Travel and tourism businesses in the UK risk losing "tens of billions" of pounds in future income if they are not given every possible opportunity to survive the coronavirus crisis.
Trade associations representing thousands of tourist businesses have joined forces with the Local Government Association (LGA) to write to chancellor Rishi Sunak urging him to broaden the range of businesses the government’s coronavirus business rates relief scheme is available to.
Tour and coach operators, English language schools, destination management organisations (DMOs), and tourism and hospitality charities, are currently excluded from the scheme, which means no qualifying business will have to pay business rates for the next 12 months, while those with a rateable value of less than £51,000 would also qualify for a cash grant.
This is despite Sunak stating it would be available to all businesses in the hospitality and leisure sectors when it was announced on 17 March.
However, guidance from the Ministry of Housing, Communities and Local Government states many of these businesses do not qualify for support because they are not in premises customers enter to make a purchase.
“This distinction is both arbitrary and counter to the chancellor’s repeated statements that all businesses in the leisure sector are eligible for support,” says the letter, which has been signed by the Tourism Alliance, the Confederation of Passenger Transport, Etoa, UKinbound, the Coach Tourism Association and English UK.
“Failing to support these businesses puts at risk many thousands of businesses that generate a large percentage of the £25 billion per annum the UK earns from inbound tourism,” the letter adds.
It comes despite efforts by the Tourism Alliance, the LGA and Ukinbound to encourage local authorities to more broadly interpret the rules of the business rates relief scheme to cover more travel and tourism businesses, such as travel and tour operators; tourism information centres; tourist boards and DMOs; and coach operators.
“It is hard to see how these businesses do not qualify as part of the leisure sector in government eyes," said Kurt Janson, director of the Tourism Alliance. "If this is not a lack of understanding, it is a false economy: these businesses generate so much income and so many jobs for local communities. It will be devastating if they are forced under.
Etoa chief executive Tom Jenkins said for the UK to recover in 2021, businesses must be given every chance to survive. "With assistance, they have a chance," he said. "Without this, tens of billions of future income will disappear.”
Joss Croft, chief executive of UKinbound, warned the travel and hospitality sector was the hardest and fastest hit by Covid-19, and would suffer the lengthiest implications. "Many tourism businesses such as tour operators, destination management companies and coach operators are a vital part of the industry supply chain who have also seen current and future business dry up completely overnight," he said.
"Many are now desperate for further financial support in order to survive and rate relief and grants will go a long way to helping these businesses remain viable.”
John Wales, chairman of the Coach Transport Association, said: "Coaches play a vital role in both our transport system and the leisure industry transporting millions of people on day trips, holidays, school trips, [and trips] to theatre, music and sporting events. The industry is worth £6 billion to the economy and business casualties are mounting daily."