Travel agents have responded to the chancellor’s spring Budget, welcoming the extension of the furlough scheme but expressing frustration the travel industry once again has been overlooked with regards to sector-specific support.
Julia Lo Bue-Said, chief executive of Advantage Travel Partnership, said the extension of the furlough scheme would be “positive news for many sectors” but pointed out “travel businesses continue to be unable to take full advantage of the support package in its current form”.
“Travel agencies do not make any money until their clients travel, but they still have to employ people to facilitate bookings and amend cancellations and refunds when required,” Lo Bue-Said said. “Therefore, even while there is no money physically coming through the door, furlough simply doesn’t work for employers in this sector by the very nature of the business.
“The criteria that need to be met by businesses to be entitled to the government grants means that 50% of our members do not qualify because they work from home or an office and do not operate from a retail premises. Support with deferral of business rates and grants for all travel agents, regardless of their operating environment are what we need to help travel agents survive. There is an immediate pressure on these businesses because they have been unable to earn any income for 12 months now due to government-imposed restrictions.
“While the plan to ease lockdown has initiated some positive signs of recovery in terms of enquiries and bookings, travel agents are in a state of financial limbo because the details of how and when we will travel is still fuelled with uncertainty and restrictions. We know testing is critical to the recovery of travel, and we need government to take a lead on bringing down the cost of testing so that a future holiday is still affordable for families.
"The media focus to date has been on leisure travel, however the government must not forget the lucrative business travel sector which will be intrinsic to the recovery of many other important sectors of the economy.”