'Now or never for summer travel': Tourism industry demands help for 'decimated' sector

23 June 2021, 05:36 | Updated: 23 June 2021, 16:21

By Will Taylor

It is "now or never" for summer travel, a tourism boss has warned at the start of a "day of action" to pressure the Government into reopening the travel sector.

About 800 people, including pilots, cabin crew and travel agents, will protest outside Parliament today, industry body Abta said.

Events are also planned for the devolved administrations in Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland.

It estimates that 195,000 jobs in travel have been lost or are at risk since the outbreak began, with the sector having been battered by the coronavirus pandemic.

It accused the Government of "undermining" the traffic light travel system, with UK tourists' options severely limited by the options on the quarantine-free green list, and failing to properly organise a restart to tourism.

Tim Alderslade, Chief Executive of Airlines UK, a representative body for UK-registered airlines, said businesses wanted to express frustration, annoyance and outrage.

Travel industry bosses have criticised Government policy on tourism
Travel industry bosses have criticised Government policy on tourism. Picture: PA

He added that he does not expect more countries to be green listed until the reopening in July, meaning the early parts of summer will not see any meaningful travel.

But he is hoping for more on allowing people who have had two vaccine doses to move around more freely.

"We've taken on billions of pounds of debt over the last 15 months, we haven't had the grant support that other sectors like hospitality and the arts sector has had, we've only been able to access the furlough scheme and other cross-economy schemes.

"I think we're clear that it's now or never for the sector in terms opening up for the summer, we cannot sustain any more debt.

"If the Government cannot give us a meaningful summer, which is when airlines make their money, they lose money in the winter, they have to start to recoup some of this money that they've taken on their balance sheet, they're shot to pieces."

He said if the Government does not want to risk more travel, then more support for the sector will be needed, such as extending the furlough scheme.

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Clive Wratten, chief executive of the Business Travel Association, said: "Today's day of action highlights the dire straits of our industry.

"The travel sector remains in lockdown as the rest of the country opens up.

"Business travel is essential for the UK economy and our ability to trade on the international stage.

"The Government must provide targeted support and extend the green list at its next review."

Derek Jones, boss of luxury travel firm Kuoni, said: "The outbound travel sector has been decimated by this pandemic and by the Government's haphazard response to it.

"Today, we have joined together to call upon ministers to acknowledge that the restrictions they have placed on international travel are having a deep and devastating impact on travel businesses.

"We are united in one message today: we want to see the safe reopening of international travel alongside targeted financial support for businesses which have not been able to trade for well over a year."

About 200 people are also expected to take part in an event at Holyrood in Edinburgh, with 100 set to take part in one in Belfast, while a virtual meeting will be held for campaigners in Wales.

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A Government spokeswoman said: "Our international travel policy is guided by one overwhelming priority: protecting public health.

"Decisions on traffic light allocations take into account a range of factors including genomic surveillance capability, transmission risk and variants of concern, with data behind decisions to move countries on the list published online.

"We keep all measures under review and continue to engage with industry and international partners to explore how we can open international travel safely. Both tailored and wider economic support is still available to the sector, including the furlough scheme."

The travel lists are due to be updated on Thursday – if any changes are made at all.