Travel industry leaders have made fresh pleas for sector-specific support after Boris Johnson announced England was set to join the rest of the UK by returning to a state of national coronavirus lockdown.
In a televised addressed on Monday evening (4 January), the prime minister said – for a third time – people in England should stay at home to limit the spread of Covid-19 and protect the NHS.
The new measures come into force with immediate effect, and will be formally signed off my ministers in the coming days.
It comes after Wales, Scotland and Northern Ireland have all, in recent weeks, enacted their own lockdown measures, designed to curb the spread of Covid.
Abta, while accepting the measures were necessary to control the spread of the virus, said it was now vital ministers recognised the unique challenges facing travel businesses.
"This needs to come with the right measures to support travel businesses which have little or no means of operating," said an Abta spokesperson.
"For 10 months now, many travel businesses have been unable to generate income – putting jobs and businesses at risk – and the latest government measures mean this is unlikely to change soon.
"Yet, unlike other sectors such as hospitality, there hasn’t been any tailored financial support from the UK government to get travel businesses through the crisis.
"Other countries, including France and Italy, have established targeted schemes in recognition of the unique challenges facing travel.
"Similar recognition and support is long overdue from Westminster, and we urge ministers to address this gap urgently."
Julia Lo Bue-Said, chief executive of the Advantage Travel Partnership, said a third lockdown would inevitably further delay the recovery for an industry that has suffered "significantly" owing to Covid.
"We had seen some green shoots in terms of bookings for this year and, while the next three months will be incredibly hard for travel agents, we remain hopeful that the anecdotal feedback indicates some pent up demand which we hope will translate to a bounce back for the industry post-Easter.
"We are a resilient industry, and we know the British public will want to travel as soon as it’s safe to do so.
"What’s important is they have the confidence to make bookings at a time of terrible uncertainty.
"The effective rollout of the vaccine is critical to the resumption of normal life and if this happens on schedule we could see confidence start to slowly return.
"For consumers wishing to lay plans for a brighter future once safe to do, our travel agents will be able to advise them every step of the way from navigating country protocols and testing requirements to advising on changes to travel in Europe due to Brexit."
Airlines UK, the trade body for UK registered airlines, made a similar plea on behalf of the UK’s aviation sector, calling for fresh grants, liquidity measures and reliefs.
"It’s vital any lockdown is accompanied by measures to support our aviation sector, through grants and further liquidity measures such as APD relief, together with an acceleration of the roll-out of pre-departure testing and the vaccine," said Airlines UK.
"If we cannot reopen travel, the future of UK aviation will be bleak indeed, but we’re hopeful government will step in and recognise its importance and contribution to UK plc, so we can continue delivering for passengers."
Karen Dee, chief executive of the Airport Operators Association, echoed the calls, describing the new national lockdown as "yet another devastating blow to airports" that came on top of several travel bans imposed on UK nationals.
“We are fast approaching a full 12 months of aviation being effectively shut down, with only limited support for UK airports provided to date," said Dee.
"The government must urgently announce a comprehensive aviation support package, allowing the sector to weather the current dire financial circumstances while protecting jobs and aviation connectivity."
Dee said measures must cover operational losses owing to heightened Covid restrictions and extend all existing forms of support until aviation can operate unencumbered.
"The UK aviation industry will play a crucial role in enabling the UK’s economic recovery and global Britain, but can only do so if it gets the support necessary to get through the coming months and years."