The government has rejected calls for sector-specific support for agents despite an Abta petition signed by almost 105,000 people.
The call was made during a debate on international travel in parliament but rejected by health minister Jo Churchill, who claimed the Treasury was already supporting agents.
During the debate, Conservative MP Nick Fletcher highlighted “the financial hardship the industry has suffered”.
“Today I would like to discuss travel agents who, I believe, have been disproportionately impacted, even among those in the travel sector, simply because of the structure of their businesses,” he said.
Don Valley MP Fletcher said a meeting with Abta had made him aware of agents’ plight.
“Travel agents have been in a particularly precarious position because they do not receive their commission until their customers actually travel.
“When customers cancel, travel agents have had to issue refunds out of their own account, while waiting for suppliers to refund them. Abta estimates that 195,000 people working in travel agencies have already lost their jobs or are at risk of doing so.”
He added: “Travel agents have not been able to take full advantage of the furlough scheme either, because staff have been required to issue refunds and manage rebookings, activities that do not bring in any revenue but prevent companies from using the job retention scheme.
“I know this from speaking to two private travel agents in my constituency. Ideal Travel and Small World Travel have worked desperately hard to keep their customers happy. I hope this will be repaid locally when my constituents are booking their holidays over the coming years.”
Fletcher called for an extension of the self-employment income support scheme, plus full business rates relief for businesses operating in international travel.
He also urged testing rules to be relaxed in line with the petition’s request to class "in-person interaction" with family members and unmarried partners abroad as an essential reason to travel.
“The wider use of NHS covid tests and lateral flow tests can help both those travelling to visit their loved ones and travel agents, whose livelihoods depend on tourism.”
Testing was a major cost issue, he said. “People also do not understand why the NHS test is not accepted for travel, with people instead having to pay hundreds of pounds for private PCR tests.”
North Norfolk Tory MP Duncan Baker also called for easing of restrictions and support for agent: “Quite frankly, what on earth is the point in not allowing movements if we have vaccinated over 60 million people?” he asked.
He added: My constituent Nick Lee runs Broadland Travel Worldchoice and we understand that the traffic light system may still be in place until 2022, placing enormous restrictions on the 20,000 people working for retail travel agents.”
However, health and social care minister Jo Churchill rejected calls for the lifting of restrictions and further aid for the sector.
“We are opening up, but we are going slowly,” she said.
“Like everybody else, I feel for travel agents and so on in this time of uncertainty. However, they are supported by Her Majesty’s Treasury and the different interventions that have been put in place.
“Those things will be ongoing after we open up on 21 June, so long as we keep on the road map, and there is some assistance for businesses going forward.”