Travel businesses have told The Telegraph that the industry will be “torn to pieces” by the new lockdown measures, which will outlaw all non-essential movement from Thursday.
The new rules will last until at least December 2, rendering all holidays and leisure travel off-limits – both in the UK and overseas. And with many businesses ineligible for furlough, or unable to top up staff wages, business owners are pleading for extra financial support from the Government.
The industry is “not just frayed or ragged – but in shreds,” said Emma Coulthurst, a spokesperson from TravelSupermarket.
“The travel industry had no pre-warning about the decision. Both here and overseas, many people rely on the tourism industry for their income: entertainers, hotel and bar workers, etc. Covid has wreaked devastation on so many people’s lives.”
For many businesses, the extended furlough scheme will not be enough to support them through winter. “The travel and hospitality sectors are already on their knees,” said Sonia Davies, CEO of travel agency Scott Dunn. “We are yet again surprised and very disappointed by the latest government u-turn and subsequent chaos that this creates for the travel and hospitality sectors.
“Whilst we understand the need to balance the health of the country with the economic impact this causes, the lack of forward planning is causing chaos for both businesses and consumers.”
“Standardised testing now has to become the absolute priority,” Davies added. “It is crucial now to solve this testing fiasco and get an international system in place, starting with Europe and then rolled out globally with common agreement between countries as the WTTC has called for over the last few weeks.”
Julia Lo Bue-Said, CEO of Advantage Travel Centres, agrees. “The ban on international and domestic travel as a result of the new lockdown measures will crucify the travel industry,” she told The Telegraph. “The reality of the new lockdown 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 per cent will run out of cash by May.
“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 of a reliable testing regime, the industry has been dealt an “ineffective yo-yo quarantine system”, said Lo Bue-Said. Now, the travel ban will “without a doubt lead to an unwelcome déjà vu in terms of providing advice and support to confused travellers and a rush on refunds which will again put pressure on travel agents whose bottom line is sinking lower and lower.”
Airlines too, are struggling with the setback. “The steps the government has taken, which effectively prevents leisure air travel from the UK, has caused further disappointment for our customers who have been looking forward to well-earned holidays, many of whom have already faced disruption following the inconsistency of Covid-19 policies across the UK,” said EasyJet Holidays’ CEO Garry Wilson.
Highlighting that Saturday’s announcement “came with no travel industry consultation or pre-warning”, Wilson shared that the airline was “contacting thousands of our customers to share their options and offer reassurance.”
“With domestic and international leisure travel effectively grounded until December, airports and airlines will face a challenging period,” added Robert Sinclair, Chief Executive of London City Airport.
Though the airport “welcomes the extension of the furlough scheme, the lockdown measures make it even more urgent that the Government publishes its Aviation Recovery Plan as soon as possible.”
At this time of year, bookings would usually be surging – but not right now, say tour operators. “Make no mistake, the travel industry is being hung out to dry by the Government and it’s going to be a long hard winter,” said Colum McLornan, MD of single travel specialist Friendship Travel.
Jane Hawkes, Consumer Champion and Travel Expert, agreed, adding: “the travel industry has undoubtedly been one of the hardest hit by the pandemic and this second lockdown could quite well be the final decisive nail in its coffin.”
“Aviation in particular has taken a crucifying hit in its uphill struggle for survival and now faces the added hurdle of the ban on domestic and international travel. My heart breaks for those in the industry who have been hammered by endless quarantine changes, are crying out for support which hasn’t been forthcoming and an effective testing system which has failed to materialise.”
“Action needs to be taken without delay to protect the industry or we won’t have one to discuss.”