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Published on Monday, November 2, 2020

Trade reacts to shock travel ban: 'It will crucify the industry'


Advantage Travel Partnership's boss Julia Lo Bue-Said is warning that many travel agents will go bust before the end of the year without government financial support following the introduction of a month-long ban on travel.

In a government announcement published on Saturday evening, all leisure travel, both domestic and international, will be outlawed in England as part of a tough new second lockdown, starting from Thursday morning.

The government statement says: "Overnight stays and holidays away from primary residences will not be allowed - including holidays in the UK and abroad.

"This includes staying in a second home, if you own one, or staying with anyone you do not live with or are in a support bubble with. There are specific exceptions, for example if you need to stay away from home (including in a second home) for work purposes."

The travel ban will last at least until 2 December, but Cabinet Office Minister Michael Gove said on Sunday that the lockdown could last longer. The restrictions only apply to England as the other nations continue to follow their own strategies. Wales is already under lockdown until 9 November.

Lo Bue-Said said the new measures would 'crucify' the industry, while EasyJet holidays CEO Garry Wilson criticised the government for not consulting with travel companies.

Elegant Resorts Managing Director Lisa Fitzell fears this will be 'the final nail in the coffin'.

The UK government announced an extension of its furlough scheme but that alone might not be enough to rescue travel businesses that have been forced to shut down, according to Lo Bue-Said.

She said: "The ban on international and domestic travel as a result of the new lockdown measures will crucify the travel industry. 

"Whilst we absolutely support measures to keep us all safe, the reality of the new lock-down means many of our travel agency members will not last the year without a financial support package from the government.

"Fifty per cent of jobs from our members have been lost since March and 80% will run out of cash by May. We urge the Chancellor to urgently consider an extension of the provision of government underwritten loans to businesses of all sizes and an HMRC holiday for six months for the travel industry - these measures could mean the make or break for many travel agents up and down the country.

"Whilst a month's extension of the furlough scheme is welcomed, to announce on the eve of when the scheme was due to end demonstrates the lack of business intelligence the government has when planning for financial support measures. Job losses through redundancies have already happened and therefore making the furlough extension more tokenistic than helpful.

"Since the summer the industry has been crying out for a testing regime to be implemented at UK points of entry and we are still waiting.

"Instead we have an increase in Covid cases, an ineffective yo-yo quarantine system, and a lack of travel corridors all of which impacts industry adversely because it happens to sell travel; with no recognition or sector specific support."

Elegant Resorts MD Lisa Fitzell said: "Consumer confidence to travel over the last two weeks had slightly improved.

"To then remove all prospects of travel is heartbreaking.

"A combination of needing to give even more refunds to customers who had planned to travel during this lockdown period and no new business coming in, I am sure this will be the final nail in the coffin for many UK travel businesses."

And Emma Coulthurst from holiday price comparison site, TravelSupermarket said: "One minute, just a little more than a week ago, Grant Shapps tells the British public that they could now travel for leisure to the Canaries.

"On the back of this permission, people, many of whom haven't gone away for months, decide to book a break in November - tens of thousands of people. The return of the Canaries was heralded as a glimmer of light for the industry and for holidaymakers. Now that is torn to pieces."

ABTA chief executive Mark Tanzer said the travel ban amounted to 'a complete shut down for travel businesses which have already been severely damaged by the pandemic'.

He added: "But public health must come first."

"We're pleased to see the Government has recognised the significant impact the latest lockdown will have on businesses and has extended the furlough scheme until the start of December.

"The Government must also make good progress with The Global Travel Taskforce, ensuring a testing regime is ready to go as soon as lockdown is lifted.

"We will be seeking further clarification from Government on the full implications of these latest measures for the travel industry, as well as assessing the support measures available for the sector."

Consumer champion Which? has said a travel guarantee fund should be set up.

Which? Travel Editor Rory Boland said: "The pandemic has wreaked havoc on the travel industry, and urgent support is needed if it is to survive the winter.

"We are urging the government to introduce a travel guarantee fund to ensure travel companies who are ordinarily in good financial health can meet their obligations to customers."

By Linsey McNeill, UK Editor

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