Wednesday 2 September 2020 4:08 pm

Travel sector pleads for government support to stave off sweeping job cuts

Leading figures from across the UK travel industry have come together in an urgent plea for government support to help stave off hundreds of thousands of potential job cuts.

In an open letter to chancellor Rishi Sunak and transport secretary Grant Shapps, which has now been signed by over 10,000 people, the “Save Travel” campaign has called on ministers to recognise the “urgent plight” of the sector and provide assistance.

Read more: Coach industry warns 27,000 jobs on the line without government support

Unlike other sectors, which have been able to restart, the letter said that the travel industry’s recovery had “stalled” due to the government’s quarantine regime, which had left both in-and-outbound tourism “shackled”.

In light of this, the group, which also includes the Advantage Travel Partnership, Business Travel Assocation, and Cosmos Tours, have called for sector-specific help for travel firms, including an extension to the furlough scheme.

Without this, it warned, “the country will see thousands of company failures and hundreds of thousands of job losses”.

According to its calculation, 12,000 jobs have already been lost at travel firms, with at least 24,000 more at immediate risk of being axed.

In addition, it called for a 12 month holiday for Air Passenger Duty in order to protect the UK’s battered airlines and encourage consumers to book holidays.

Finally, it demanded the government give more advance notice regarding changes to its travel corridors list, saying that transparency was essential to keeping travel firms alive.

“Giving the travel industry just six hours’ notice on Saturday night before the new Spain rules came into force caused huge confusion and anxiety for passengers, which the travel industry was left to sort out. 

“Businesses cannot be run with such little planning and notice”, it said. 

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Since July, 18 countries have been taken off the government’s list of travel corridors, including key holiday destinations such as France and Spain.

There are fears that Portugal and Greece, two of the most popular destinations for British holidaymakers, will soon join them on the so-called “red list”.

The regime has met with heavy criticism from the sector, which has urged ministers to switch to a regional quarantine system instead.

City A.M. has contacted the Department for Transport and the Treasury for comment.

‘Time is running out’ for travel sector

The “Save Travel” campaign, which was set up by trade newspaper TTG, has been backed by firms such as Intrepid, the world’s largest tour operator, and ABTA, the UK travel association.

TTG editor Sophie Griffiths said that “time was running out for travel firms” as they head into the less profitable winter months.

Read more: ‘Chaotic’ quarantine regime ‘destroying’ economy, says Willie Walsh

“Time is running out for travel companies which have had to pay out millions in refunds and now have little hope of significant income until next year”, she said. 

She told City A.M. that the government should follow Germany and Iceland in introducing airport testing to get tourism going again.

“It’s a much more sensible system, which will allow tourism to survive, and Heathrow Airport has the technology ready to go. The government needs to step in to give travellers certainty.”

She added that ministers had got their response to the travel sector “catastrophically wrong”, saying it was another example of how the government does not understand how the industry operates.

Zina Bencheikh, Intrepid Travel’s managing director, said that the sector was “too important to be forgotten”.

“It’s time for the UK government to step up and finally recognise the importance of our industry. We hope this letter and the campaign will alert the UK government to the unprecedented challenges facing the travel industry. 

“While much of the focus has been on airlines, it’s vital that the government also understands the impact of the pandemic on travel agents and tour operators.”

Read more: Travel industry ‘desperately’ calls for help as jobs crisis looms

This morning the coach industry trade body the Confederation of Passenger Transport also called on the government for more support, warning that 27,000 roles were at risk of being cut.

Without help, it said, UK tourism could lose £14bn a year, roughly a tenth of its total contribution to the economy.