15 Feb

Prime Minister needs to set out a way forward for travel and specific support for the sector  

Call comes at the start of a traditionally ‘peak week’ for winter holidays

As new quarantine measures come into force today, at the start of what would usually be one of the biggest weeks for winter holidays, the Save Future Travel Coalition has said the Prime Minister needs to use next week’s lockdown update on 22 February to provide a route forward for the travel industry.

Many travel agents and tour operators haven’t been able to operate or generate income since the start of the pandemic last March, due to Government advising against travel to the majority of destinations, or in the case of school trips and ocean cruises, directives from the Government to cease all operations.

As a result, the economic input of travel agents and tour operators fell by 86% in December 2020 compared to February 2021, making it the second worst-hit business sector during the pandemic, according to new gross domestic product (GDP) figures from the Office of National Statistics. This is only a very slight improvement on November, and the situation has since worsened notably with international travel now illegal for most purposes.

Today is the first day of the February half term across most of the country, traditionally one of the busiest weeks for winter holidays. ABTA and Seasonal Businesses in Travel (SBiT) estimate that in a normal year around 500,000 people would be heading off to the slopes over the February half term period (which often falls across two different weeks). 

Half term represents around 15% of ABTA ski Members’ total bookings for the winter season. France, Austria, Switzerland and Italy are usually among the most popular destinations along with North America for snow sports trips. For companies providing ski and snow trips to schools, the same period would usually bring 40% of their annual revenues. This year, that revenue will be lost.

The ski industry is among those which are effectively closed, having been one of the first sectors affected by Coronavirus when major travel restrictions were introduced in March 2020. This season has already been severely impacted by the pandemic, and opportunities for snow sports holidays do not currently exist. 

Despite the Government’s effective shut down of all overseas travel, there hasn’t been any tailored financial support offered to travel companies. Other industries which have been required to close, such as hospitality and the arts, have received direct support.

The Save Future Travel Coalition – made up of 12 leading travel trade organisations – says it is vital that the Government works with industry to develop a roadmap to reopen travel. While the rollout of the vaccine is progressing well, the Coalition is clear the industry simply cannot afford to wait until everyone in the UK is vaccinated before people start to travel again – otherwise insolvencies and redundancies will be inevitable. The industry argues that a risk-based approach to travel, including a coordinated approach to vaccine certificates and use of passenger testing will be critical in opening up the overseas travel market.

Mark Tanzer ABTA Chief Executive said: 

“In a week’s time, the Prime Minister is due to update the nation on a route out of lockdown. That must include a way forward for the travel industry to ensure that people are able to take an overseas holiday this summer.

“We completely understand the need for the Government to bring in temporary restrictions, like the additional measures around quarantine being brought in today, but we also need a route out of this crisis and some tailored financial support to help businesses get through what will be very difficult months ahead for the sector. 

“Travel is vital for the economy. It has been a powerhouse of economic growth and employment. In normal times travel contributes £80 billion2 to the UK economy and supports close to one million jobs. It also underpins UK aviation and trading routes, with travel agents and tour operators putting the passengers on the planes.” 

Charles Owen, Director of SBiT (Seasonal Businesses in Travel) said:

“The UK may be in its third lockdown but, for SBiT members, this is still their first lockdown which started 11 months ago. In March 2020 we completed an emergency repatriation of 40,000 guests and staff back to the UK and then set about refunding or rebooking holidays for hundreds of thousands more guests.  With this winter season all but cancelled, virtually no new bookings and the outlook uncertain this is an industry on its knees financially.

“There is huge demand for ski holidays in the 2021-22 ski season but our members need financial support from the Chancellor now, to continue trading and delivering the future holidays that our guests love.”

Notes to editors
1 ONS figures - here
2 Office for National Statistics

The Save Future Travel Coalition is formed of ABTA – The Travel Association, Advantage Travel Partnership, AITO – The Specialist Travel Association, ANITA, ATAS, the BTA, CLIA, Keep Travel Alive, the SPAA, SBiT, the Travel Network Group and UKinbound.

The Save Future Travel Campaign has asked the Government to:

  • Expand the grant schemes available to support all travel businesses. 
  • Extend other financial support mechanisms, such as furlough, VAT deferrals, business rates relief, into the next financial year. It is particularly important that the furlough regime be extended in recognition that travel will likely restart gradually. To save jobs, salary support must be kept in place until recovery in the sector is gathering pace.
  • Enable travel businesses to trade their way out of the crisis in the coming months. The industry is committed to working with Government to put in a place a roadmap to recovery, which ensure stability for travellers and travel companies, and crucially, which uses existing mitigation measures to ensure travel can resume in a risk-controlled manner.’

About ABTA
ABTA has been a trusted travel brand for 70 years. Our purpose is to help our Members to grow their businesses successfully and sustainably, and to help their customers travel with confidence. 

The ABTA brand stands for support, protection and expertise. This means consumers have confidence in ABTA and a strong trust in ABTA Members. These qualities are core to us as they ensure that holidaymakers remain confident in the holiday products that they buy from our Members. 

We help our Members and their customers navigate through today's changing travel landscape by raising standards in the industry; offering schemes of financial protection; providing an independent complaints resolution service should something go wrong; giving guidance on issues from sustainability to health and safety and by presenting a united voice to government to ensure the industry and the public get a fair deal.

ABTA has more than 4,300 travel brands in Membership, providing a wide range of leisure and business travel services, with a combined annual UK turnover of £39 billion. For more details about what we do, what being an ABTA Member means and how we help the British public travel with confidence visit www.abta.com.

About SBiT
SBIT (Seasonal Businesses in Travel) is a unique and diverse group of over 200 outbound British travel and service companies operating throughout the summer and winter holiday seasons. Most are SMEs and all are British businesses.

Our aim is to ensure that the (future) relationship between the EU nations and the UK fosters and aims to grow the contribution British outbound travel companies make to the economies of both the UK and the EU nations by protecting the ability of British workers to temporarily work across the EU nations supporting the seasonal travel industry. For more information please visit www.sbit.org.uk