Travel sector demands reopening in nationwide protest
Travel agents, pilots, tour operators, aviation workers and cabin crew are among the thousands of people who will ‘speak up for travel’ today, as part of a day of action.
The sector is seeking to put pressure on the government to capitalise on the Covid-19 vaccine rollout by safely reopening travel for the summer season and provide tailored financial support to businesses.
The pandemic has been a catastrophe for the travel industry, closing borders, and even making most travel to and from the UK illegal for months on end.
Data from ABTA estimates that as many as 195,000 jobs have been lost or are at risk within the travel industry, with IATA research indicating that hundreds of thousands of aviation jobs are supported by the furlough scheme.
Although travel is no longer illegal, the industry says the government has failed to deliver a restart to international travel as promised, by undermining the risk-based system ministers established for a safe return to travel.
In contrast, other countries are forging ahead with pragmatic, risk-based schemes that allow safe travel including most recently Germany, France and Spain.
Tim Alderslade, chief executive of Airlines UK, said: “It is now or never for the government to reopen travel and save what is remaining of the summer season, not just for families desperate to get away but the tens of thousands of jobs which rely upon this once thriving sector.
“Airlines are at the absolute limit of what they can borrow and without a genuine reopening this summer they will require Government support to survive.
“The best way to save UK aviation is to enable a return to the skies – safely – by taking advantage of our vaccine dividend and allowing fully vaccinated passengers to travel without restrictions from amber and green countries.
“This is now happening across much of Europe and the UK is in grave danger of needlessly falling behind.”
Without a meaningful summer season – a crucial period of the year for travel businesses, airlines and airports – many thousands of livelihoods are at stake, as well as the ability of the travel sector to recover and reconnect the UK to the world.
As part of the day of action there are a range of events and activities happening across the UK – including 800 people attending an organised lobby outside parliament in London, 200 people at an event in Holyrood in Edinburgh and 100 gathering in Belfast.
There will be a virtual lobby in Cardiff, as well as activities at a range of UK airports and meetings with MPs locally and campaigning on social media.
The industry bodies behind the protest – including ABTA, Airlines UK, the Business Travel Association, Airport Operators Association, UKinbound, Advantage Travel Partnership and the Travel Network Group – also say the UK government’s support through the crisis has been inadequate.
While other sectors have received tailored support, such as grant schemes, the story is quite different for travel, with many travel businesses excluded from the general grant support available and others only able to access the bare minimum.
Airlines and airports, meanwhile, have taken on billions of pounds of debt – raised privately and through government loans schemes – that will have to be paid back.
As a result, many businesses are struggling to survive – 57 per cent of small- and medium-sized travel agents said they would not have the cash to survive more than three months based on current trading conditions and available government support.
The travel day of action has support from the major airlines and tour operators as well as hundreds of small independent travel agents and leisure and business travel agents.
Collectively they are calling on the UK government to:
- Allow international travel to return safely and in a risk managed way by properly implementing the Global Travel Taskforce’s plan for a traffic-light system, by expanding the green list in line with the evidence and making restrictions more proportionate, while keeping a strong red list to guard against variants. Government should also capitalise on the success of the vaccine rollout by removing testing and quarantine requirements for fully vaccinated individuals travelling from green and amber countries.
- Bring forward a package of tailored financial support, including extension of furlough support until April 2022, recognising that the travel sector’s ability to trade and generate income is much slower than first anticipated and more gradual than for businesses in the domestic economy.
The government is expected to provide an update on the traffic light list within the next week, and a review of the requirements for international travel is due on June 28th.
Despite international travel significantly being curtailed, meaning businesses still have little opportunity to generate income, companies will be subject to the ten per cent rise in furlough costs at the end of the month, and payments towards business rates for travel agents will also go up.