Hays Travel chair Dame Irene Hays has said she would have liked to have seen more backing for the travel industry from the government but understood why sector-specific support has not been forthcoming.

Speaking at the Travel Weekly Future of Travel Spring Forum last week, Hays accepted that “contriving a situation for [specific support] to happen fairly” would have been “incredibly difficult” for the government.

She said: “Every sector would say there’s more they would have liked to have seen. I think that the government have an incredibly difficult job and have done more than most in relation to furlough.

“I think the problem that the travel industry has is that you cannot employ your people to look after customers, whilst at the same time taking advantage of the furlough scheme. You have to get them back to work and you have to pay them, which is why it’s particularly difficult.”

She added: “Obviously we have people who are renewing the same transaction for the fourth and fifth time, yet we’ve only been paid once. Now that’s a very complex situation for a government to legislate for. And I am sure, within other industries, there will be equal levels of complexity but I don’t know what.”

Hays said: “I’m not saying it couldn’t have been done, and I’m not saying there’s not more that could have been done, I just think it’s incredibly difficult to do that in the timeframes that we’ve been talking about.

“It’s easy to say you want more, but how you would actually contrive a situation where that could happen fairly, I don’t know.”

Hays also conceded that the UK had provided more support through the furlough scheme than many other countries and said Hays Travel had used the job retention scheme and government grants as much as possible.

“We still have lots of people on furlough including lots of our head office people but again, we have to continue to pay our suppliers, we have to continue to pay our staff so salaries and wages have to come back,” she said.

“It’s a complicated picture, because we’ve chosen to do that to a greater extent than I think some travel companies have, in terms of bringing people back.”

On the subject of grants, she said: “It’s something that we talk about every single morning in the board meeting, how well we’re doing on the grants. The team has just been exceptional. From as soon as the guidance comes out, we have had a specialist team [who act on it].

Chief operating officer Jonathon Woodall added: “On the back of any advice that comes out, the team are on it, and they come back to the board on a daily basis and give us an update of how we’re progressing with the grants. We’re definitely making use of those and putting the claims in where necessary.”

Hays and Woodall said they had not struggled to access the grants through local councils, as some agencies have.

“We think the local authorities have been remarkable,” Hays said. “They’ve turned it around. If the forms are filled in properly, with all if the information that they need, the local authorities have been very good in turning it around very quickly.

“We haven’t had any reports where we’ve had a particular problem in one part of the country. We’ve been very successful and we’ve taken full advantage of those.”

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