A Covid support initiative for travel agents in Northern Ireland has been welcomed by Abta.

The scheme worth more than £1 million includes a flat payment of £10,000 to travel agencies operating from commercial premises, or a £3,500 payment to self-employed agents working from home.

The Travel Agents Scheme will be open from tomorrow (Saturday) until March 26.

Links to the detail and how to apply will be made available by the Northern Ireland Executive next week.

The scheme follows from the Scottish government introducing a support for agents scheme in January.

Abta will continue to call for similar measures across England and Wales.

The travel association has updated template letters to help agents contact their local representatives following the budget.

Funding provided through the Travel Agents Scheme in Northern Ireland will help “vulnerable but viable” travel agents, including self-employed homeworkers, “with the cost of re-opening or keeping a business operational; with the cost of re-connecting with employees and customers and adapting customer marketing; and the cost of financial planning”.

NI first minister Arlene Foster and deputy first minister Michelle O’Neill said the support scheme was necessary to ensure the continued viability of the travel agency sector.

Foster said: “Local businesses have been hit hard by the pandemic and the Executive has already provided a significant package of support; today we have agreed to provide a dedicated scheme for travel agents.

“A viable travel agents industry is critical to support a return to normal and build confidence that travel agents and other retail businesses will continue to be a feature of our high streets.

“We have agreed to open a limited, time-bound scheme which will provide a flat payment of either £3,500 or £10,000 to eligible applicants.”

O’Neill added: “The pandemic has presented huge challenges for our businesses. Given the necessary limitations on travel, there has been a severe impact on the travel industry, including travel agents.

“The Travel Agents Scheme will provide in the region of £1.175 million of much-needed support. In what will be a very challenging environment going forward, this funding will help travel agents facing financial difficulties to continue operating and help to protect jobs.”

Abta public affairs director Luke Petherbridge said: “Working closely with our Save Future Travel Coalition partners – especially the Association of Northern Ireland Travel Agents – we have been lobbying hard for Northern Ireland’s travel sector to receive specific financial support in light of the massive impact that the pandemic has had on their businesses, with international travel having been severely limited or banned for the past 12 months.

“This is positive news for travel agents – retail or homeworkers – who will now be able to access this additional funding ahead of the travel sector reopening.”