Travel is “in a class of its own in terms of the pain it has suffered” and government must offer urgent financial support and policy changes to help businesses survive, Abta chief Mark Tanzer has told MPs.
Giving evidence to the Treasury Select Committee on Monday (7 June), Tanzer warned that without immediate help during summer’s “critical weeks” the industry risked “losing a generation of travel companies”.
He described “real hardship stories” of travel staff “who are not just losing their businesses but losing their homes” after getting into severe financial difficulties in order to support their firms.
“There’s absolute hardship and desperation out there,” said Tanzer. “Our members are looking for a complete step change from the govt’s attitude towards the industry."
He said the outbound sector was “not at the point of recovery at all” and called last week’s demotion of Portugal from the green list was an indication “international travel isn’t going to be restarting as we’d initially envisaged” when laid out by government’s Global Travel Taskforce earlier this year.
Tanzer appeared alongside Helen Dickinson, chief executive, of the British Retail Consortium and Kate Nicholls, chief executive, UK Hospitality, to discuss the economic impact of the Covid pandemic.
“The support measures that have been available have been appreciated but they’ve been at the margin and not adequate for the scale of the challenge the travel industry has faced and is facing,” he told MPs.
“The summer season accounts for two-thirds of business and we’re in it now and no-one is travelling. [Grant Shapps] said this would be ‘travel, but not as you knew it’ – well it’s not travel. We have effectively two countries on the green list you can go to - Iceland and Gibraltar – and they have less than half of 1% of travel.”
Tanzer said according to HMRC data, only 49% of travel employees have been able to use the furlough scheme due to the need to continue working to support customers and deal with amendments and cancellations.
He called for government support to come via shifts in its policy on international travel – such as dropping the need to test arrivals from green countries and utilising the success of the UK’s vaccination rollout.
“I find it hard that we have the highest vaccination rate and yet we have the lowest amount of flights coming in and departing the country.
"We have 57% of adults with at least one vaccine dose and we’re flying at 13% of last years volume. Germany has 42% vaccinated and they have 32%.”
Tanzer also called for greater financial aid - including more flexibility around furlough arrangements and a revenue replacement scheme for travel businesses unable to earn due to travel restrictions.
“Demand [to travel] is there but there are a number of obstacles in place and [government] communication hasn’t helped. There’s demand but either deliberately, or for whatever reason, the government has decided to put obstacles there to throttle the expansion of international travel at the moment so that’s holding things back.
“We are seeing bookings for next year coming through but all the travel sector gets is deposits - we need people travelling this summer and full balances.”