MPs from across the political divide have urged the government to do more to support the travel industry if UK restrictions are not eased later this month.
Speaking during a debate on support for the aviation, travel and tourism industries in the House of Commons today, MPs also criticised the government’s handling of its traffic light system for arrivals into the UK.
Shadow tourism minister Alex Sobel (pictured) asked why the sector was still waiting for the Tourism Recovery Plan and said the government’s response had been “lacklustre and patchy”.
“Travel agents wait for sector-specific funding while a lack of inbound and outbound travel and uncertainty over testing regimes and quarantine continue to hit bookings,” he said.
Henry Smith, chair of the Future of Aviation Group and MP for Crawley, the constituency which Gatwick airport falls under, said furlough must be extended beyond its planned end date in September if the aviation and travel sectors are not able to “regenerate themselves by being able to operate, at least to some meaningful degree, in the coming summer months”.
He said another lost summer this year would cost the UK economy about £19 billion.
Wimbledon MP Stephen Hammond – chair of the all party parliamentary group for business travel – highlighted the problems faced by Swords Travel in his constituency. He said the agency and others in the sector will not have a future “unless there is clarity on the future of international travel or more government support if it’s not allowed to open more quickly”.
Simon Jupp MP – whose East Devon constituency includes Exeter airport – said high street travel agents have drawn on business support in the form of government grants but insisted: “Topping up these schemes with extra cash and encouraging councils to target this funding would lend a lifeline.”
“If we don’t re-open borders, more must be done to give airports, airlines and the travel industry a fighting chance of survival,” he added. “Global Britain could become Little Britain if we don’t.”
Neale Hanvey, MP for Kirkaldy and Cowdenbeath, told how his constituent Bruce Lamond of Travel Your World had been without income since March 2020, working fulltime and unable to put staff on furlough – and is losing thousands of pounds a month.
He also noted how the Scottish Passenger Agents’ Association had told him agents have “exhausted their savings, remortgaged their homes and emptied pension funds”.
Hanvey said the industry’s ‘engine’ was travel agencies and said: “It is time to put the engine back in the travel industry, it is time to give proper support to travel agencies.”
Former prime minister Theresa May, MP for Maidenhead, highlighted how travel restrictions are now tighter than they were in summer 2020, when there was no vaccine available.
Talking about Portugal going onto the amber list, she said: “The messaging is mixed and the system chaotic.”
She said it left holidaymakers scrabbling to get flights, “not to mention the impact on airlines and travel agents”.
“We have a devastated industry, jobs lost and global Britain shut for business,” May added.
Jackie Doyle-Price, MP for Thurrock, made a plea for the cruise industry, saying it needs to be able to offer international as well as domestic sailings.
She said the Foreign Office advice against overseas cruising treats the sector as if it were a country, rather than a form of transport.
Doyle-Price said cruise lines have introduced “incredibly sophisticated Covid-secure measures” and asked the FCDO and Department of Health to “give this sector a break”.