“Travel hasn’t been ‘forced legally to close’ – it’s been abandoned and left high and dry.”
That was the message from Aito chair Chris Rowles, who said UK government policy had made it impossible for many Aito operators and agents to trade.
“UK plc has closed a virtual door in our faces by setting up quarantine rules at short-notice while failing to take the simple, common sense step of enforcing testing at airports, despite many requests by airport authorities,” said Rowles.
His comments come following chancellor Rishi Sunak’s addendums to the new Job Support Scheme at the weekend, which will replace furlough at the end of the month.
Additional support will be rolled out to the hospitality sector due to new local lockdowns; however, Rowles said travel had once again been overlooked despite more than six months’ hardship.
“The plight of aviation is often mentioned, but tour operators and travel agents seem to have been forgotten, despite the best efforts of trade associations, including Aito," he said.
“European countries have offered the travel industry – airlines, tour operators and travel agents alike – a decent level of government support during the pandemic; just look at the massive €3 billion handed out to industry giant Tui by the German government.
“But the UK government policy has destroyed our businesses, making it impossible for us to trade. UK plc has given the public no confidence whatsoever to travel.
“Many of our members have carried just 5% of their normal client numbers this year, with little to no peak season business
“At the same time, they have been faced with blanket refunds, clearing out their bank accounts while having to struggle to keep staff on – unfurloughed – to be able to handle the huge number of enquiries and refunds in a responsible manner.”
Rowles said instead of government offering support, travel businesses had been encouraged to take out “enormous” support loans, with no way of generating cash to pay them back.
“We are seen as expendable,” said Rowles. “Yet we delivered huge sums in tax to UK plc’s bottom line pre-Covid, and employed huge numbers of people in a formerly vibrant industry.
“It is, quite simply, soul-destroying – and the government is guaranteeing huge numbers of travel industry people will be on the dole, needing massive government support, as a direct result of its policy to ignore the travel industry’s pleas for financial help.”
Rowles said the government’s failure to step in would also deny people access to good-value, financially protected holidays put together by Aito operator and travel agent members if its lack of action on travel forced firms out of business.
He reiterated the sector’s calls for a dedicated minister for travel “with clout and an understanding of the travel industry” rather than dividing responsibility for the sector between several ministerial departments “with little to no idea of how travel and tourism works”.
“We are still waiting for refund credit notes post-30 September to be endorsed as having financial protection by the CAA after the fiasco earlier in the year when it took government two months to take such a simple but essential step, despite such protection already being enshrined in the Atol rule book,” said Rowles, adding this would further harm public confidence in travel.