” and said: “Airports look forward to working with the successor to the Global Travel Taskforce to ensure we have a robust system in place to safely restart international aviation.
“We will be able to build on the significant work already undertaken by the aviation industry on reopening.”
But Dee argued: “It is of vital importance the UK government includes the devolved governments in this work. A divergent approach in the four UK nations will undermine airports’ abilities to attract airlines to reopen routes, undermine public confidence in the new system and harm the overall recovery of our sector.”
She added: “The Government has stated international travel restrictions will not ease before May 17. As the worst-hit economic sector in 2020, this will ensure we will also be the worst-hit sector of 2021.
“The UK and devolved governments must set out sector-specific support to help ensure there are viable airports to be able to restart.”
Joss Croft, chief executive of inbound association UKinbound, agreed: “We’re really pleased the Prime Minister has listened to the industry and included international inbound tourism in the roadmap.
“It is critical the Government consults with industry when preparing its review on reopening international travel.
“As part of its review, we would ask the Government to work with the devolved nations, as a fragmented approach will hinder recovery.”
Croft warned: “To save summer business, the Government needs to move quickly as it will take time for consumers to regain confidence to book a holiday and for the industry to prepare.
“It’s clear we are still months away from restarting international travel, and many more months before we see a significant recovery, and the industry therefore needs continued support.
“For our sector to survive long enough to support the economic recovery, we’re asking the Chancellor to retain furlough as long as restrictions are in place, issue sector specific grants and extend Business Rate Relief when he announces the Budget on the March 3.”
UKHospitality chief executive Kate Nicholls hailed the announcement on international travel saying: “It is extremely welcome to see a specific review into international travel and how that can return.
“This will be critical to the recovery of the hospitality sector and we look forward to contributing to this review.”
However, Nicholls was less welcoming of other aspects of the roadmap. She described the hospitality sector as “obviously devastated that its reopening will be so far away”.
Nicholls said: “A major package of financial support is imperative if hospitality is to survive.
“The Prime Minister says the reopening schedule is driven by data, yet all the data points to hospitality being relatively safe and linked to only a tiny number of cases. Vaccinations and the fall in infection rates has de-risked our reopening even further.
“The government has repeatedly miscalculated the risks posed by hospitality. This delay in reopening will make the job of survival all the more difficult for businesses only just clinging on to existence.
“The job for the government now is to make sure our sector survives this further period of closure. The Chancellor has just nine days to save thousands of businesses and hundreds of thousands of jobs.
“According to the latest government data nearly two-thirds of hospitality businesses will run out of cash before May, before they are allowed to re-open.
“We need a generous compensation package that goes beyond what was offered in January if we expect businesses to survive.”
Some in the outbound sector were also less welcoming.
A spokesperson for Flight Centre said: “We hoped the government would throw a lifeline to our struggling sector today.
“We do not believe this roadmap goes far enough and are calling for clarity to avoid mass redundancies within travel and a boost to consumer confidence to kick-start the suffering economy.”