Aito has accused the government of "sabotaging" the recovery of the UK’s outbound travel industry after formally advising consumers against booking their summer holidays at this time.
Chair Chris Rowles described the comments, which came in a "roadmap review" issued on Monday (5 April) just a week ahead of the Global Travel Taskforce’s 12 April report, as "death by back-stabbing".
The review was published shortly after prime minister Boris Johnson pre-empted the taskforce’s report by confirming the government would introduce a traffic light system to govern the restart of international travel.
Rowles also renewed Aito’s call for sector-specific support for outbound travel.
"We all listened to Boris Johnson’s broadcast and felt reasonably encouraged things were going in the right direction and that the Global Travel Taskforce, due to report in seven days’ time, would have steps in place to enable us to trade after the past 14 months of negative cash flow," said Rowles.
However, guidance issued by the government following the broadcast read: "For the moment, the government advises people not to book summer holidays abroad until the picture is clearer."
"Aito’s 200-plus specialist holiday companies and travel agents, along with plenty of other travel businesses that sell overseas travel, have been left to rot by this deceitful and simply uncaring government," said Rowles.
"Rather than discussing anything with the outbound industry or offering us help as they have with the creative arts and hospitality sectors, listed by the government’s own Office for National Statistics as second and third worst hit industries (travel being the top), they’ve simply ignored us and treated us as if we don’t exist."
Rowles accused the government of being ignorant to how outbound travel operates, highlighting firms’ inability to wholly utilise furlough owing to the industry’s statutory requirements to refund and the necessity to use their own cash reserves to repay customers and clients while they await pipeline monies from airlines and suppliers.
Additionally, Rowles said several weeks of negative national media headlines regarding international travel, sparked by comments from ministers and government advisors, had "stopped bookings dead" just as confidence had been returning.
He stressed the government must now step in and support the sector with another round of deferred bookings – and refunds – now likely, and no new bookings "to give us any income or hope of survival".
Aito is also reiterating the role the sector plays in ensuring air routes for inbound travel are viable; the sector’s £39 billion annual retail contribution to the economy; and the tax paid by travel businesses.
"Can you afford to let such formerly vibrant companies go to the wall after their 14 months of hard-fought battles to survive?" said Rowles, directing his comments to Johnson and chancellor Rishi Sunak. "Put simply, your statement discouraging consumers to book holidays abroad prevents us all from trading.
"The astounding success of the UK’s vaccination programme seems pointless if it doesn’t restore the freedom to travel overseas for those who seek to do so, whether to visit family and friends or to escape from the past 12 months’ virtual imprisonment that we’ve all endured.
"We know and accept that the mantra of face, space, hands and fresh air will need to be maintained, wherever we are; it is a small and sensible price to pay for freedom."