Agency boss Paula Cockcroft has urged fellow agents to keep lobbying their local MPs for sector-specific support for travel ahead of what she believes could be a make-or-break autumn budget for the sector.
Oundle Travel director Cockcroft spoke out to TTG after meeting with her local East Northamptonshire MP Tom Pursglove – and warned that the trade’s "constant lobbying" must continue.
Cockcroft wrote to Pursglove as part of the TTG-led #SaveTravel campaign, calling for an extension to the furlough scheme and a VAT break through to next July, and further access to bounce back loans.
She also took the opportunity to explain to Pursglove the cash flow issues unique to travel selling owing to how commission is paid, and her concerns about being left with little choice but to take government loan support having never previously operated in debt.
"As a company director of a local independent travel agency, I am frustrated by the total lack of support and understanding in the House of Commons for my industry," wrote Cockcroft.
"I have worked in the travel and airline industry for more than 36 years, and owned Oundle Travel for 14 years. I have experienced many challenges which have impacted on my business such as the terror attack on the World Trade Centre in 2001 and the Icelandic ash cloud of 2010, but no event has had such a detrimental effect [as Covid-19]."
Cockcroft said like many other agents, her business would carry few bookings into the winter and New Year to tide it over the usual low season for travel sales due to "a complete lack of consumer confidence" arising from the government’s lack of clarity on travel restrictions and ever-changing quarantine rules.
"Independent travel agencies require tailored support before it is too late as they will have had little no income for nearly 12 months," Cockcroft added.
After recently meeting up with Pursglove and putting across her concerns in person, Cockcroft said: "Tom is very proactive in the local constituency so we decided to meet and discuss further ongoing tailored financial support for the travel sector until spring 2021.
"Tom has written to the Treasury and raised our concerns, but I still feel constant lobbying of government before the proposed autumn budget needs to continue."
Cockcroft added she had been impressed with the support she had received from Abta in support of her submissions to Pursglove, and that her consortium – Elite Travel Group – had used her letter as a template to help other members lobby their MPs.
Reflecting on her own business, Cockcroft added: "We remain positive about the future – we have a solid business with a fantastic client base. The team have been busy with digital marketing and a brand new client loyalty project. We also keep in constant contact with all of our clients, which is so important.
"I am confident that when travel takes off again, people will adapt – and will be ready to escape."
Meanwhile, Penny Gray, founder of Kent agency Gilchrist & Gray, shared with TTG an update from her MP, former business secretary Greg Clark, with whom she met last month.
Following the meeting, Clark tabled a question in parliament, asking chancellor Rishi Sunak if he would "take steps to provide the travel industry with sector-specific support to assist in its recovery from the Covid-19 pandemic".
Exchequer secretary to the Treasury Kemi Badenoch MP responded on Sunak’s behalf, stressing the government did recognise the challenges facing the travel industry. However, she intimated any support for the travel sector would be conditional on businesses changing some of their working practices.
"The government has always considered providing support to strategically important companies that can reasonably be expected to have a long-term viable future, and whose failure or distress could cause disproportionate harm to the UK economy or society," said Badenoch in response.
"Companies must have exhausted all other options before being considered, and any support given will be on terms that protect the taxpayer, with existing lenders and shareholders expected to contribute to and share in the financial burden.
"Any companies receiving support will need to agree to appropriate conditions – including those relating to tax, supplier payment terms, climate change and corporate governance."