Abta chief Mark Tanzer has set out his vision for how the government can help travel agents weather the coronavirus crisis.
Addressing the government’s transport committee on Wednesday (6 May), Tanzer said there were three key considerations: clear Foreign Office and destination advice; ensuring operators and airlines survive Covid-19; and rebuilding consumer confidence.
Tanzer’s comments came in response to a question from Conservative MP Robert Largan, who asked what the future was for agents and what extra support was needed to guarantee the "huge numbers" of jobs in the sector after the pandemic.
He said with there likely to be an underlying appetite for travel that may even "intensify" following the lockdown, it was vital that the Foreign Office made sure its travel advice was up-to-date and accurate.
"Destinations are going to open up at different rates," said Tanzer. "We are already working with them to understand the restrictions in place and the health provisions if someone gets ill.
"So I think there is [going to be] some very intense work for the Foreign Office to ensure people are confident they can travel safely to the places they want to go."
Secondly, Tanzer said it was vital travel companies actually survive the crisis so they are in a position to operate trips for agents to sell. The Abta chief said getting them through the cash and refunds crisis, as well as any potential quarantine measures, would be a priority.
On furlough, Tanzer said there was scope to review its implementation for travel. "We are grateful to the government for the early intervention on employment in terms of furlough," he said. "For the travel sector, it hasn’t been an unqualified success.
"The reason is that we need to have people working. Having the binary situation where they are wither completely off work in order to qualify for furlough, or they are on, doesn’t work.
"In terms of dealing with refund requests and helping customers, a more tapered furlough scheme where maybe 50% could be paid by government and 50% by companies to help get people back to work while we are building up the book of business again would be really helpful."
Tanzer also stressed the government must consider the impact of the crisis on consumer confidence, particularly with the insurance market "pulling away" from the travel sector.
"I think the government needs to work with the insurance industry and the ABI [the Association of British Insurers] to bring them back, to give customers cover where they are travelling, and give them confidence – that will help travel agents," he said.
Finally, Tanzer reiterated that once the sector is through its immediate "crisis management" focus, it would be important to look at some of the "longer-term" financial protection "structures" in travel, including airline insolvency.
"We’ve seen airlines can fail, and are at risk of failing, and there is no consumer protection," said Tanzer. "I think all of that, the Foreign Office advice, getting companies through, and rebuilding consumer confidence, will be what helps travel agents most."