Travel industry accuses UK government of neglect in its ‘darkest hour’
Travel industry leaders have hit out at the government for “looking away during its darkest hour”, accusing ministers of inflicting additional damage on businesses left on the brink by the pandemic.
Organisations throughout tourism and aviation will join a “travel day of action” on Wednesday to call for the safe reopening of travel, highlighting the impact of Covid restrictions and appealing for more financial help. Events are planned outside the parliaments in London and Edinburgh, and in cities and airports around the UK.
The chief executive of the travel association Abta, Mark Tanzer, said while other countries had singled out the sectors for help, UK firms’ hopes had been dashed at the beginning of the “most crucial summer season in living memory”.
Speaking at a virtual conference, Tanzer said the green list destinations, where travel was permitted under the “traffic light” system, accounted for less than 0.5% of UK outbound tourism. He criticised the government for describing closed borders as an opportunity for domestic stays. “The language of ‘embracing an opportunity’ will be as a dagger to the heart of many travel agents and tour operators who are fighting for their very survival,” he said.
He described the late withdrawal of the aviation minister, Robert Courts, from the online conference as “symbolic of a widening gap” between government and the sector.
He added: “There has been no lack of engagement from our side throughout the pandemic … and yet at our hour of greatest need the government seem intent on looking away.”
Tanzer said Wednesday’s protests, backed by firms, airlines and unions, were “a reflection of how angry people are and how desperate people are … on the point of failure, losing not just their businesses but their homes”.
Abta estimates that up to 195,000 jobs have been lost or are at risk within the UK travel industry, while a survey of members found more than half did not have enough money to survive more than three months in current conditions.
The industry is calling for the traffic light system for international travel to be used transparently and consistently, and for double-vaccinated passengers to be allowed to travel without quarantine as part of the review of the system due on 28 June. The health secretary, Matt Hancock, said on Tuesday that ministers were “working on” how to end quarantine for fully vaccinated travellers returning from amber list countries.
The travel industry also wants to see financial support mechanisms such as furlough payments and business rates relief extended, with Tanzer arguing that “the travel sector has not yet even started its recovery”.
Abta said it was considering legal action against the government over the operation of the international travel rules.
Tui’s UK managing director, Andrew Flintham, said the travel firm had joined as an interested party in legal action taken by airport operator MAG and Ryanair, seeking transparency over the traffic light system. Flintham said it was “inexplicable” why Greece and Spain were not added to the green list, and Portugal suddenly removed.
Flintham said his colleagues in Europe “look on with complete bewilderment” at the UK rules, while vaccinated Germans can travel throughout Europe and parts of the Caribbean and Asia without restriction.
The Department for Transport has been approached for comment.