Dear first minister, in case you hadn’t noticed – and to be frank, we think you either haven’t noticed or you don’t care – travel is grounded, travel is beached, travel has run aground, travel is a sinking ship.
We, the travel industry in Scotland, will be outside Holyrood at 12.30pm on Wednesday (23 June) and we challenge you to meet us, face-to-face over our respective face masks, to tell us why travel has been given the red card, while football is permitted to boogie with mass fan zones. And we’ve got plenty more questions for you too.
You told us that Scotland needed strong leadership and, as an industry, we are talking with one voice today and asking you to show that leadership to the travel sector. Come and meet our members and tell them why you have effectively banned travel.
Talk to award-winning travel agents who were running successful Scottish SMEs – we don’t need to remind you that SMEs account for 99.3% of all private firms in Scotland employing 60% of the workforce who face nothing short of destitution.
Since March 2020, they have had nothing to sell and no one to sell to. They’ve had to remain open to service repatriations and rebookings, but they’ve been overlooked as retail operations and left with little sector-specific funding support.
What modest support they’ve been given – which depended solely on their rateable value of their premises and omitted the army of home workers upon which the wheels of the travel industry turn – has gone. It was spent on shoring up their businesses and staff as the sands shifted ever more from under their feet.
And all of this after they had used up all their working capital, spent their life savings and taken bounceback loans they are now unable to repay.
The irony of the furlough scheme, which ought to have been a lifeline for their finances, is that despite having nothing to sell, agents had to remain open to handle the many thousands of customer bookings which have been futile.
You’ll enjoy meeting the pilots who, just to qualify, passed at least 14 exams and underwent endless flight training and who may soon be navigating your online groceries instead of scheduled or charter flights from Scotland.
Or how about the cabin crews who spend each day unsure if they will ever have the opportunity to work in the industry they love again?
They’ll be joined by the tour operators; they also fear that job they love is jeopardy and whose businesses are also highly distressed.
UK inbound operators will also be there, and you can tell them why Scotland is now closed to their clients who want to visit our glorious country.
And, of course, our airports will be there. As passenger numbers have plummeted to their lowest levels for decades, our whole Scottish airport infrastructure is in peril.
Travel agents need financial support to be commensurate with restrictions. The government is duty bound to support businesses that cannot trade due to restrictions. Travel agencies may remain technically open, but with nothing to sell and no one to sell to.
On the other hand, level two support has been granted to other businesses which are able to trade in a reduced capacity such as hospitality businesses and taxi drivers. How can we get the message through to you that you may allow us to physically open our doors, but there is absolutely no income for us? You have allowed us to open in name only – officially open but not actually capable of trading.
Scots want to see family they have desperately missed, meet family they never had before the pandemic and comfort family that the pandemic has bereaved. They want to travel for business. They need to travel for business. Scotland’s economy needs them to travel for business. They want to travel for education, culture, new experiences and just because we’re Scottish and we’re intrepid travellers.
Or at least we used to be.
Let us tell you face-to-face that outbound tourism sustains more than 26,000 jobs in Scotland and that outbound travellers are worth almost £1.5 billion to the Scottish economy. Then you can explain to us why these jobs and this income for Scotland don’t matter.
And in return we can ask you; why don’t you appear to trust the vaccine? Why is an industry which can demonstrate its ability to operate robust, safe testing effectively banned from operating, while thousands of football fans are permitted to mingle, mix and meet while being encouraged only to self-test?
When can we see the data which is triggering decisions about international travel? Why, when it’s common knowledge that one broken traffic light causes utter chaos, were the travel traffic lights sabotaged before they’d even complete one full cycle?
Why are you allowing Scotland to fall behind the rest of Europe which is opening its borders for international travel in a measured way recognising vaccination levels? Why are Scots expected to pay more for testing for travel than the rest of the UK?
And of course, why did football get to keep their ball when you’ve taken travel’s ball home?
Joanne Dooey is president of the Scottish Passenger Agents’ Association (SPAA).