In Focus

UK travel industry ‘choked’ by Covid restrictions

Seven in ten firms planning redundancies as holiday bookings collapse

Travel bosses are calling for a “significant overhaul” of Downing Street’s traffic light system and the end of mandatory Covid-19 testing as the industry faces the fallout of a collapse in summer holiday bookings. 

According to a survey by Abta - The Travel Association of its 4,300 members, new bookings for summer foreign holidays this year were down by 83% on 2019. And almost half of travel companies said they had seen no increase in 2021 bookings compared with last year, despite the rollout of the coronavirus vaccine programme. Meanwhile, 58% of bookings with departure dates in July or August had to be postponed or cancelled.

‘Summer sun is fading’

Airlines and travel companies have slammed Britain’s travel rules as “overly expensive and complicated”, and blame the regulations for a “second lost summer” of holiday trade, said Reuters.

The government is due to review the requirements for international travel by 1 October. Briefings suggest the system “will be dismantled, with an end to obligatory expensive and onerous PCR tests after arrival”, the Independent reported. However, Abta said the UK’s travel requirements have already had a “devastating impact” on the overseas travel industry.

Mark Tanzer, chief executive of the trade association, said the government’s travel requirements have “choked off” this summer’s travel trade and put jobs, businesses and the UK’s connectivity at risk.

“While our European neighbours have been travelling freely and safely, the British were subject to expensive measures which have stood in the way of people visiting family and friends, taking that much-needed foreign holiday and making important business connections,” he added. “The government needs to wake up to the damage its policies are doing to the UK travel industry and the impact they will have on the wider economic recovery.”

The “summer sun is fading”, said BBC transport correspondent Caroline Davies. But the “travel industry’s fears are heating up” as the end of furlough nears. “Winter is approaching and travel companies need to make decisions about their future operations: they are waiting anxiously to see which way the government will go.”

Job cuts loom 

Britain’s travel sector is “bracing for a new wave of job cuts”, Reuters said. The Abta survey revealed that 69% of travel companies with staff on furlough expect to make further redundancies once the scheme ends on 30 September. This would take the estimated job losses in the outbound travel sector to nearly 100,000, and total more than 226,000 across the whole supply chain. 

Abta is reiterating calls for industry support from the government, Travel Weekly reported. Small to medium-sized businesses are expected to suffer the most and support has “never been more important”.

“The dire summer season also means the need for a package of tailored financial support - extending the furlough scheme for travel businesses and a dedicated grant fund - remains paramount,” Tanzer said. “The chancellor has dismissed the extension of furlough as being too ‘challenging’ - that’s not good enough and a way must be found.

“No matter how many times government may try to claim it has supported travel businesses, there has not been a penny of tailored support for travel agents or tour operators, with many missing out on essential funding.”

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