Ever-changing quarantine rules and Foreign Office travel advice "have served as a straitjacket on travel", Abta chief executive Mark Tanzer has said in a desperate plea to government to throw the sector a lifeline.
Abta is warning any further delay in switching to a fully regionalised quarantine system and introducing testing at airports risks "shattering people’s confidence in travel".
It comes after a new survey of 2,000 consumers found four in five (80%) were concerned about having to quarantine upon their return to the UK, while more than 90% said they were worried about the potential for last-minute changes to Foreign Office (FCDO) travel advice.
"It leaves viable travel businesses, including the thousands of travel agents up and down the country, unable to generate income," said the association.
Abta has written to chancellor Rishi Sunak and transport secretary Grant Shapps calling for sector-specific support for travel, and has stressed the chancellor’s new job support scheme is structured in such a way "many travel businesses will undoubtedly be left behind".
"With people not travelling, travel companies are not generating cash and they cannot afford to pay a minimum of 55% of salaries to retain jobs at this time," said Abta.
"The situation is particularly stark for travel agents, who earn commission paid on the departure of their customers, with many of these businesses looking at experiencing a full year without significant revenues ahead of the travel period at Easter 2021."
Abta’s recent member survey found more than 90,000 jobs throughout the wider travel sector have already been lost or placed at risk, with 65% of agents and operators having already having made redundancies with the furlough scheme set to be wound down at the end of October.
The survey also found that in August, only 28% of previously furloughed staff had returned to work, while nearly 80% of businesses still yet to let staff go anticipated having to do so over the coming months.
"For businesses to be able to survive, the travel market needs to open-up again," said Abta. "Other countries, including Germany and the Netherlands, already operate fully regionalised approaches to their own quarantine regimes, including for mainland areas, and many countries have introduced testing to reopen travel to a greater number of destinations."
Abta chief executive Mark Tanzer added: “The travel industry was the first to be affected by the coronavirus crisis and will be the last to recover. What travel businesses need more than anything is for people to feel confident enough to travel again, and policy decisions taken by government to manage the pandemic have served as a straitjacket to travel.
“The chopping and changing of quarantine measures and travel advice means what went back on sale one week is taken off again the next. This, coupled with an increasing number of local lockdowns in the UK, is creating extremely difficult market conditions for travel businesses, with travel agents particularly hurting.
Tanzer added: “While we recognise the government is attempting to offer some ongoing salary support through the new job support scheme, in reality, it offers little help for travel businesses as they aren’t able to generate the revenue needed to cover the cost to employers.
“Without action from the government, we are going to see businesses that would be perfectly viable if government were to ease restrictions on travel closing their doors, and thousands of jobs will be lost. Addressing these issues, while maintaining health precautions, must now be a priority for ministers.”