The government’s latest travel advice and refusal to extend the furlough scheme amounts to an “agenda of travel prevention and an indifference to the consequences,” according to Kuoni boss Derek Jones.
Jones said the Foreign Office’s removal of the Bahamas, Belgium and Andorra from its quarantine exemption list was evidence of the approach Downing Street intends to make with its travel advice and quarantine requirements going forward: “Immediate changes and token notice of quarantine”.
The impact – coupled with chancellor Rishi Sunak’s “complete dismissal” of sector specific financial support - will severely hurt “thousands of people who rely on overseas travel for their livelihoods”, Jones warned.
The Der Touristik UK chief executive called for greater dialogue from the outbound travel industry – arguing the sector’s track record when it came to handling situations such as natural disasters and terror attack showed its commitment to the safety of guests as “outstanding”.
“We have the infrastructure and experience to create a solution which puts health and hygiene first but which stops short of destroying jobs and livelihoods,” he said.
“The government should have two clear objectives: firstly, take all appropriate steps to facilitate safe travel overseas and secondly, acknowledge the devastating impact that the virus is having on the travel industry and respond with a package of support to allow us to maintain viable businesses until the crisis has past.
“None of us underestimate the scale of the challenges facing the government right now which why we want to work together to find solution which protect lives and livelihoods.”
Jones’s comments were echoed by Advantage Travel Partnership chief executive Julia Lo Bue-Said, who said that although the FCO’s advice change for Belgium, Andorra and Bahamas appeared to give the industry more notice, the nature of the all but essential travel decision coming into immediate effect “deprives agents of that all-important window to communicate effectively with their customers”.
“When this happens consumers are more likely to cancel holidays than change and this is crippling an already fragile industry,” she said.
Lo Bue-Said said the consortium’s campaign for a ‘Flexi Pledge’ approach between the industry and government – launched this week – was vital to give consumers a renewed confidence to book.
“Currently agents and operators simply do not have enough time to properly communicate with customers. We believe if consumers had 48 hours notice to change their booking to an alternative destination or time they would be more inclined to retain their booking instead of cancelling.
"Equally, if the government commits to providing the industry with 48 hours notice the industry will be infinitely better equipped to engage with clients to satisfy their rebooking requirements and retain that all important booking for this year - saving businesses and jobs in the process.
She also slammed Sunak’s comments on the ending of the furlough scheme after he drew comparisons between helping the travel sector and the Eat Out to Help Out initiative created to aid the UK’s hospitality industry.
“Surely the chancellor can acknowledge that the Eat Out to Help Out scheme does not help to instil consumer confidence in booking a holiday.
“The industry requires a far greater degree of respect and recognition by the government for the contribution it makes to the economy, and greater consideration on the impact of major decisions and how they will continue to hinder any kind of recovery in the future.”