Agents’ calls for industry support intensify

Agents are ratcheting up calls for sector-specific support as fears grow of a lack of government aid.

Abta reported delays to grant payments for agents via local authorities and issues “cropping up” in certain areas, despite an “improvement” in access to the support since travel agents were referenced in government guidance.

The association’s director of public affairs, Luke Petherbridge, vowed to continue lobbying government for tailored financial support for travel and an extension of existing business support measures into the next financial year.

More: Special Report: Why has access to financial support been so difficult?

He added: “Almost a year into this crisis, many parts of the industry remain excluded from financial support, including tour operators, travel management companies, homeworkers, and limited company directors.

“Additionally, businesses across the industry face an imminent financial cliff-edge as business rates relief and tax deferrals are due to lapse, and repayments due on government-backed loans.”

Greenstar Travel owner Martyn Fisher, who has just received £8,500 in lockdown grants after weeks of lobbying his local council, said the government “haven’t got a clue how agents work”, particularly how agents could not claim furlough because they had to work to cancel, refund and rebook holidays – and blamed this for the delay to support.

He said. “We’ve had almost nothing to sell since March last year. The travesty is the staff lost to the industry will get a job somewhere else [in another sector].

“I’ve been an agent since 1985, it would be awfully messy to wind down my business and I don’t want to let clients down.”

Henbury Travel owner Richard Slater wrote to his MP, David Rutley, saying there has been “very little evidence so far” of the government working with the industry.

In reply, paymaster general Penny Mordaunt MP this week said: “We understand these are extremely challenging circumstances for businesses. This is why we have put in place one of the most comprehensive and generous packages of business support in the world, worth £280 billion.”

She cited grants, VAT relief, “various loan schemes”, a business rates holiday and the furlough scheme as support measures for agents.

Deben Travel owner Lee Hunt called for targeted financial support and more encouraging messages from government in place of the Foreign Office campaign which states ‘Going on holiday is currently illegal’.

He said: “We have received just over £4,000 for each shop because of the lockdown. We normally make £60,000 profit in January so this doesn’t touch the sides. We are just getting by on the small amount left in our bank account. The government doesn’t appreciate the personal sacrifices.”

Agents’ pleas for specific support for the sector follow similar calls from Travel Counsellors, which supports 1,300 home-based travel agents in the UK.

Chief executive Steve Byrne wrote to small‑business minister Paul Scully and aviation minister Robert Courts last week, and provided a template version for the group’s home-based agents to send to their MPs.

He said government “must act” to boost consumer confidence in travel and highlighted how new businesses and limited companies were excluded from support for the self-employed. “Our hard-hit franchisees look to January as a vital time in the travel calendar,” wrote Byrne, adding that agents had received “no financial support and continue to face very challenging months ahead”.

More: Special Report: Why has access to financial support been so difficult?

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