Should we be saying "thank you, chancellor" or "could do better, chancellor"?
Rishi Sunak delivered his Budget statement on Wednesday (3 March), and the extension of the business rates holiday and furlough schemes are both welcome.
But why not also use the furlough scheme to pay people to work? Paying operational teams managing holiday deferrals, who work without generating income, could easily be audited by cross-checks across payroll, National Insurance and HMRC payments.
Job retention only has meaning if the business survives this crisis for the employee to return to; otherwise, it is an expensive way to pay unemployment benefit in advance.
Other considerable costs for tour operators include merchant acquirers, insurance and bond providers – all of whom have upped their cash security demands dramatically. Where can operators find cash with no income for more than a year?
A quick poll of Aito members suggests bookings made since the government’s roadmap announcement are for late 2021/22; companies will receive no cash until close to departure dates.
Loans under the Coronavirus Business Interruption Loans Scheme (CBILS) are more difficult to obtain as banks shy away from lending to travel companies, unless you want a few billion.
We hope lenders for the new Recovery Loan Scheme, announced by the chancellor, will be more accommodating.
Tourism seemed to have been included, 12 months ago, as part of the grant schemes announced to help retail, leisure and hospitality businesses. But, by the time of distribution, tourism was excluded.
The latest guidance must specify travel agents and tour operators as being eligible for these schemes to bring to an end the postcode lottery that has excluded us to date. The chancellor stated that “certainty matters” – those of us in travel and tourism sorely lack such certainty at present.
Aito, as part of the Save Future Travel coalition, has been requesting sector-specific support for many months now, to no avail. Outbound tourism has never previously sought any financial help from government pre-Covid, not even during the volcanic ash cloud. But we are asking for it now.
Research continues to demonstrate UK voters want to travel. UK specialist operators, world leaders in their field, and their specialist travel agent counterparts, make meaningful travel a reality.
Helping the industry through this hardest of times will pay dividends through job retention, job creation and better mental wellbeing as people start to be able both to plan – and to take – a holiday.
And for you, chancellor, there will be considerable tax receipts, not forgetting vital support for the UK’s retailers to the tune of £38 billion in pre-holiday spend.
Help for the travel industry will also assist thousands of sustainability and conservation projects that are tourism-dependent, many of which were started – and are supported – by eco-conscious operators here in the UK.
With your long-requested, long-awaited help, we will truly – and proudly – fly the flag for a global Britain.
We fervently hope you will respond positively to our suggestions, which all deliver 110% in terms of working positively for the economy. Surely that is what you seek? Then help us to deliver it.
Bharat Gadhoke is head of commercial at Aito, the Specialist Travel Association.