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Published on Monday, November 23, 2020

Hopes dashed for specific government aid for travel agents

A business minister told the House of Lords yesterday that specific financial support for travel agents and tour operators is unlikely.

Lord Callanan, Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy Minister was speaking during a debate in the House on travel and travel agents.

"We've put in place a strong package of financial support which businesses in the sector can access, including government-backed loans, various grant schemes and the extended furlough and self employed support scheme," he said.

"We have published lots of information for the travel sector to access.

"I fully accept that its is a very difficult time for businesses in these areas.

"We have been looking very carefully at all of the problems that exist for the tourism sector and particularly for those that want to travel abroad."

However, Lord Callanan did say he would look at the issue of travel agent businesses being excluded from support after they closed for the second lockdown.

Baroness Altmann described the situation facing agents as 'somewhat misleading, confusing, contradictory statements that have been applied to travel agents' .

"On 31 October, non-essential retail was ordered to close. The Chancellor said on 5 November that travel agent businesses will benefit from business grants, but when the regulations and guidance were published, travel agents seems to be excluded and I would urge my friend to clarify what the situation is especially as pubs and florists who can do click and collect have qualified for support," she said.

Lord Callanan replied: "I will have a look at this issue that my noble friend refers to but I think that the guidance has been very clear and most sectors of industry have been rigorously applying it."

Lord Bassam of Brighton claimed the travel sector had 'slipped through the cracks' and there was an 'exponential threat to the high street', while Baroness Dooley said the travel industry needed more support 'to get to the end of the year and through next year' in order 'to be able to deliver the tourism strategy that the government wants'.

However, Lord Callanan repeated his statement that the industry had benefited from 'extensive loan and grant schemes', while Lord Bradshaw claimed the industry needed to get through the next three months or so until a vaccine is made available.

"Provided they can get through the probably [next] three months, we have to wait until the industry starts to recover so I am quite happy that if the government believes it has made things clear so that people know what help is there then, in fact, they have done all that we can ask," Lord Bradshaw said.

ABTA Director of Public Affairs Luke Petherbridge said: "We have briefed Members of the House of Lords ahead of this afternoon's debate, sharing the findings from our latest Member survey which revealed that as many as 164,000 jobs are either at risk or have been lost already in the wider travel industry.

"The whole travel sector has been hit hard by the pandemic. The operating model of travel agents has added an extra hardship - they are basically running on empty - with the money they've earnt in commission being refunded when holidays are cancelled, and the drop in bookings meaning there is little opportunity to generate new revenue.

 "It is really important that the Government gets behind the industry by making furlough flexible, ensuring there is clarity around the grant support available, and working to get people travelling again by introducing a testing regime."

By Lisa James, Deputy Editor (UK)


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