Does the government plan to stand by and do nothing until there are no travel companies left?
While there have already, tragically, been a number of shocking travel industry collapses amid the Covid crisis, none hit me in the gut quite as hard as the announcement four-branch agency Go Travel had ceased trading today.
Being a trade publication news editor I tend not to let myself get too emotional about company failures - unfortunately they are a sad fact of business, and B2B reporting. But this one caused a solid lump in my throat.
It’s different when you’re particularly familiar with the company in question, and after visiting Go Travel’s Blackheath branch as part of the TTG Top 50 Travel Agencies judging process last year, I felt attached to this agency.
The branch, led by the fantastic Kevin Whitbread, had just invested in a lovely refurbishment and its incredible drive, clear commitment to the local community and innovative ideas won it a place on the Top 50 list.
All that heart, all that investment… gone in the blink of an eye.
The latest TTG Travel Agent Tracker further hits home the immediate threat to businesses, with gut-wrenching quotes including: “I’m lost in a maze of corridors, and can’t seem to find my way out.”
Yes, company failures have always been a fact of life, but the slew of late are happening not because of mismanagement or a lack of product diversity leaving businesses exposed. Firms are failing because of a global pandemic that is completely out of their hands. And while all businesses across all industries have been impacted, it is travel, along with the hospitality and the entertainment sectors, which has been hit extraordinarily hard.
Despite months and months of campaigning, the government seems unable – or, more worryingly, unwilling – to understand that travel is in the unique position of paying out refunds while not making any money.
Chancellor Rishi Sunak famously said the government’s jobs support scheme would help viable companies. By ignoring the sector’s pleas for government support, is he suggesting that even in “normal times”, all travel agencies and tour operators are not viable?
There have been calls among some in the industry for reform to aspects of travel such as the Package Travel Regulations, and that may indeed be necessary. But travel companies currently don’t know whether they can make it to the end of the week, let alone wait around for reforms to be made. Plus, the damage has already been done. Firms need intervention right now.
Is Sunak’s strategy to let every last travel business fail and then expect a happy restart to holidays once the virus is behind us?
It takes years to build up a reputable, solid travel business and while fresh blood is great, I don’t think anyone would want to rely on an industry made up of exclusively brand new businesses.
There was hope today that Sunak would offer somewhat of a lifeline around jobs.
In reality the travel industry has once again been left out in the cold.
After countless bids for attention including the industry’s “Twitterstorm” this week – which saw transport secretary Grant Shapps receive more than 10,000 Tweets about the plight of the industry – it’s hard to believe the government is unaware of the crisis facing travel.
So then are they simply unwilling to help? With the travel and tourism industry worth around 10% of UK GDP, that makes little sense.
If ministers carry on ignoring the desperate state of the sector, then good luck to them next summer if they really expect to see a buoyant sector simply switch back on, delivering holidays again for a deserving population. And we all know politicians can’t resist a holiday themselves – the question is, at this rate, who exactly will be left to offer them their break in the sun?
While we wait for the government to wake up, there is no option but to battle on. And to quote a politician from a different time: "If you’re going through Hell, keep going."