Ahead of the Budget this Wednesday, Abta and the Save Future Travel Coalition (SFTC) have delivered a very clear message to chancellor Rishi Sunak about what the travel industry is hoping to see.
Priorities include the extension of furlough and other business support, the expansion of existing grants schemes to all travel businesses and a renewed focus from government on enabling businesses to trade their way out of the crisis by reopening the economy.
The prime minister’s statement on 22 February, which confirmed the establishment of a successor to the Global Travel Taskforce – something Abta and the coalition had also been calling for – is an important signal on the last of these asks.
The industry must now engage with ministers, officials and public health bodies to set out our stall for how the restart of international travel can be delivered, while also managing the risks of Covid-19. We are already engaged with the taskforce, and Abta will seek to ensure the voice of the industry is both united and heard.
We have also already had confirmation from the chancellor, in the media over the past weekend, that there will be further grants worth around £5 billion to support retail businesses.
Dubbed “restart grants”, Abta hopes and expects that these will extend to retail travel agents. That is good news and will hopefully help many travel agency businesses through the difficult weeks ahead.
However, the government must also address the blind spot that has meant that large swathes of the travel industry – including tour operators and home workers – have been excluded from support.
Just over a year ago, the chancellor promised to do “whatever it takes” to support businesses and people through the Covid-19 pandemic, but for many in the travel industry, this promise feels unfulfilled.
Businesses that have seen in-person trade suffer during the crisis, such as pubs and restaurants, have rightly benefited from targeted support, tailored to address the challenges their businesses have faced because of policy measures to control the pandemic.
The government has, however, almost entirely ignored the severe consequences that international travel restrictions are having on businesses across the country – both inbound and outbound.
Wednesday’s Budget is a chance to plug this gap and to ensure those businesses that have been neglected since March last year are finally offered long-overdue support.
We also hope to see the extension of the furlough scheme and business rates support, with support expected to be confirmed initially until the summer.
This is vital recognition that the recovery remains a way off, and that withdrawing support at this time would leave businesses unable to pay their bills, resulting in insolvencies and further job losses.
Alongside an initial extension, we also hope the chancellor will commit to keeping these policies under review, as we know travel is likely to be on a longer trajectory to recovery than other economic sectors; future tapering of those support measures could be invaluable for helping businesses through to recovery and retaining travel jobs in the longer-term.
The recent news of speedy vaccine roll-outs, and the government’s commitment to a roadmap to restart, have been causes for increased positivity, and a sense that the travel industry is emerging from the darkness.
Hopefully, when the chancellor retakes his seat in the Commons tomorrow (Wednesday), that light will have brightened further.
Luke Petherbridge is Abta’s director of public affairs.