Trade dismay over ‘freedom day’ delay

Trade figures have responded with dismay to Boris Johnson‘s four-week delay in easing lockdown restrictions.

The prime minister insisted that July 19 would be the new “terminus date” with the Covid vaccination process stepped up against the backdrop of an “exponential” rise in infections due to the Delta variant of the Covid virus.  

Advantage Travel Partnership chief executive Julia Lo Bue-Said led the criticism of the ‘freedom day’ delay.

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She said: “This delay for domestic recovery is a further blow to many businesses in the UK, not least the travel industry.

“For 15 months the travel industry has been unable to trade its way to recovery due to border closers, legal barriers and a woefully short green list.

“A complete lack of government support means that many businesses are now fighting to keep the lights on.”

She urged the government “to ensure that whilst this domestic delay is implemented they must still allow for 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”.

Lo Bue-Said added: “The green list must be expanded in the next review on 24 June in line with the evidence, and with more proportionate restrictions.

“The government must also bring forward a package of tailored financial support for travel businesses, including extension of furlough support, to account for the sector’s ability to trade and generate income being much slower than almost all other sectors.

“The Travel Day of Action on 23 June is when the industry will come together to make these demands directly to MPs and we urge our friends in the industry to get behind this essential lobbying event for the survival of an industry on its knees.”

Travel gent group Target warned that the delay to ending lockdown will lead to more business closures unless immediate financial support is provided.

Co-founder Graeme Brett said: “Travel agents cannot carry on any longer without new financial support. Many took the £50,000 government loan and are having to find £833 a month to repay or defer the repayments for six months and have the interest add up. Furlough is coming to an end with greater financial contribution due from employers before the scheme ends in September.

“Many employers are having to tell staff that they will not be able to keep their jobs unless they receive immediate financial support.”

Fellow co-founder JILL WAITE said: “This four week delay to ending lockdown really will be the final nail in the coffin for many businesses. The knock on effect will be massively reduced sales, if any, until lockdown is ended. Many travel agents are already doing second jobs to put food on the table.”

“We need our trade bodies to be banging on the chancellor’s door, 24 hours a day to save our industry.”

Avi Lasarow, EMEA chief executive of airport Covid testing provider Project Screen by Prenetics, said: “It’s clear that freedom day being delayed will lead to a massive surge in holiday bookings and a perfect storm for holidaymakers when the new unlock date is confirmed.

“It could mean a significant increase in the cost of holidays as people rebook existing cancelled holidays, combined with the 16 million Brits who told us they’re considering travelling abroad this summer – 13 million to amber list countries like Spain.

“We could see demand massively outstrip supply for flights and holidays.

“That’s why it’s crucial the government removes VAT on holiday Covid tests which could save a family of four travelling to Spain around £250 and help them fly safer and cheaper.”

UKinbound chief executive Joss Croft warned that tourism businesses across the UK are “balanced on a knife edge”, struggling to remain viable while adhering to restrictions.

The delay announcement from June 21 “will put people’s livelihoods at risk and slow down the recovery of our towns and cities,” he added.

“Prolonging restrictions affects the whole tourism supply chain, in addition to hospitality business, and although health and safety must always come first, the government must act swiftly and implement additional support measures for both hospitality and travel businesses,” Croft said.

Manuel Cortes, general secretary of the Transport Salaried Staffs’ Association (TSSA), said: “Continued restrictions are sadly needed, but they will only be effective if sufficient support is also provided. You can’t take with both hands and expect people to comply.

“Travel restrictions continue to severely affect our travel trade, with a bespoke support package desperately needed for the travel industry.

“The most important thing is that we take the right steps to tackle coronavirus, save lives and take pressure off our NHS, and provide support for those workers and sectors of our economy who will suffer as a result of ongoing restrictions.”

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