Abta has urged the chancellor to extend restart grants to travel companies that don’t have a retail premises, such as tour operators and homeworking travel agents.

The association, which has been lobbying for sector-specific support for the travel industry, has 12,000 homeworking members.

Abta had welcomed the prime minister’s roadmap, announced last week, as a “positive first step”, but warned “difficult months still lie ahead for the industry” given businesses have made little or no income in the last year.

It pointed out that while retailers could be allowed to open from April 12, international travel cannot start until at least May 17 – meaning the busy Easter period is off limits to travel companies.

New Abta analysis of the UK’s most popular holiday destinations shows the pandemic shut down of overseas travel has cost the UK economy £13.7 billion.

Restrictions at home and abroad meant people could only travel to the whole of Spain and Portugal for just three weeks during the past 12 months, rising to six weeks for France and Malta, and leisure travel to the US has been off limits entirely, the analysis shows.

Some industries such as ocean cruise and school trips were also closed down altogether, it added.

Abta pointed out that the travel industry isn’t able to amend its business model to generate revenue, unlike other retail sectors which could switch to click and collect services, and noted that, despite this, no tailored financial support to the industry has been provided by government, which has offered specific help to other struggling sectors such as hospitality.

Abta’s £13.7 billion figure is an estimation of total sales of overseas holidays and business travel services that have been lost since the start of the pandemic – equivalent to £1.6m every hour.

Destination Opportunity to travel for holidays since March 20202Visits from UK holidaymakers in 20193
United StatesNone2,899,000
Spain3 weeks15,836,000
Portugal3 weeks2,676,000
France6 weeks7,123,000
Malta6 weeks725,000
Netherlands6 weeks2,157,000
Greece2 months3,087,000
Turkey3 months1,756,000
Italy3 and a half months3,547,000
Cyprus4 months878,000

The latest Office for National Statistics figures say the economic output for travel agents and tour operators is down by 86% between February and December 2020.

The association reiterated its calls for the government to use the Budget to extend existing financial support measures such as furlough, VAT deferrals, and business rates relief, and provides tailored financial help, in the shape of grants – and make them available to all travel businesses.

Providing grants on the basis of whether they have retail premises will shut out a large proportion of the travel industry from much needed support, Abta says.

The association also noted the reopening of international travel is likely to be gradual, so says it is important that the availability of financial support from government tracks the opening-up of the market.

“Withdrawing financial help too soon could mean that whole swathes of the industry, which aren’t able to open until later this year or the start of 2022, lose the essential funding that necessary to keep their businesses going,” Abta said.

Chief executive Mark Tanzer said: “While there is definitely a feeling of increased hope following the prime minister’s announcement of a roadmap for international travel, the reality remains that travel businesses haven’t been able to generate income over the last 12 months. This means that travel agents and tour operators, including many small to medium-sized businesses, are still facing a significant cash shortfall.

“The prime minister said himself that travel, tourism and aviation are among the sectors hardest hit by the pandemic, so it is important the government acts on this by providing the tailored financial support which is long overdue.

“The Restart Grants will help our retail travel agent members but many more travel companies will miss out on this financial help – which would be a lifeline for many businesses at this stage, so it is important all travel businesses have access to some sort of grant support.”