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Published on Monday, February 22, 2021

Travel industry welcomes PM's plan to lift lockdown restrictions

The travel industry has broadly welcomed the Prime Minister's 'cautious but irreversible' changes to the easing of lockdown, but reiterated calls for affordable testing, collaboration and tailored financial support.

Holiday home rental agency Sykes Holiday Cottages predicted a 'sudden scramble tonight' as people get their May half-term and bank holiday plans booked.

CEO Graham Donoghue said: "The prospect of holiday lets reopening to individuals and single households in April will be welcomed by many as tourism is such an important part of so many local communities.

"Self-catered accommodation is arguably one of the safest ways to travel so it makes complete sense to allow this first. With a holiday let, contact with others can be limited as people travel in their own vehicles and there are no shared facilities.

"In recent weeks, we've seen a significant increase in bookings for later this year, which is a reflection of the nation's growing confidence as well as, perhaps, lockdown fatigue."

Derek Jones, CEO of Kuoni took to Twitter to comment: "So Step 3 is the key one for international travel. At least five weeks after Step 2 and no earlier than 17 May. I expect travel to return with testing, corridors and quarantine, but this is progress. The key now is to use the three months to be ready with affordable testing in place."

Julia Lo Bue-Said, CEO of the Advantage Travel Partnership said while she appreciated the need to get schools reopened and safe socialising, she urged the Government to recognise the significant role the travel industry will play in the economic recovery.

As a leading signatory of the Save Future Travel Coalition in the open letter to Government, she said an affordable testing regime was 'essential' to sit alongside health passports as a way of 'kick starting the sector', along with tailored financial support and Foreign and Commonwealth Development Office advice to return to a regional basis.

"In addition, we would hope that the roadmap to opening up business travel and the meetings and events industry are taken into consideration and all of these measures are included in the review provided by the Government on the 12 April," she said.

"It's crucial that after a year of zero income for travel agents around the country we can now work together with ministers to further boost the economy and kick start travel again safely and sustainably. We know there will be pent up demand for a much deserved holiday as well as reuniting friends and families and we ask that Government enable the sector to help itself to protect jobs, kick start the economy and give people the holidays they've been dreaming of for over a year."

Industry bodies and agency groups welcomed the Prime Minister's commitment for a successor to the Global Travel Taskforce to report back by 12 April, while others said they didn't think his plans went far enough.

Dale Keller, chief executive of the Board of Airline Representatives in the UK (BAR UK) said it would provide its full support and expertise to the revived Travel Taskforce to deliver 'the most considered and effective plan for our sector'.

"Our pragmatic request of Government is to provide targeted support for a sector that supports around 960,000 jobs and generated GBP 57 billion in GDP (direct, indirect or induced impacts) until we are given the go-ahead to reopen."

"There is much work ahead and the airline industry stands ready to offer is best talent to the Government in order to forge an exciting new flight path for aviation and international travel."

Flight Centre said it didn't think the roadmap went far enough and called for 'much-needed clarity' to avoid mass redundancies within travel.

"The travel industry has been on its knees and unable to trade since the virus hit our shores last year and Flight Centre predicts that if the government fails to present a timely exit strategy, thousands of travel industry jobs could be lost across the country. This would be an astronomical blow to travel, which should be preparing to support the public ahead of one of the biggest upcoming travel booms in recent history," said a spokesman.

In a statement, Flight Centre said already 160,000 jobs have been lost and many businesses have permanently closed their doors, according to recent figures from the Office for National Statistics.

"We strongly advise the government to act accordingly on this data, providing a framework of how the expert travel industry can begin to recover and send travel-hungry Brits safely abroad again."

It 'implored' the government to reinstate the Global Travel Taskforce with a board of 'expert travel professionals' and offer its reassurances that it is working on a recovery plan to restart tourism.

"We still fundamentally believe that the government needs to listen, again, to our calls for a world-leading, international and consistent framework for pre-departure testing at airports to boost confidence in travel. We also ask ministers to grant an extension of the furlough scheme to support the many workers of this hard-hit industry beyond April. Only then do we believe we will see a viable avenue out of these latest measures." 

ABTA chief executive Mark Tanzer said it was pleased to see the Government 'has responded to our calls' to engage with industry on a specific roadmap for travel. He welcomed the news that the Global Travel Taskforce will reconvene to work with ABTA and the travel industry on a plan to reopen travel.

But he repeated calls for tailored financial support.

"Even with the prospect of travel resuming, we renew our call to the Chancellor to use his Budget next week to provide tailored financial support to travel agents and tour operators, recognising the pressing need that travel companies have for financial assistance if they are to come through the weeks ahead."

Joss Croft, CEO of UKInbound said it was 'critical' that dialogue continues and the Government consults with the travel industry.

"As part of its review, we would ask the UK Government to work with the devolved nations, as a fragmented approach will hinder recovery. To save the summer business, Government needs to move quickly as it will take time for consumers to regain confidence to book a holiday to the UK and for the industry to prepare.

"However, it's very clear that we are still months away from restarting international travel, and many more months before we see a significant recovery, and the industry therefore needs continued support.

"In order for our sector to survive long enough to support the UK's economic recovery, we're asking the Chancellor to retain furlough as long as restrictions are in place, issue sector specific grants and extend Business Rate Relief, when he announces the Budget on 3 March."

By Louise Longman, Contributing Editor (UK)


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