Abta has called on the government to relax its furlough rules to allow staff in the travel sector to carry out vital non-revenue raising functions such as processing amendments and rebookings.
The association’s head of public affairs Luke Petherbridge said the rules around the government’s job retention scheme are "overly restrictive", and preventing furloughed staff from carrying statutory duties at a critical time for the sector.
"Travel agents and tour operators are much needed right now to assist with the disruption Covid-19 has caused travellers," said Petherbridge, echoing Advantage Travel Partnership chief executive Julia Lo Bue-Said’s comments on Tuesday (28 April) warning some travel firms currently do not have sufficient staff to support consumers and agents.
According to Abta, besides the need for travel businesses to amend bookings, rebook clients and process refunds, there is a "growing backlog" of queries from customers after the Foreign Office updated its travel advice to advise against all non-essential travel worldwide "indefinitely".
"These staff are particularly needed as companies pursue suppliers for refunds which can then be passed on to customers," said the association. "Abta is seeking support for travel businesses through what it expects to be a prolonged recovery period, as destinations across the globe gradually lift their own restrictions and consumer confidence returns."
It also wants chancellor Rishi Sunak to extend the furlough scheme, which currently runs until the end of June, for the UK travel industry, "in recognition travel companies will emerge from the current crisis much slower than other sectors".
Petherbridge said the furlough scheme had been a "much-needed lifeline" for travel companies, and has likely prevented "thousands"of job losses across the travel industry. But Abta is mindful of ensuring the scheme does not yet become a burden for travel businesses.
"The existing rules are overly restrictive and Abta urges ministers to relax the requirement which prevents furloughed staff from carrying out even non-revenue raising duties," said Petherbridge. "Enabling these staff to go back to work will provide immediate benefits to customers whose holidays have been affected.
"The chancellor has already indicated he is open to extending the scheme beyond the end of June, and it is important this includes putting in place a plan for economic recovery.
"Travel supports the employment of more than 500,000 people across the UK, and it is vital businesses are supported to retain as many jobs in our industry as possible."