“Aviation, travel and tourism was one of the first sectors to face the negative effects of the pandemic, it was almost immediate. And it will be one of the slowest to fully recover.”
These were the opening remarks of Henry Smith, MP for Crawley, in a Westminster debate discussing support for the aviation, tourism and travel industries, last month.
Smith, who sponsored the debate, noted many of the 1.5 million employed in the sector had lost their jobs over the last 15 months and pointed out “around 50% of people in the sector are still on furlough, which comes to an end in September”.
“I fear if travel, aviation and tourism can’t pick up in a meaningful way, many more people in the sector currently on furlough will lose their jobs,” he added.
“The title of this debate is support, the best way is to allow [aviation, travel and tourism] to meaningfully and safely operate.
“If that isn’t able to happen, I’m afraid the bill for unemployment benefits this autumn and winter will be a significant burden to the taxpayer. Many companies and employers in this sector will be coming to government for bailouts.”
The debate, which followed the Travel Day Of Action on 23 June, heard from MPs across the political spectrum and throughout the UK, including Labour’s Ben Bradshaw and transport select committee chair Huw Merriman.
Bradshaw pointed out the ludicrous travel policies of all parties, arguing “in 26 years as an MP I can’t remember an instance when the leaders of the political parties have been more or less in the same position on a policy - and one that has no basis in the evidence anymore.
“It makes more sense in health terms to quarantine someone travelling from Ealing to Exeter – than someone travelling from Italy, Germany or Malta to the UK.”
Meanwhile, Merriman noted the mental health toll of the pandemic on those working in travel.
“Their mental health has been put at risk because of a ridiculous and restrictive policy that really appears to have no basis when we look at the data,” he said, adding he was “absolutely sick and tired on behalf of all people who want to get their lives back and safely travel abroad”.
Merriman also referenced the Travel Day of Action protests, citing “members of the workforce I met [on 23 June] who care so passionately and are so positive about their sector and their customers”.
Labour’s Jessica Morden MP for Newport East highlighted her discussions with travel agency Newport-based La Vida Travel as she described the frustration felt by many agencies with regards to added costs from card transactions.
“Smaller travel businesses are an industry I think feel forgotten in all of this and an industry that are really starring into the unknown,” she said. “ONS stats show revenue of travel agents and tour operators are down 86-90% each month since February 2020 with no sector support forthcoming.
“The team at La Vida Travel in south Wales are an award-winning business with a local, loyal following and a reputation for very good customer service and Karen [Marin Reyes, La Vida owner] has spoken to me about the difficult outlook her sector faces and echoed all the calls for sector specific financial support.
“Companies like La Vida were not able to shut their doors when the pandemic came – they were busy helping their customers.
“These businesses are also having to foot the bill for transaction fees charges with credit cards and banks, which are not refunded to the travel agent – I’d really like the minister to look at that specific point because they’re carrying that loss themselves.
“We need the government to step up and do better – it’s not about holidays, it’s about people’s jobs and livelihoods.”
Exorbitant testing costs were also highlighted, with Smith noting “the cost and complexity of Covid-19 testing as a major disincentive for people to travel”.
“For a family of four, it becomes prohibitive and we have the ridiculous situation where many tests are more expensive than the flights themselves.”
All the MPs concluded their speeches with a demand for government to rethink its application of the traffic light system. “We’re less free than our neighbours, we’re less free than Americans and we’re less free than we were last summer – in spite of being the most vaccinated country in Europe after Malta,” added Bradshaw.
“The government needs to do the right thing – let the British people travel safely again and throw the thousands and thousands of fantastic people who work in our transport and travel sectors a desperately needed lifeline.”