Agents have spoken of the extreme lengths they have gone, including moving home, to mitigate the financial devastation wrought by the lack of government support for travel during the pandemic.
Three agents spelled out how the crisis had affected their lives over the past year at a TTG roundtable, which included Liberal Democrat Treasury spokesperson Christine Jardine MP.
Deben Travel managing director Lee Hunt said that while his business of 10 years was “very viable”, he had been forced to sink his personal savings into operations.
"I have nothing," he said. "I had to move out of my home at the end of February because I could no longer afford the rent. There has been a huge personal impact which I think the government overlooked when they just classed us as businesses.”
He told Jardine there was a “really important message” to get across to government. “Come 12 April when other non-essential retail opens and start selling their products, they will make money immediately," said Hunt. "We can’t make any money until people start departing the country.
“We could well sell £1 million worth of holidays, but we don’t actually see any of that money until people depart the UK. That’s how I pay my bills and my team of nine.”
Spa Travel’s Paul Dayson spelled out his predicament: “I have not been able to claim anything for self-employed benefit because my company has earned more than £50,000 profit for the past three years.
"But in the last year, I calculate now that I have given back in commission approximately £170,000. I’m £3 million down in turnover since last March, so altogether I’m about £500,000 out of pocket.”
Dayson said the second phase of cancellations and amendments was in progress with no government support.
“My business is 40 years old and we have been cast aside," he said. "We need more help. We have got to be looking at July, August, September before we are able to make any money. I just feel the government has cut our throats and let us bleed.”
Mark Swords, of Swords Travel, began trading five years ago before setting up on the high street in mid-2019. “Three years down the line, I’ve ended up with £70,000 worth of debt," he said, which he explained included a £50,000 bounce back loan.
“What’s frustrating is your landlord doesn’t appreciate that. They want their rent and there is no kind of pressure on landlords to stop that. Evictions probably will come back and there is nothing to stop that.
“I feel let down by the government. Being limited company directors, we have been completely excluded. The chancellor said the door is completely shut; how is that acceptable when there is no targeted support?”
Swords said agencies had been “dumped in with non-essential retail”.
“We should be where hospitality and hairdressers are because we will be the last to open, but we’re getting the smaller grants; up to £6,000, but as a hairdresser or hospitality business you can get up to £18,000 plus VAT cuts and other stuff as well.”
Advantage Travel Partnership chief executive Julia Lo Bue-Said said the issue was widespread:
“Fifty per cent of the businesses I represent have not been able to qualify (for grants) because they operate from offices and they are also homeworkers or under the rateable value; so that’s a lot of businesses that have been unable to benefit from any grant schemes that are out there.”
Jardine said she would put the industry’s case at Westminster and called for a “backing for bookings” campaign or concept – a revenue replacement scheme to offset months of lost and cancelled reservations.
“The bottom line is the government has not taken the travel sector into account sufficiently,” she said.