Industry readies for Travel Day of Action

More than a thousand representatives from across the travel industry are due to descend on a series of coordinated lobbies today through the sector’s Travel Day of Action.

In Westminster, 800 people are due to attend a lobby event at College Green, with two sessions limited to 400 people each due to begin from 12:30pm.

A further 200 are expected to attend a lobby at Holyrood in Edinburgh and 100 are due to be gathering in Belfast.

In addition to the three lobbies, the Day of Action will include a virtual lobby in Cardiff and activities at a number of UK airports. Others who are unable to attend have been encouraged to support the events online or speak to their MPs locally. Travel Weekly will be reporting live from Westminster.

The travel industry is collectively calling on government to safely reopen travel and provide financial support to help the sector get through the crisis.

Travel agents, pilots, tour operators, aviation workers and cabin crew are among the thousands of people who will ‘speak up for travel’ to put pressure on the government.

Ahead of a review of the traffic light list on June 28, they are calling on the UK government to:

  • Allow international travel to return safely and in a risk managed way by properly implementing the Global Travel Taskforce’s plan for a traffic-light system, by expanding the green list in line with the evidence and making restrictions more proportionate, whilst keeping a strong red list to guard against variants. Government should also capitalise on the success of the vaccine rollout by removing testing and quarantine requirements for fully vaccinated individuals travelling from green and amber countries.
  • Bring forward a package of tailored financial support, including extension of furlough support until April 2022, recognising that the travel sector’s ability to trade and generate income is much slower than first anticipated and more gradual than for businesses in the domestic economy.

Abta, which is coordinating the events, estimates that as many as 195,000 jobs have been lost or are at risk within the travel industry. Iata research indicates that hundreds of thousands of aviation jobs are supported by the furlough scheme.

The groups say that the government has failed to deliver a restart to international travel as promised, by undermining the risk-based system ministers established through the traffic light system.

The travel industry says this approach is “in contrast” to other countries, such as Germany, France and Spain, which it argues are “forging ahead with pragmatic, risk-based schemes that allow safe travel”.

Industry bodies behind today’s Day of Action – including ABTA, Airlines UK, the Business Travel Association, Airport Operators Association, UKinbound, Advantage Travel Partnership, The Travel Network Group – also say the UK Government’s support through the crisis has been inadequate.

They argue that some travel businesses have been excluded from general grant support, others have only been able to access “the bare minimum” and airlines have taken on billions of pounds in debt.

Recent Abta research suggests 57% of small and medium-sized travel agents would not have the cash to survive more than three months based on current trading conditions and available government support.

In normal times, UK residents’ travel overseas, whether on business, for holidays, or to see families and friends, generated over £53bn in domestic spending. In addition, the inbound industry catered for the 41 million tourists, travellers and business people arriving on our shores, spending £28.4bn in UK cities and attractions.

Derek Jones, chief executive of Kuoni parent DER Touristik, said: “The outbound travel sector has been decimated by this pandemic and by the government’s haphazard response to it.  Today, we have joined together to call upon ministers to acknowledge that the restrictions they have placed on international travel are having a deep and devastating impact on travel businesses.

“We are united in one message today: we want to see the safe re-opening of international travel alongside targeted financial support for businesses which have not been able to trade for well over a year.”

Jackie Steadman, owner of independent travel agency Traveltime World, said: “The past 16 months have been devasting. We have had no income – in fact we have been giving all our profit back in the form of refunds – as travel agents only get paid when clients actually travel.

“Holidays and international travel just haven’t happened. The future outlook is very bleak. If the government doesn’t open up travel so that people can travel in greater numbers over the summer period, we will be forced to make staff redundant at the end of the furlough in September, and we don’t see how we can survive as a business without any income.

“We desperately need dedicated sector support to help us pay our overheads and staff while the industry is allowed to slowly re-start, and we need international travel to have a meaningful return.”

Tim Alderslade, chief executive of Airlines UK, said: “It is now or never for the government to reopen travel and save what is remaining of the summer season, not just for families desperate to get away but the tens of thousands of jobs which rely upon this once thriving sector.

“Airlines are at the absolute limit of what they can borrow and without a genuine reopening this summer they will require government support to survive. The best way to save UK aviation is to enable a return to the skies – safely – by taking advantage of our vaccine dividend and allowing fully vaccinated passengers to travel without restrictions from amber and green countries. This is now happening across much of Europe and the UK is in grave danger of needlessly falling behind.”

Clive Wratten, chief executive of the Business Travel Association (BTA) said: “Today’s day of action highlights the dire straits of our industry. The travel sector remains in lockdown as the rest of the country opens-up. Business travel is essential for the UK economy and our ability to trade on the international stage. The government must provide targeted support and extend the green list at its next review.”

Airport Operators Association chief executive Karen Dee said: “Summer 2020 saw the lowest numbers of passenger travelling through UK airports since 1975 due to the pandemic. This has had a devastating impact on jobs and airports have lost billions in revenue. Airports play a critical role in their communities.

“Unless the government makes a meaningful restart of international travel possible, this summer may be worse than 2020, putting more jobs in those communities at risk. The government cannot afford to let those jobs go.”

Brian Strutton, acting general secretary of pilots union Balpa, said: ”The government has to decide if this summer it will make or break the UK travel industry. Pilots are meeting politicians across the UK today to urge them to put pressure on the government to act now and save not only the summer but the future of UK aviation and travel.

“With a robust and open approach to the data we should be able to use the science to open-up safe travel routes with the US and many European destinations, just as other European countries have done. This would give the travel industry and passengers a chance to make something the best of the summer and start to stem the decline. Extending the furlough scheme and direct support to airlines and airports would save jobs and companies as we head into the winter, so that we have a leisure and business travel industry ready to bounce back quickly post-pandemic.”

Rob Russell, chief executive of inbound operator AC Group, said: “Our industry has been decimated by the impact of the virus and the lack of Government support. We need them to actively engage with us and understand how the industry actually works, and why the current support structure isn’t fit for purpose in the travel industry, so we can help the UK to build back better.”

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