Breaking Travel News investigates: Industry calls for roadmap out of lockdown
As new quarantine measures come into force, at the start of what would usually be one of the biggest weeks for winter holidays, the Save Future Travel Coalition has said the prime minister needs to use the upcoming lockdown update to provide a route forward for the travel industry.
Boris Johnson is set to unveil the next steps on February 22nd.
Many travel agents and tour operators have not been able to operate or generate income since the start of the pandemic last March, due to government advising against travel to the majority of destinations, or in the case of school trips and ocean cruises, directives to cease all operations.
As a result, the economic output of travel agents and tour operators fell by 86 per cent in December compared to February 2020, making it the second worst-hit business sector during the pandemic, according to new gross domestic product (GDP) figures from the Office of National Statistics.
This is only a very slight improvement on November, and the situation has since worsened notably with international travel now illegal for most purposes.
As the February half term begins across most of the country, traditionally one of the busiest weeks for winter holidays.
ABTA and Seasonal Businesses in Travel (SBiT) estimate that in a normal year around 500,000 people would be heading off to the slopes over the February half term period (which often falls across two different weeks).
Half term represents around 15 per cent of ABTA ski members’ total bookings for the winter season.
France, Austria, Switzerland and Italy are usually among the most popular destinations along with North America for snow sports trips.
For companies providing ski and snow trips to schools, the same period would usually bring 40 per cent of their annual revenues.
This year, that revenue will be lost.
The ski industry is among those which are effectively closed, having been one of the first sectors affected by Covid-19 when major travel restrictions were introduced in March last year.
This season has already been severely impacted by the pandemic, and opportunities for snow sports holidays do not currently exist.
Despite the effective shut down of all overseas travel, there has not been any tailored financial support offered to travel companies.
Other industries which have been required to close, such as hospitality and the arts, have received direct support.
The Save Future Travel Coalition – made up of 12 leading travel trade organisations – says it is vital that the government works with industry to develop a roadmap to reopen travel.
While the rollout of the vaccine is progressing well, the coalition is clear the industry simply cannot afford to wait until everyone in the UK is vaccinated before people start to travel again – otherwise insolvencies and redundancies will be inevitable.
The industry argues that a risk-based approach to travel, including a coordinated approach to vaccine certificates and use of passenger testing will be critical in opening up the overseas travel market.
Mark Tanzer, ABTA chief executive, said: “The prime minister is due to update the nation on a route out of lockdown.
“That must include a way forward for the travel industry to ensure that people are able to take an overseas holiday this summer.
“We completely understand the need for the government to bring in temporary restrictions, like the additional measures around quarantine being brought in today, but we also need a route out of this crisis and some tailored financial support to help businesses get through what will be very difficult months ahead for the sector.
“Travel is vital for the economy. It has been a powerhouse of economic growth and employment.
“In normal times travel contributes £80 billion to the UK economy and supports close to one million jobs.
“It also underpins UK aviation and trading routes, with travel agents and tour operators putting the passengers on the planes.”
The sentiments were echoed by Charles Owen, director of SBiT.
He added: “The UK may be in its third lockdown but, for SBiT members, this is still their first lockdown which started 11 months ago.
“In March 2020 we completed an emergency repatriation of 40,000 guests and staff back to the UK, and then set about refunding or rebooking holidays for hundreds of thousands more guests.
“With this winter season all but cancelled, virtually no new bookings and the outlook uncertain this is an industry on its knees financially.
“There is huge demand for ski holidays in the 2021-22 ski season, but our members need financial support from the chancellor now, to continue trading and delivering the future holidays that our guests love.”