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UK travel industry calls for its own roadmap out of crisis

Lucy Harley-McKeown
·4-min read
A jumbo jet takes off shortly after midday from Heathrow Airport in west London April 15, 2010.  A huge cloud of ash from a volcano in Iceland turned the skies of northern Europe into a no-fly zone on Thursday, leaving hundreds of thousands of passengers stranded. No flights are allowed in British air space, except in emergencies, from 12 p.m. until at least 6 p.m. as the ash spreads across the country, the National Air Traffic Service (NATS) said.REUTERS/Toby Melville (BRITAIN - Tags: TRANSPORT ENVIRONMENT TRAVEL)
Pressure is mounting, following calls last week from trade body Seasonal Business in Travel (SBiT), which warned the sector is "on its knees" financially. It also called for more tailored financial support until conditions improve. Photo: REUTERS/Toby Melville

The UK travel industry is calling on the government to collaborate on a roadmap to recovery and provide tailored financial support.

Ahead of the proposed roadmap out of national lockdown, due to be announced by Boris Johnson on Monday 22 February, major players in travel have written an open letter to the government.

Organised by travel lobby group, the Association of British Travel Agents (ABTA) in partnership with the Save Future Travel Coalition, it is co-signed by firms such as TUI (TUI.L), easyJet (EZJ.L) holidays and Airlines UK and follows calls from groups last week to relax restrictions ahead of the usually busy summer period.

The letter said: "There has been little opportunity to recover or generate income since the virus first affected the sector 12 months ago, with government policies effectively shutting down international travel for most of the past year."

"We understand that the government has taken the steps it feels necessary to prevent the spread of coronavirus and the introduction of new variants into the UK, and we have supported the government in these measures. Public health must come first."

READ MORE: 'On its knees' travel sector demands UK government plan for summer holidays

It notes that so far, around 160,000 jobs have been lost and many businesses have closed their doors for good.

It also cites figures from the Office for National Statistics, saying that the economic output for travel was down by 86% for travel agents and tour operators, and 90% for aviation, between February and December 2020.

The letter said: "We know that it is too early to put a specific date on the return to international travel, and that there will be a need for flexibility in the approach, but what we need are some principles for restarting travel - recognising that the return to normal life will never be entirely risk-free.

"We also encourage coordination across the UK, where possible."

Demands laid out by the letter include:

  • An acknowledgement that the industry cannot wait for the full rollout of the vaccination programme before people start to travel again, and that not everyone can or will want to be vaccinated, so a practical and cost-effective testing regime will be critical.

  • It urges the government to facilitate travel through a recognised vaccine certificate to enable restrictions to be relaxed for some travellers.

  • It calls to return Foreign Office travel advice on COVID-19 to a regional basis, as opposed to a whole country level, and ensure the advice focuses on the risk to people in destinations. Also review existing government advice against travel in specific sectors, such as school travel, in light of the improving medical situation and vaccine rollout.

Pressure is mounting, following calls last week from trade body Seasonal Business in Travel (SBiT), which warned the sector is "on its knees" financially. It also called for more tailored financial support until conditions improve.

Ski holiday companies would normally make around 15% of their total winter income this week during half-term, with around 500,000 people typically heading away on such trips.

It also comes as more than 100 companies in another group called Save Our Summer (SOS) also called for a target date when holidays will be allowed to give consumers confidence in bookings. The group's members have promised refunds or changes of date if bookings become impossible due to continued or new restrictions.

Office for National Statistics (ONS) data published on Monday underlines the crisis facing the travel industry, showing that turnover for the travel and tourism sector stood at 51.5% of 2019 levels in November, and at 20.8% of previous year's trade for accommodation companies and travel agents.

It also showed that hotel room occupancy slid from September to November as government restrictions were tightened again, sinking to just 21% in worst-affected London.

Alongside this, international air passenger traffic in and out of the UK in November dropped to 9% of February levels.

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